9.4 Nurturing Emergent Writers

illustration of a branch

Educators play an important role in nurturing emergent writers, especially when they work closely with family members to engage children in meaningful and relevant writing experiences. By getting to know children’s cultural and linguistic backgrounds and tapping into their prior knowledge and experiences, educators can implement culturally responsive assessment and instructional practices that promote children’s writing development. Therefore, educators support young children’s writing development by engaging families, assessing and monitoring young children’s writing, and providing developmentally and culturally appropriate writing instruction.

9.4a Engaging Families Through Writing

Working with and learning from children’s families helps educators understand and capitalize on the diversity children bring to the classroom. When educators have deep understanding of their children’s cultures, languages, and abilities and disabilities, they are able to design inclusive environments and engage children in culturally responsive writing assessment and instruction (Kidd & Burns, in press). By valuing each family’s unique experience and each child’s interests and abilities, educators create equitable opportunities for learning. Educational equity occurs when differences as well as similarities among children and their families are celebrated and children’s lives are reflected in positive and authentic ways in their learning experiences (NAEYC, 2019). Authentic writing opportunities that encourage connections between home and school and promote respect for children’s unique experiences foster a positive learning environment in which children’s development is optimized. When educators integrate authentic writing into the classroom and encourage children to write about their families and their everyday lives, they gain a deeper understanding of children’s cultural and linguistic experiences.

Collaborating with families also ensures that the learning experiences in the classroom build upon and connect to children’s prior knowledge, experiences, and interests (Burns & Kidd, 2016). When educators tap into home writing practices, children are able to connect new learning to what they already know. For example, when educators know the types of writing that occur at home (e.g., grocery lists, notes to other family members, emails, text messages), they can incorporate opportunities to engage children in similar types of writing during instructional lessons and play experiences. Likewise, when children and families share stories about their family members, traditions, and their daily activities, the richness of their family and cultural experiences emerges. Their stories provide educators with insights that ensure children’s families, cultures, and languages are valued and recognized in the classroom.

In addition, by engaging families in writing activities that bridge home and school, educators provide opportunities for children to write about topics that are familiar to them. Young children are proud of their family and culture and love to share their experiences through their writing. Educators build on children’s natural interest in their family by creating opportunities to write about their families both at school and at home. In the classroom, educators often prominently display family photos taken during home visits or sent in by families. These photos encourage children to talk and write about their family. When the writings are taken home, they are shared with family members. Likewise, children and families may engage in writing projects at home and then bring their writing into school to share with their classmates. These home-school connections strengthen authentic bonds among children, families, and educators, which contribute to an inclusive learning environment and culturally responsive assessment and instruction practices.

9.4b Assessing Emergent Writers

Young children’s writing is a window into their thinking and understanding of the world. When educators take time to observe children as they write, talk with them about their writing, and examine the writings they produce, they gain valuable insights into children’s prior knowledge, experiences, and interests as well as their emergent writing knowledge and skills (Kidd et al., 2014). Educators use assessment data from formal and informal assessments to inform instructional decisions, evaluate their curriculum and instructional practices, and access services and resources for children (Kidd et al., 2019; National Research Council, 2008). For example, educators may use formal assessments that include writing components, such as the Transdisciplinary-Based Play Assessment (2nd ed.) (Linder, 2008), to develop learning goals, make instructional recommendations, monitor children’s progress over time, and determine eligibility for instructional services. They may also use assessments specifically developed to evaluate emergent writing that can document growth over time. For example, the Write Start! Writing Assessment can be used to document children’s writing forms, directionality, intentionality, and the content of the message (Rowe & Wilson, 2015).

As discussed in Chapter 6, assessing and monitoring young children’s literacy development is important to foster positive learning outcomes for young children. Although formal assessments can be helpful, most assessment practices in the early years are ongoing, informal assessments used to monitor progress and make decisions about curriculum and instruction. The information educators gather as they observe and intentionally interact with children as they write provides an assessment of what children can do. It also sheds light on the instructional supports and scaffolds needed to continue developing their emergent writing knowledge and skills. Assessing young children’s emergent writing is especially important for making instructional decisions that build on children’s interests, knowledge, and skills. Therefore, effective assessment must be as open ended as possible to allow children to express their ideas and demonstrate their understanding. Authentic creative writing experiences guided by children’s interests spark the unique abilities in all individuals. It is through open-ended and authentic assessments that the effective educator guides development.

Pause and Reflect: Assessing Writing

In the opening vignette, after Richelle shared her thank you note with Mr. Jenbere, he paused to jot down anecdotal notes based on what he observed. He noted that Richelle views herself as a writer and seems to understand that writing has a purpose and an audience. She understands that a thank you note is written to show appreciation for something someone did. He also noted that although she mostly used letter-like forms, she was beginning to incorporate some letters into her writing. However, the letters did not correspond to the sounds in the words she read.

Later in the day, Mr. Jenbere and Ms. Daryl met to go over their notes. They both noticed that many of the children enjoyed writing thank you notes and understood their purpose. They decided to add folded cardstock and envelopes to their writing center, so children could make thank you notes or other cards on their own. They planned to introduce the new materials to the children the next day and invite those who wish to make cards to visit the writing center in the next few days. They also talked about what they noticed about individual children’s writing. For example, they discussed how to capitalize on Richelle’s new interest in writing alphabet letters in addition to letter-like forms. They decided to provide intentional opportunities for Richelle to use letters in her writing during centers. They checked to make sure there were writing pads and writing tools in each center so that they could integrate the activity into the context of Richelle’s play.

  • How did Mr. Jenbere and Ms. Daryl assess their children’s writing?
  • How did they use what is known about children’s writing progressions in their assessments?
  • How did they use assessment data to plan instruction?
  • Given the information provided, what types of instructional experiences might you consider providing for Richelle and her classmates?

