My son’s first story consisted of a series wavy lines and curlicues written in black marker across the back of a leather couch. And for those of you who are wondering, yes, it was a permanent marker.
With great pride, he read us his story, pointing to each “word” (“I wrote my story in grown up writing!”) as he moved his hand from left to right across the “page”. He shared an action packed and well developed account of Spiderman’s most recent adventure. Although his first story was unreadable to anyone else, every other trait of writing (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency) was present. It was clear that my son was a writer, he just had to learn how to share his story with others. As a mother, I hoped that his instruction in spelling, spacing, and letter formation did not overtake his enthusiasm for sharing his stories.
While my son’s first story was lost with the eventual replacement of the couch, my daughter’s first piece of formal writing survived. Since she was making a card, she chose to draw her story. Have a look:
I think you’ll agree that my daughter’s card, written to wish her dad a speedy recovery from knee surgery, provides the reader with a clear sense of the event, the details of the event, and the impact of the event (yes, that’s just what her Dad looked like when he came home from the hospital). My daughter was also using some of the conventions of text – a greeting at the top of the page:
and a closing:
and this somewhat misplaced grouping of letters:
is actually evidence of an almost correct spelling of her name, which is Michèle. (Yes, the orientation of “L” is a bit wonky and there are a few extra horizontal lines in the “E”, but she had a clear sense of what she was writing)
Michele was also editing her work, which is clear when she realized she’d made a mistake:
The point of this is to illustrate that as soon as children start telling, drawing, or writing stories, they are writers. It’s our job as parents and teachers to acknowledge these early forms of writing, encourage more exploration, and provide timely prompts about how to share their ideas and stories.
Learning to write begins with oral language. A good conversation is never a waste of time, so talk to child/students about anything and everything and encourage them to talk to you. Ask questions that lead them them think deeply about their topic and encourage them to ask questions of you. Conversation is the foundation of writing – children learn that the words they speak are the words they can write.
As children start to experiment with print, ask them to read the story to you. Ask questions about the details of the story and acknowledge their developing use of print to share the story. As a child’s writing develops, develop lessons and provide feedback that focuses on writing as a process of sharing ideas. Encourage children to explore and develop their ideas through interesting word choice and sentence structures as they learn how to spell. It’s important to remember that spelling is a component of writing, not a definition of writing.
But how can we track progress from early scribbles to readable print?
These examples, borrowed from Education Northwest Grades K-2 Illustrated Rubric K-2, provide a developmental look at how children go from the earliest to increasingly sophisticated forms of story writing.
The process of learning how to write takes time, practice, instruction, and ongoing feedback about what’s been accomplished and what’s next. Effective support maintains the early joy of sharing a story by focusing on the student’s learning, interests, and voice.
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