Promoting Writing and Preventing Writing Failure in Young Children
By Kissel, Brian
IN 2003, the National Commission on Writing pleaded for a writing revolution in education. The plea included a call for increased attention on the subject of writing, considered the “most neglected” of the “three ‘Rs’” (p. 3). Although state tests dictate that schools take an intensive look at the writing of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade students, studying writing development from its genesis in preschool children provides important insights into later writing success. Examining and explaining what these young learners do when they are first presented with a writing instrument and a piece of paper provides valuable insights for understanding how students create written text in later years. Designing writing lessons carefully and listening to the messages that children attach to them can provide valuable instructional information for early childhood educators. Preventing writing failure in later years requires educators to address a series of needs that children have in their younger years to support them as writers. In this article, I provide a framework of writing instruction for early childhood educators. I explain the roles of the teacher and student and the importance of maintaining a developmentally appropriate writing environment so that the process of writing is purposeful, pleasant, and productive.
An Instructional Framework for Teaching Writing
It is common in early childhood classrooms to see teachers sitting on comfortable rocking chairs reading stories to young children gathered at their feet. Reading aloud to children is the single most important experience that adults can provide young children who are developing a growing awareness and understanding of oral language (Adams, 1990; Wells, 1985). Similarly, teachers who write in front of their students have seen benefits in their students’ written language (Atwell, 1998; Calkins, 1994; Reif, 1994).
Writing in front of students provides opportunities to explain what the author does as a writer, point out challenges that may occur when writing, and discuss influences that help guide the process. These demonstrations can be informal or focused.
The overall framework for teaching writing to young students includes five components (see Figure 1): (a) a gathering experience that helps children generate their own ideas for writing, (b) the teacher’s writing demonstration that displays a process for writing models decisions that writers can make when composing, (c) opportunities for students to share their ideas with others so that more ideas can be generated for writing, (d) time for students to write and confer with the teacher, and (e) a culminating experience in which students share their writing with the class and gain responses from their teacher and peers.
Meaningful Gathering Experiences
To begin the workshop, the teacher gathers children in a common area and cultivates a shared experience. This can be done through a read aloud, an outdoor experience, a field trip, a classroom conversation, or any other activity that sparks ideas for writing. The purpose of this time is to build background knowledge, provide a basis for conversation, and create a common experience so that children make connections to events in their own lives. Children use these gathering experiences as catalysts for writing ideas. The teacher facilitates as children make comments and connections to the experience that they will use in their writing.
Teacher’s Writing Demonstrations
After gathering, the teacher writes in front of the children, interactively constructing a piece of text with the assistance of students (McCarrier, Pinnell, & Fountas, 2000). Throughout the composing process, the teacher explicitly notes strategies that he or she uses as a writer with the intention that children will integrate similar strategies into their own writing. The teacher’s writing mirrors that of his or her students’; it evolves throughout the school year as the children progress in their own understandings of written language. In a preschool classroom, the teacher typically crafts printed drawings at the beginning of the year to reflect the writing of the students. Over time, as students gain knowledge about letters and letter-sound correspondences, the teacher labels his or her printed drawings by incorporating letters and initial sounds. These subtle, scaffolded demonstrations help children gain exposure to and concepts about print-a critical component that enhances children’s growing awareness of the function of literacy in their lives (Clay, 1979, 1991; Holdaway, 1979; Teale, 1984).
During the writing demonstration, the teacher also exposes the children to multiple genres, such as personal narratives, informational texts, personal letters, and lists. The purpose of exposing children to different kinds of writing is to show them that people write for many reasons (e.g., to entertain, inform, communicate, respond, remember).
Students Sharing Their Ideas
After the teacher finishes composing, students share their writing intentions and gain further ideas from their peers. Students’ having opportunities to use oral language to talk about their experiences and intentions for writing is recognized as an essential aim in achieving developmentally appropriate literacy experiences for young children (Bredekamp & Copple, 1997). As students verbalize their intent, the teacher encourages students with similar ideas to write together. In this way, young children scaffold each other as they socially coconstruct texts.