9.4c Instructional Practices for Emergent Writers

The early years are an important time for educators and families to provide young children with experiences that develop not only letter-sound correspondence and handwriting skills, but also their understanding that print is read and writing is a way to communicate their ideas (Gerde et al., 2012). As discussed in previous chapters, there are many ways adults can support children’s literacy development, and specifically, their writing development. Through intentional and explicit opportunities to develop children’s writing knowledge and skills throughout the school day and at home, families and educators support children as they become proficient writers. These opportunities are provided when educators (a) create an environment that supports writing; (b) build on children’s prior knowledge, experiences, and interests; (c) integrate writing into play; (d) infuse writing across the curriculum; and (e) provide diverse instructional writing experiences (see Table 9.4).

Table 9.4 “Instructional Practices That Support Writing”

Create an Environment That Supports Writing

  • Create uncluttered places with plenty of room for children to write and move around, keeping in mind that children are learning to regulate their bodies and are developing motor skills.
  • Have tables and chairs that are the appropriate size and include space for children in wheelchairs and other positioning equipment.
  • Provide a variety of writing materials and tools, including paper, dry erase boards, chalkboards, markers, crayons, pencils, chalk, tempera paint, water colors, finger paints, touchscreen tablets, styluses, and computers.
  • Place writing materials and tools in places that are easy to reach and easy to put away, such as carts, shelves, tables, bins, and cubbies at the children’s level.
  • Display meaningful print with pictures or braille around the room, including name strips, labels, posters, word cards, sentence strips, morning messages, and daily schedules.
  • Position print and braille so it is visible and easy to reach.
  • Include print and braille materials and writing tools in centers (e.g., children’s literature and magazines in the library, menus and writing pads in the restaurant, envelopes and writing paper in the post office, paper and crayons in construction areas)
  • Display children’s drawings and writings.

Build on Children’s Prior Knowledge, Experiences, and Interests

  • Engage families in children’s writing experiences.
  • Encourage children to use their home languages and write about their home culture and family experiences.
  • Ask children to draw and write about what they already know about topics of interest.
  • Provide experiences that children can include in their writing, such as nature walks, field trips, hands-on experiments, class visitors, and experiences with community helpers (e.g., talking with firefighters and seeing a firetruck).
  • Provide choice of writing tools and topics.

Integrate Writing Into Play

  • Include accessible spaces for writing and writing materials and tools in each center.
  • Model and explain how writing materials and tools may be used in the center.
  • Remind children periodically to use writing materials and tools in the centers.
  • Introduce new writing materials and tools into centers regularly.
  • Include examples of different types of writing in the writing center, such as models of birthday cards or “I love you” notes to family members.
  • Post theme-related and frequently used words in the writing center and around the room.
  • Encourage children to copy words posted around the room and words written on cards or sentence strips in the writing center into their writing.
  • Encourage children to write play plans that not only indicate where they plan to play (e.g., the kitchen center) but also how they plan to play (e.g., how they plan to share toys and props with classmates or what toys, props, and materials they plan to use).
  • Provide intentional, child-specific scaffolding and reinforcement of writing knowledge and skills when interacting with children in centers.
  • Follow the child’s lead when interacting with the child to provide scaffolding and instruction.

Infuse Writing Across the Curriculum

  • Provide opportunities for children to write about what they are learning across the curriculum, including in mathematics, reading, science, and social studies.
  • Incorporate writing activities that activate children’s prior knowledge (e.g., asking them to write about a topic, such as spring or fall, before instruction).
  • Encourage children to draw and write about curricular content to foster their learning (e.g., documenting the growth of a plant, writing about sharing, comparing concepts such as hot and cold).
  • Use children’s drawings and writing to assess their content knowledge (e.g., examining children’s drawings to assess their understanding of shadows or their writing to assess what they know about recycling).
  • Provide opportunities for children to share and talk about their drawings and writing with adults and peers.

Provide Diverse instructional Writing Experiences

  • Schedule time for writing instruction and provide opportunities throughout the day to write independently and with support.
  • Encourage children to use a variety of writing materials and tools when writing, including digital tools such as touchscreen tablets and computers.
  • Provide authentic writing experiences that develop children’s understanding of writing as a means to communicate with an audience (e.g., a story to share with classmates, a card to share with a family member, a note to persuade a parent to not make cooked carrots for dinner, an invitation for a community helper to visit their classroom).
  • Include opportunities for children to identify and write their name by signing in for attendance, signing off when completing a task like toothbrushing, or signing up for a responsibility on the jobs chart.
  • Model writing by engaging in shared writing experiences.
  • Scaffold children’s writing through intentional interactions that develop their writing knowledge and abilities.
  • Accept and encourage all forms of writing (e.g., scribbles, letter-like forms, letters, invented spelling).
  • Encourage children to use letter-sound correspondence to write words with invented spelling.
  • Ask children to read their writing or dictate their story and write down what they read.
  • Promote children’s interactions with peers as they write.
  • Provide opportunities for children to share their writing with others.

When educators create environments and provide instruction that foster young children’s emergent writing, children develop valuable knowledge and skills that prepare them for future success in school as well as in their daily lives. Assessment and instructional practices, like the ones listed in Table 9.4, are examples of the types of experiences educators provide to support young children’s writing development. As educators make decisions about curriculum, assessment, and instruction, it is important that they consider each child’s unique culture, languages, interests, and abilities. By being mindful of the diversity children bring to the classroom, educators provide an inclusive environment where each child feels valued and capable of learning.

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The Early Literacy Journey: Supporting and Celebrating Young Learners Copyright © 2024 by Sandra Carrie Garvey is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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