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March 6, 2017

Practical Incentives for Early Writers

By Elaine Winter
Grades PreK–K

    With regard to their interest in writing, their capacity to form letters, and their ability to convert sounds to letters, four-year-olds are typically all over the map. As an educator, I am comfortable that this is as it should be; we see similar variations reflected in so many aspects of their rapidly evolving development. Some children complete rhymes with ease; others are without a clue. Some recognize and match initial consonant sounds; others take wild guesses. Some see mathematical patterns as clear as day; others see none. Some children are readers, others, not even close. Not yet….

    As we support our children’s many emerging skills, it often helps to include practical incentives to make clear that their efforts are worthwhile. Why should I do all this work just to learn to write? What will change in my life when I’m a writer? Through modeling and documentation, teachers can illustrate some of the ways that writing is a very useful tool. Teachers can record children’s words and read them back to them. They can write a recipe chart by hand. And they can document children’s questions in order to save until they are needed.

    In our preschool, Fours teachers Nancy and Jean introduce a process I call “the art of the interview.” In preparation for a trip or visit, these teachers help children formulate open-ended questions. Recently this class has been studying workers to learn about their different jobs. As they prepared for a visit from a “real chef,” Nancy asked what they already knew about his job. It turned out, they knew quite a bit!

    They knew that chefs:

    •   Press a bell when the food is done

    •   Know how to use pizza dough

    •   Know how to use an oven

    •   Have special machines to mix things up

    •   Follow the recipe

    Jean made notes of their contributions. Following the KWL model (what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) with respect to a particular subject), Nancy used her next meeting to generate questions for Chef Lucas’ visit. What would the class like to learn about his job:

    •   Did you always want to be a chef?

    •   Do you do things that are too dangerous for kids?

    •   Why does it take so long to get your food?

    •   What kinds of chefs are there?

    •   (And, my personal favorite…) What happens if someone is ready for dessert, but all the chefs are still cooking?

    Nancy consistently helped children recognize the difference between a question and comment, an interesting distinction for preschoolers. Although an intellectual understanding is within their easy grasp, the act of asking when they want to be sharing presents a challenge. For example, when called upon, Sadie said, “Whenever I go to a restaurant with my dad it takes a reeeeally long time to get my food.” It wasn’t hard for Nancy to help Sadie rephrase: “Why does it take so long to get your food?”

    When Chef Lucas finally arrived, Nancy shared with him the list of the children’s questions. Lucas answered concretely including rich examples along with a joke or two. In response to: “Do you do things that are too dangerous for kids?” Lucas said, “I had to learn how to use sharp knives, a stove top, and an oven. And I always have to be careful.” “What happens if someone is ready for dessert, but all the chefs are still cooking?” “Some restaurants have dessert chefs who only make desserts.”

      

    Thanks to her documentation, preschoolers’ questions were preserved until they were needed. Although not writers themselves, they participated as Nancy modeled this documentation. Nancy’s notes had brought results; children’s questions were answered.

    Another aspect of the Fours’ week is journal writing. While we refer to it as writing, most children are actually dictating responses that teachers record for them. Each child then illustrates her page, recording through pictures. As the process moves forward, and children grow more sophisticated in their letter/sound understandings, they begin to contribute letters and even words to their journals. This is a one-on-one process that requires a teacher’s close involvement. Here are a few journal responses to a teacher’s question, “What makes you happy?”

    ·       One thing that makes me happy is building machines in the block area and then cleaning it up.

    ·       It makes me happy to look at the art and pictures at the Met with my family.”

    ·       Drawing pictures is one thing that makes me happy.

    ·       I love walking with my daddy every day. I love my daddy so much that he makes my heart feel better.

    ·       It makes me happy when my mommy tells me to give her a hug and a kiss.

    Every so often teachers take a moment to read a few journal entries at meeting time, providing the authors with an audience and the class with new lenses into their friends’ worlds.

    Earlier this year, children themselves actually requested that their teacher record their words. Nancy and Jean had begun to describe what would take place on Inauguration Day. The class had been excited about this election and its unexpected outcome. Out of the blue, 4-year-old Gary said he wanted to write a letter to the President. Nancy agreed that she could do that for him, and took out her pen as many hands were raised. Below is the unprompted letter to President Trump contributed by this class of young citizens. We welcome children’s opinions as they grapple to make sense of their changing world.

    Now we await an official response from the White House.

     

    January 2017

    Dear President Trump,

    Can you please be nicer and don’t use words that hurt, like stupid?

    Please stop people from killing all of the animals in the world.

    Can you please be like Martin Luther King, Jr.? He was kind and helpful and cared about other people.

    Maybe we could visit you sometime and show you how to treat others.

    We hope you can be nice to us and stop the ocean from being polluted.