Students Writing and Conferring
After the children engage in the gathering experience, watch the writing demonstration of the teacher, and share ideas with their peers about writing, they are encouraged to compose their own piece of writing. During this phase of the model, choice is critical in maintaining motivation and interest in writing. Young children should have choice in the topics they write about and the genre they use as their text structure. This free choice extends to children’s decisions about writing partners or groups, where they sit in the classroom, and the writing instruments they use when composing. These choices continue to build motivation during writing and allow students to seek out peers who help them become better writers.
As students compose, the teacher serves as a kidwatcher and gathers information about the young writers by observing them in action as they talk with their peers and write (Anderson, 2000; Goodman, 1985). During these observations, the teacher transcribes conversations, attempts to understand the meaning of the students’ writing, determines possible social influences on the writing of the students, recognizes orthographic developments in their writing development, and maintains a list of noticings observed during the writing time. The teacher then confers with 3-4 students per day and inquires about the meaning of their writing. During the conference, the teacher asks the students questions about their work and makes suggestions to help propel them forward as writers. The teacher records observations and conferences in a conference log that becomes the basis of future teacher writing demonstrations (see Figure 2).
Students Sharing Their Writing
The workshop concludes with opportunities for students to gather back on the carpet and sit in a chair designated as the author’s chair to share their writing with their peers (Graves & Hansen, 1983). Two or three students share their writing each day and receive valuable responses about their writing from their peers. Through this experience, young children begin to realize that writing serves a real purpose and the message of their written work (whether it is a printed picture or written words) holds value.
Young Voices Emerge
Children have something to say when they write. In classrooms in which children are encouraged to explore their social identities through writing and talking (i.e., gathering, observing teacher demonstration, sharing, writing and conferring, and taking the author’s chair), they use their spoken and written voice to show the world who they are as people and as writers (Cappello, 2006). They create these ideas in multiple ways, beginning with printed pictures that eventually take on the form of letters and words as students grow in awareness of the purpose of the alphabet to communicate. It is essential, however, that the printed pictures of these young writers are honored and treated as equal languages for learning (Olshansky, 2006). The goal in introducing young children to writing is to create writers for life-not to create a life where children hate writing. In essence, we want to prevent writing failure with these young children before formally structured writing begins in elementary school classrooms.
Adams, M. (1990). Beginning to read. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Anderson, C. (2000). How’s it going? A practical guide to conferring with student writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Atwell, N. (1998). In the middle. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Bredekamp, S., & Copple, C. (1997). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs. Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Calkins, L. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Cappello, M. (2006). Under construction: Voice and identity development in writing workshop. Language Arts, 83, 482-491. Clay, M. (1979). The early detection of reading difficulties. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Clay, M. (1991). Becoming literate. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Goodman, Y. (1985). Kidwatching: Observing children in the classroom. In A. Jaggar & M. T. Smith-Burke (Eds.), Observing the language learner (pp. 9-18). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Graves, D., & Hansen, J. (1983). The author’s chair. Language Arts, 60, 176-187.
Holdaway, D. (1979). The foundations of literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
McCarrier, A., Pinnell, G., & Fountas, I. (2000). Interactive writing: How language and literacy come together, K-2. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
National Commission on Writing. (2003). The neglected “R.” New York: The College Board.
Olshansky, B. (2006). Artists/writers workshop: Focusing in on the art of writing. Language Arts, 83, 530-533.
Reif, L. (1994). Writing for life: Teacher and students. In M. Barbieri & L. Reif (Eds.), Workshop by and for teachers (pp. 84- 101). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Teale, W. (1984). Reading to young children: Its significance for literacy development. In H. Goelman, A. Oberg, & F. Smith (Eds.), Awakening to literacy, (pp. 110-121). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Wells, G. (1985). The meaning makers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Brian Kissel is an assistant professor of reading and elementary education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He teaches courses in language arts and writing development. His current research examines early writing acquisition in early childhood classrooms. Copyright (c) 2008 Heldref Publications
Copyright Heldref Publications Summer 2008
(c) 2008 Preventing School Failure. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.