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Sign-making

October 17th, 2009 No comments

There are many tangents one can go off on with regard to Gunther Kress’ Literacy in the New Media Age. I have chosen just one of those tangents: “reading as sign-making,” especially as it relates to childhood writing. Adults make the erroneous assumption that children learn to read and write wholly as imitators and copiers of existing adult writing. Kress states, “notions of ‘copying’ or of ‘imitating’ … ensure that we ourselves misread what is at issue … whatever else the child’s sign might have been, it was not a copy…” (p. 143) He then goes on to discuss his daughter’s attempt to write “thank you” after he has written it on a page for her. There are randomly written letters on the page, but below the words “thank you” that he had written for her, there is a symbol below it that she drew to represent his words. A graphic image of that early writing can be observed on p. 144.

Kress goes further to relate sign-making by adults as well. He states, “outward production results in signs which are visible, audible and communicable.” (Kress, 2003, p. 145) Kress relates this version of sign-making to drawing a picture of his car – he basically admits that his drawing of the car would only be a “partial representation” and “representation is always partial.” (p. 144) So the imperfection of represenatation exists not only with children, but also adults.

Kress returns to early childhood writing or sign-making. He states, “the sign made outwardly … is based on the sign made before, inwardly, as the result of the ‘reading’ made.” (Kress, 2003, p. 145) Kress says this gives us a basis for understanding early sign-making in relation to reading and learning.

This discussion by Kress was meaningful as I have seen such ‘sign-making’ with my children and with young relatives. My daughter was continually creating signs by scribbling on paper random mixes of letters from the time she was able to hold a crayon in her tiny hand. Books were always present and being read in our house. It was my assumption at the time that reading to her so often, nurtured her abilities to transform random scribbles to letters. Perhaps it isn’t just being read to that creates this ability with children – it is also the pervasive culture of TV, especially children’s programming, that teaches the first instinct regarding writing letters. Whether those letters come together and make sense or not, the child has still created a sign that is just a taste of what is to come later.