“Once Upon a Time” Reconsidered: The Developmental Dialectic between Function and Form

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article traces the evolution of “Once upon a time” in a child's classroom story writing, drawing upon data collected in a three-year study of writing development in an urban magnet school. The developmental literature on young children's literacy has treated story language as a set of structural routines that children learn from being read to, routines that serve the function of representing imaginary worlds. In contrast, this article assumes that stories are cultural discourse forms that serve multiple functions and that to internalize those forms, children must transform them into tools that are functional within their own social world. Moreover, children's discourse forms and functions are in a dialectical relationships: The initially awkward forms children produce may have limited social meaning—but those forms may elicit social responses that embue them with new functional possibilities and thus lead children to further grappling with forms. In brief, the story forms young children learn from others are not the end products but the catalysts of development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)436-462
Number of pages27
JournalWritten Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1989
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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