     

    The Full-Day Fours

    With regard to their interest in writing, their capacity to form letters, and their ability to convert sounds to letters, four-year-olds are typically all over the map. As an educator, I am comfortable that this is as it should be; we see similar variations reflected in so many aspects of their rapidly evolving development. Some children complete rhymes with ease; others are without a clue. Some recognize and match initial consonant sounds; others take wild guesses. Some see mathematical patterns as clear as day; others see none. Some children are readers, others, not even close. Not yet….

    As we support our children’s many emerging skills, it often helps to include practical incentives to make clear that their efforts are worthwhile. Why should I do all this work just to learn to write? What will change in my life when I’m a writer? Through modeling and documentation, teachers can illustrate some of the ways that writing is a very useful tool. Teachers can record children’s words and read them back to them. They can write a recipe chart by hand. And they can document children’s questions in order to save until they are needed.

    In our preschool, Fours teachers Nancy and Jean introduce a process I call “the art of the interview.” In preparation for a trip or visit, these teachers help children formulate open-ended questions. Recently this class has been studying workers to learn about their different jobs. As they prepared for a visit from a “real chef,” Nancy asked what they already knew about his job. It turned out, they knew quite a bit!

    They knew that chefs:

    •   Press a bell when the food is done

    •   Know how to use pizza dough

    •   Know how to use an oven

    •   Have special machines to mix things up

    •   Follow the recipe

    Jean made notes of their contributions. Following the KWL model (what a student knows (K), wants to know (W), and has learned (L) with respect to a particular subject), Nancy used her next meeting to generate questions for Chef Lucas’ visit. What would the class like to learn about his job:

    •   Did you always want to be a chef?

    •   Do you do things that are too dangerous for kids?

    •   Why does it take so long to get your food?

    •   What kinds of chefs are there?

    •   (And, my personal favorite…) What happens if someone is ready for dessert, but all the chefs are still cooking?

    Nancy consistently helped children recognize the difference between a question and comment, an interesting distinction for preschoolers. Although an intellectual understanding is within their easy grasp, the act of asking when they want to be sharing presents a challenge. For example, when called upon, Sadie said, “Whenever I go to a restaurant with my dad it takes a reeeeally long time to get my food.” It wasn’t hard for Nancy to help Sadie rephrase: “Why does it take so long to get your food?”

    When Chef Lucas finally arrived, Nancy shared with him the list of the children’s questions. Lucas answered concretely including rich examples along with a joke or two. In response to: “Do you do things that are too dangerous for kids?” Lucas said, “I had to learn how to use sharp knives, a stove top, and an oven. And I always have to be careful.” “What happens if someone is ready for dessert, but all the chefs are still cooking?” “Some restaurants have dessert chefs who only make desserts.”

      

    Thanks to her documentation, preschoolers’ questions were preserved until they were needed. Although not writers themselves, they participated as Nancy modeled this documentation. Nancy’s notes had brought results; children’s questions were answered.

    Another aspect of the Fours’ week is journal writing. While we refer to it as writing, most children are actually dictating responses that teachers record for them. Each child then illustrates her page, recording through pictures. As the process moves forward, and children grow more sophisticated in their letter/sound understandings, they begin to contribute letters and even words to their journals. This is a one-on-one process that requires a teacher’s close involvement. Here are a few journal responses to a teacher’s question, “What makes you happy?”

    ·       One thing that makes me happy is building machines in the block area and then cleaning it up.

    ·       It makes me happy to look at the art and pictures at the Met with my family.”

    ·       Drawing pictures is one thing that makes me happy.

    ·       I love walking with my daddy every day. I love my daddy so much that he makes my heart feel better.

    ·       It makes me happy when my mommy tells me to give her a hug and a kiss.

    Every so often teachers take a moment to read a few journal entries at meeting time, providing the authors with an audience and the class with new lenses into their friends’ worlds.

    Earlier this year, children themselves actually requested that their teacher record their words. Nancy and Jean had begun to describe what would take place on Inauguration Day. The class had been excited about this election and its unexpected outcome. Out of the blue, 4-year-old Gary said he wanted to write a letter to the President. Nancy agreed that she could do that for him, and took out her pen as many hands were raised. Below is the unprompted letter to President Trump contributed by this class of young citizens. We welcome children’s opinions as they grapple to make sense of their changing world.

    Now we await an official response from the White House.

     

    January 2017

    Dear President Trump,

    Can you please be nicer and don’t use words that hurt, like stupid?

    Please stop people from killing all of the animals in the world.

    Can you please be like Martin Luther King, Jr.? He was kind and helpful and cared about other people.

    Maybe we could visit you sometime and show you how to treat others.

    We hope you can be nice to us and stop the ocean from being polluted.

     

    The Full-Day Fours

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