Sunday, January 29, 2012

"A Window into a Child's Mind"

Children's writing provides a wonderful insight into the concepts of conventional writing that children are currently coming to understand, have already mastered, or are still working to fully grasp. Early elementary teachers understand how important inteoducing and encouraging appropriate writing attitudes and practices with our children.

According to a University of Arizona professor, Kare Foley Cusumano, there are seven concrete ideas that teachers should always remember and embody in their classrooms regarding writing experiences. These points include:
- Praising writing by the meaning that a child intends, and its content. This means never pointing out errors regarding conventional writing norms
- Understanding that inventive spelling/writing will develop into conventional writing
- Focusing on positives, not errors; avoid a focus on "correctness"
- Introducing conventional writing ideas by pointing them out in literature, environmental print, and personal letters
- Demonstrating writing by example: let children be involved in writing letters, emails, making grocery lists, writing checks, etc.
- Incorporating rich writing experiences into family activities like writing letters to family members, journaling, making cards, etc.
- Creating a World Wall or Spelling Dictionary for children, which they create and should not be used as an excuse to demand conventional spellings

When a teacher completely understands and carries out these ideas and philosophies of writing in her classroom, she has begun to develop the "best practice" and most appropriate environment for writing, but it is not yet complete! A child needs a supportive community in order to be the most successful in writing. A child also needs family and community support, which should be aligned with the 7 best practices identified by Cusumano. Teachers have a responsiblity to educate families and community members about the ways to approach writing literacy at home. Some great times to educate families include open house, parent-teacher conferences, and writing workshops. During these times, a teacher should look to convey the 7 integral philosophies of children's writing, and provide positive strategies for practicing appropriate writing at home.

Some simple ideas to encourage appropriate early writing at home include:

- Reading good children's literature, while pointing out conventional points like spacing, periods, syllables, beginning-middle-ends, left to write orientation, etc
- Encouraging writing with materials to write on and with
- Focus on the positives of writing, never what a child is missing
- If you cannot read inventive spelling, ask the child to read to you what he wrote
- Write letters, journal, lists, notes, anything!
- Demonstrate writing practices to start conversations
- Be creative, stay positive, model well, and be open!

Using these tips a teacher should be able to create a team of support for a child so he can develop appropriate and flourishing writing habits and attitudes.

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