Tuesday, 21 April 2015

You Don't Need a Pencil to Write...or Do You. Tara O'Neill

You don’t need a pencil to write or do you?

“As soon as they hit my class, they are expected to sit down and write,” said one teacher of New Entrants.   “Make sure your students know they are Writers from day one, get them sitting down, with a pencil and get them writing in their exercise book” said a person offering professional development.  These statements seem sensible enough after all that is what teachers do, they teach.  What are your thoughts?

I heard the statements, and I didn’t agree with them.

 Who said humans were ready to write at the age of 5 years?  Who said that the definition of writing includes a pencil and paper? Who said that you had to sit down to write?   Is writing defined by a picture of something you did in the weekend and then a sentence written by a teacher underneath?

Writing is about communicating ideas.  Physically writing words down is one way we can do this.   Many of the students in our learning community come to school without necessarily having used a pencil.  Consider the writing stages, shown here in this link from https://www.kinderplans.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Writing-Stages.png.

There are many such examples if you goggle them.   My point is children don’t all start school ready to write in books with a pencil.  

Consider this approach.  A group of children are interested in fire fighting.  Our teacher aide is a local firefighter.  He brings in helmets for them to use in play.  He talks to the students about different situations he has been called to.  He explains to them that after every call out, the team sits down and records what has happened.   The following day, another teacher walks past this group.  They are sitting around a table.  They yell out, “We are having a meeting about our call out”.  The teacher says, “You will need something to record it in, and goes and gets a book”.  One child takes charge, and starts to write in the book.  It doesn’t matter how she writes, the point is writing it is now meaningful.  Once students have ‘got writing’ and begin to understand the power of it, further instruction can be given to the particular skills needed to evolve their writing.   

Some writers in our learning community haven’t been exposed to story.  Some find it difficult to speak in sentences.  We believe that before a child can write, they need to speak or at least show understanding of communication.   What would happen, if you arrived in a foreign country, and on your first day, the tour guide said you were in charge of writing the request for breakfast, in the foreign language!  How would you feel? 

Writing is about communicating. You will be able to think of many cultures that have an oral tradition of passing down stories.  Are their stories any less valuable?  Of course not!  Writing reflects the ideas, sequence and logic of the writer. To communicate ideas that are important and rich orally makes the writer no less an author than those who write with pencil and paper.

Of course we want all our students to be able to write, it is very useful being able to record ideas even essential.  Lets face it, much of our paranoia over students sitting down with a pencil, and writing from day dot, is brought about by needing to met a summative assessment. That is expectations that all children write at a certain level by a certain age.  Having goals are important, but the goals must be purposeful, meaningful and show progress.  What happened to meaningful learning that is not parroting someone else’s ideas in a robot like fashion? 

Would it not be more purposeful teaching practice, to identify where the child is in their development of writing, and design learning to meet this need?   Developmentally, the child may need to learn to draw first.  They may need to be in an environment where they hear words and are spoken to.  The achievement objectives of the New Zealand Curriculum say “a school’s curriculum is likely to be well designed when – students are helped to build on existing learning and take it to higher levels;  – the long view is taken: each student’s ultimate learning success is more important than the covering of particular achievement objectives”  (TKI, 2015).   I guess that is my real concern, that young children are being expected to learn something before they are ready and in doing so we risk turning them off learning. 

Personally, I love walking into our learning community and seeing groups of children, self managing themselves, learning, some around white boards, writing, others with paper, drawing, others playing in the family corner, designing some clothes for the doll on scrap paper and still others on reading eggs on the ipad.

What do you think?  How do your students travel with writing?  What is their existing learning in writing?  Are they successful communicators of language?


TKI (2015) - http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/The-New-Zealand-Curriculum/The-school-curriculum-Design-and-review

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