Where do I begin writing instruction in my k-1 classroom when my students are all over the map? Not literally, (although that is true of the K-1 classroom) but across the developmental scale. Some students are reading when they walk through the door. Others barely know a letter versus a number or a squiggle. Still others have some sense of letters and are beginning to make the sound-symbol connection. How do I meet the needs of all of these children?
One of the most powerful things we can do for our students is to understand who they are as learners and decide where they fall on a developmental continuum. We do this when we assess skills in reading and math. But what happens when it comes to writing? How do writers develop? What does that look like?
I’m sure you’ve seen a student draw a picture of a person with the head on one side of the paper and the eyeballs on the other. Or perhaps it’s the big round head with arms and legs sticking out of the middle. And, in the same classroom, another student draws a sophisticated line sketch with minute details like buttons and collars on the shirt, or shoes with tied laces. We’re looking at very different readiness levels here! We also recognize that these students require very different starting places in terms of literacy or pre-reading instruction. The same is true for writing.
Writers develop in very specific ways. We can identify those stages as we observe and evaluate their written work. In the early stages of development as a writer, the student approximates letters with squiggles, mock-letters, or random letters. There’s often a corresponding picture that does not appear to relate to the writing, although the student can usually explain what’s going on in the drawing. This is a stage one writer! A stage two writer begins to have a sense of the sound-symbol relationship and includes a list or a label along with the picture. This writer might only use the first letter sound of each word or write a short sentence with one thought. By the time a student reaches stage six, there’s evidence of a strong beginning, middle, and end organizational structure. Details enhance the story, students are using less invented spelling and more traditional spelling, and there is an entertaining quality to the writing.
Once I identify where my students are on this continuum I can make more informed instructional decisions and modifications for each student. A student at stage one will benefit from the oral discussion we have in the classroom about writing, even though he or she will not yet be able to put the thoughts on paper. I’ll be sure to engage this student orally in the process of writing and look for ways to include movement and music when teaching skills. The product that this student produces will include a drawing and perhaps the writing will be scripted by an adult. A student at stage six will also benefit from the oral discussion in the classroom, but the expectation will be that he or she will be able to use the teacher created model to help structure their own writing. They should include specific details and varied sentence structure. Two very different learners, developmentally, but both benefitting from instruction that targets their developmental stage.
There’s no secret to this – writing develops along a parallel track with reading. We know what to look for in our readers – now find out what to look for in your writers by clicking the link below to access student samples that correspond with each developmental stage.