Let them write!

IMG_2681Will this kid ever write? Already in kindergarten and still using invented spelling to compose a note to her grandma? Well, she independently communicated her thoughts in writing and stickers…and today is a proficient writer creating professional “books” with data and vocabulary fit for high level Wall street investors.  Of course her mom did not feel that this note required revision, but as this little girl learned the mechanics of spelling she applied them…and by first grade grandma was seeing the results of the work of a good teacher who taught her to put her ideas down first, then revise, and then edit…making writing fun and not a chore.

IMG_2679 Recognizing that at the earliest stages writing is a process that requires feedback from a more proficient writer is a hallmark of the common core and reflecting earlier writing initiatives such as Writer’s Workshop. Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD), or Cognitive Strategy Instruction (CISW).

The CCSS have placed practice in three types of writing as the centerpiece of the shift towards being college ready and for this we should be cheering!  The standards promote writing in three categories (narrative, argumentative, informative) first and foremost getting kids to write.  Students are engaged in a writing process that encourages ideas or responses to writing prompts to flow and applies the mechanics afterwards. So when one looks at what the CCSS “expects” of a kindergartener one has to keep in mind that the expected outcome relies on the recursive process of writing which is Think…Write…Revise…Edit…Think again…Rewrite…Revise….Re-edit!

Initially, practice in writing tasks is what molds a good writer, not perfect mechanics.  Many years ago I observed a writing lesson in a bilingual school in the Bronx.  The second graders were editing a composition about Johnny Appleseed provided by a brave young writer who was open to “feedback”. The teacher put the composition on the overhead (yes that long ago, no smart boards then), and said to the class, “Before we begin to make suggestions to Mary, who wants to be the first to pay her a compliment about her composition?”  Little hands went up and what followed were positive statements about the writer’s penmanship, choice of topic, and willingness to share her work.  Then the teacher guided the class in making suggestions, and Mary looked on smiling and thanking them for their help.

The scenario described above was almost 15 years ago and the CCSS have reiterated the call to write (with spelling errors), revise (after receiving feedback on content), and edit (fix the mechanical errors).  One of the reasons our youngsters hesitate to write is because so many still focus on the mechanics before the free flow of thought.  Self-regulated writers set writing goals keeping in mind only one goal can be reached at a time. If the first goal is to put an idea on paper, the second to revise, and the third to edit, the outcome will be a product of process writing and the self-efficacy of the young writer will increase each time a goal is reached.

There are many writing programs that provide guidelines for writing using self-regulatory learning (see links below) or process writing. Yes, it takes time, it is a process, and it is laborious…however the results are significant.

Self Regulated Strategy Development  http://kc.vanderbilt.edu/projectwrite/

Writer’s Workshop http://www.ttms.org/PDFs/05%20Writers%20Workshop%20v001%20(Full).pdf

Cognitive Guided Instruction in Writing






2 thoughts on “Let them write!

  1. As a reader and writer and English teacher who learned spelling and mechanics at a very young age, I never approved of the idea of invented spelling. But what Marie articulates here, that we can let the ideas flow without being concerned about spelling and mechanics, and then revise, so that they don’t become bogged down, actually works! After reading Marie’s article, it dawned on me that that’s what I encourage when I teach the principles of brainstorming and pre-writing. I always say, “Just get it down, and don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, handwriting, or anything else. You don’t want to forget your ideas.” I realize now that I was actually promoting it for the greater good of producing a better finished product. I fooled myself into accepting a practice I had sneered at!

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