Learning to write is a tricky one. Young learners start school with little to no sound letter knowledge, not much of an understanding of key writing concepts and a limited view about the purpose of written text. My question is: Where do we start when teaching students how to write?
From observations I’ve made, when many educators are teaching writing to first-time learners, they focus on getting them to name and form letters correctly. Until these skills are acquired, there is little to no focus on the purpose of writing. In this school of thought, there is a belief that new writers aren’t capable of expressing an idea through text until they know how to write words and represent sounds correctly. As a result, a line of “scribble” underneath a picture is not as valued as a word that is clearly printed and legible. This is because the letter formation is privileged as the learning outcome over and above the student making a connection between the written word and an image.
As I write this I am listening to my son babble. I make eye contact with him and imitate his sounds – this is our way of communicating. He can’t say any words yet, but in his own way he is speaking to me. In amongst our babbling, I say some real words as I am confident that in time he will begin to learn how to speak our language.
I believe that written language should be learned in a similar way to spoken language. I think that students should be experimenting with writing texts as soon as they can hold a pencil. Don’t get me wrong, I think that it is important that they learn about the mechanics of writing, such as using the different letters of the alphabet and using capital letters. But they should be writing in meaningful contexts just like my son does with his speech. They should be using print and pictures to express their ideas. I am of the opinion that there is only a purpose to the mechanics of writing when opportunities are given for these mechanical elements to make meaning. For example, a beautifully formed letter doesn’t mean anything without a context in which it is being used. Basically, I believe that when teaching students how to write a holistic approach should be taken so that meaning and mechanics are brought together.
In my Teachers Pay Teachers store I have some ‘learning to write’ resoures. I have developed some Letter Formation Task Cards that encourage kids to practise forming letters in fun ways. I have also developed a Beginning Writing Goal pack that is to be used when writing in meaningful contexts. In this pack students work their way through a range of writing goals such as writing from left to right, using full stops and adding detail to their texts.
Stay tuned, as I am currently working on a resource that aims give educators ideas as to how to get kids writing in meaningful contexts while learning about letters and sounds.
Credit to Creative Clips for the graphic.