I was preparing for kindergarten parent-teacher conferences this week, and I could feel myself spinning. There is so much that is overwhelming this year, and I was struggling to focus. Boil it down, I thought.
- What are the priorities for literacy learning this year in bullet points? (Just the process of putting this slideshow together made me feel so much calmer.)
- How can I empower parents to notice the growth their kids are making?
- How can I be transparent about aligning what families hear me teaching with what their children are doing with the feedback both they and I offer kids along the way?
For parents and caregivers to truly be partners in this work, they need to have opportunities to be as clear about our goals for learners as we are. This is complex and potentially a lot to ask. . . but remote learning has opened the door.
For one thing, families are much more in the loop with the day-to-day of kindergarten because kindergarten is happening in their kitchens. Families are in the vicinity during minilessons and small group time; they hear the read alouds and the mentor texts. As we share student work, they can see what the writing work of kindergartners looks like; they notice what we compliment and where we offer nudges for next steps.
Caregivers are helping kids to upload their writing work into digital platforms for sharing—we’re using SeeSaw, for example—and then they’re reading the feedback I leave on each piece aloud to their child. That feedback can then be front of mind as kids enter back into their writing work.
Families are looped in to each exchange out of necessity—and that is a gift.
With family members within earshot of our teaching, it’s an opportunity to model the kind of feedback that helps kids feel seen and understood as writers. This builds trust and partnerships with families.
Many adults aren’t sure what kind of feedback to offer beginning writers, and the default—coming from the best of intentions—often becomes correcting spelling and conventions. Although—so interesting, and not a coincidence—I have had far fewer questions from families this year about how to support writers at home. My theory: this is because families have regular access to the instruction, and they’re seeing so much more of the feedback than they would if kids were in school.
This is an important lesson going forward as kids return to in-person learning. . . How might we keep families as informed as they need to be to really partner with us when they don’t have such convenient access to daily instruction?
In the interest of boiling things down and keeping them simple, here are my top five tips for families for offering impactful feedback to young writers at home. I plan to share them at (or as a follow up to) conferences.
1. Be authentic in your response to the work.
If it’s funny, laugh. If they’ve included an intriguing fact, demonstrate genuine surprise and interest. If an illustration has lots of detail, stop to pore over it. If something is confusing or you would like to (or need to) know more, ask questions. This is all feedback, and young writers are seeking evidence that what they write and draw has the power to provoke a reaction. We write to communicate, and writers can self-evaluate the effectiveness of that communication by studying a reader’s reaction.
2. Acknowledge and Honor Effort
“You are trying ______, just like your class was working on today in writing workshop!” Pointing out when kids apply learning from minilessons encourages them to keep doing it. When we notice and affirm this risk taking, writers are more likely to do it again. I would also recommend simply noticing a new effort and then asking, “What made you think to try that?” We want kids to learn to talk about their decision making as writers.
3. Value the Illustrations as Highly as the Writing
Details in illustrations for young writers translates into details in the writing down the road. If there is more to talk about in the illustrations, then there is (eventually) more to write about. Point out the details in the pictures that draw you in as a reader or that tell a key part of the story. With informational writing, name the details that teach you something important as a reader about the topic or specific information on the page.
4. Affirm What the Writer is Doing, and Notice When They Begin Doing More
Learners are motivated when they see evidence of their own growth. Kindergarten writing can change dramatically from week to week, so pointing out that progress is powerful.
- “You are working hard to write the first sounds you hear in every word! Great job labeling the important words in your pictures with first letter sounds!”
- “You are stretching out the sounds in each word, listening for beginning, middle, and ending sounds. This makes it easy for you (and for me) to use sound power to reread/read your writing.”
- “In your last few books, you were labeling important words in your pictures. In this book, you are adding a sentence to some pages. I can tell you really want your reader to understand something important, and you need more words to do it.”
- “You’re planning with lines/leaving spaces between each word, which helps me as a reader to use pointer power to read your writing.”
- “You’ve spent three days working on this book about _____. I can tell you have a lot to teach your reader. Great job sticking with this project over multiple days!”
5. Ground in Purpose
Consider why we write and what keeps us writing. It’s about purpose and audience. Kids want to know that there is a reason for writing that makes all the hard work worth it. Reminding them of purpose and audience is motivating.
- “You have come up with an idea for a book that other kids are going to want to read!”
- “Your book reminds me of. . .” Pointing out how their work is similar to writing in the world shows that their work is real and important. They are doing the work that writers do.
- “This is the kind of book that can teach someone. . .”
- “I can tell that you are the kind of writer who is trying to. . .” When we communicate to kids that we take them seriously as writers, they learn to take themselves seriously.
As is so often the case, crafting this post has helped me to think through something I needed this week. I’m now going into parent-teacher conferences more focused and clear about priorities for the conversation. I am also prepared with some specific suggestions for the question we can count on being asked—because parents and caregivers care deeply about supporting their children—”What are some ways I can help my child at home with writing?”