The Construction of Gendered Identities in the Teacher-Assigned Writing of Primary Five Children

Chua Siew Kheng

English Language Honours AE, NIE, 2002


The aim of this study is to find out the extent and the specific nature of gendered differences in the writing of upper primary school children as it is typically assigned in Singapore classrooms, where the children are frequently not given a choice of either genre or writing topic. The study focuses on the various ways in which these children use the resources of the linguistic system to construct gendered meanings at both the levels of the generic structure and the clause.

The 41 samples of children's writing, recounting their attendance of the National Day Parade (NDP) preview, are analysed using Halliday's systemic-functional linguistics and the related model of genre developed by Martin and Rothery (1981). The comparative analysis of the girls' and boys' texts at the macro-level of genre points to significant differences in the way each gender selected and realised the different stages of the generic structure of the recount. In their reconstruction of the events of the NDP preview experience, girls tended to focus on description and evaluation while the boys predominantly constructed Event-centred texts. The girls also tended to focus on events that happened during the parade, events to which they were on-lookers. The boys were more likely to focus on pre-parade events, in which they positioned themselves as shapers and agents. The analyses of the transitivity and lexical patterning selections in the children's writing also point to significant gender differences at the micro-level of the clause. The patterns of linguistic choices found in the children's texts reveal that the children reproduced an ideology of gender that constructs males as 'doers' engaging in 'active' events while females take a more passive role and position themselves as observers of experience and recipients of other people's action.

The study concludes that the girls and boys were actively engaged in constructing themselves as gendered individuals in their writing and the choices they made, consciously or deliberately, were not innocent but ideological. This is followed by a discussion of implications for pedagogy in the writing classroom and suggestions for future research in the area of gender and writing.