writing workshop

Listen to the Children

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how my Kindergarten students perceive themselves as writers. I always try to communicate the message to them that they are authors and illustrators–no matter their previous experience or ability. I strive to give them rich, authentic writing opportunities throughout the day. And I want them to feel like they can write about topics that interest them both during and outside the writing workshop. But how much of this have my students truly internalized? Do they see themselves as writers? What do they understand about the purpose of writing? What parts of writing feel easy? What parts feel hard? I decided to interview my class in order to learn more about their perspectives on writing and what it means to them as five and six year old emergent writers. Their responses have given me quite a lot to consider!

Jenna: I want you to think about some of the writing that we do in our class. When in our school day do we write?

Mika: At writing workshop.

Charlie: Play centers.

Jenna: When else?

Nikhil: Art. Like at play centers.

Ben: Writing workshop.

Grayson: Science.

Dillon: Quiet time in our journals.

Joshua: Arrival activities.

Nikhil: We writed yesterday making the playdough.

Jenna: Oh right, we wrote about how to make playdough!

Jenna: Why do people write? What are some reasons why a person might want to write?

Milan: So we can learn how to write better.

Jenna: Are there any other reasons why we write?

Lucy: Because then we will learn how to write words.

Milan: To learn how to write heart words.

Lucy: Good handwriting!

Gemma: Because if someone writes like a street sign then that’s how you know where to go.

Jenna: Why else do we write?

Grayson: Because we want to get better at writing.

Jenna: And how does writing help you get better at writing?

Grayson: Because you practice a lot.

Jenna: Are there any other reasons why we write?

Nikhil: Cuz you can write anything and you want to get realistic at drawing so you just draw what you want to draw and you surprise people and you can draw paintings so like, houses look good.

Jenna: What do you like about writing? Remember we wrote about special objects. We wrote about special places. We’re starting to write how-to books…

Dillon: That you get to write something about something.

Jenna: Can you say more about that?

Dillon: Like if I drawed a picture and I want to write about it.

Natalia: Because it’s fun to write. Because when you get older you have homework to do and if you don’t know how to write things then you won’t know how to do your homework so writing is good. I like to write about all different things.

Charlie: Because I want to get better at my drawings right now because my sister is better than me and I want to be like my sister.

Seraphina: So I can teach my baby sister to write.

Mika: Because if you write stuff you might forget what you’re gonna do tomorrow or today after school.

Jenna: So writing helps you remember what you’re going to do?

Mika: Yeah.

Jenna: Is writing important to you? Thumbs up if writing is important to you (about two thirds of the class raises their thumbs).

Ben: Yes. It helps you learn.

Milan: It helps you learn how to write better and read because if you don’t know a letter how to read it, you cannot read it.

Ben: You’re in big trouble.

Lucy: So if you can’t talk when you’re older and you know how to spell things, you can write to tell your parents or you can do sign language.

Jenna: Oh, interesting!

Nikhil: Cuz if you write then you get better and every time you grow up and every time you finish your school you get harder homework and you need to know how to write to get the answer so you have to get better at writing.

Jenna: Is writing important to you Michelle? (Michelle nods her head yes). Why?

Michelle: Because then when you grow up when you go to your office…Mommy has a boss at office and when you grow up you might go to an office and they might want you to write something.

Jenna: So writing helps you when you grow up to do your job? Does anyone else want to tell us why writing is important to them? Mika, why is writing important to you?

Mika: Because like I could write stuff and because I want to teach Bluey to do tricks so I write stuff down the tricks that I’m going to teach her tomorrow.

Jenna: Who’s Bluey?

Mika: My dog.

Jenna: Oh, ok! So you write down the tricks you’re going to teach her?

Mika: Uh huh.

Jenna: How do you write it? Do you write it with pictures and words or do you write it just with pictures?

Mika: I write it just with pictures until I know how to write.

Jenna: So the pictures also become part of your writing?

Mika: Yeah.

Jenna: What parts of writing feel hard to you?

Dillon: Spelling.

Jenna: Why is spelling hard?

Dillon: Because if there’s a long word like you have to sound it out really long.

Lucy: Writing words that you don’t know.

Jenna: Does anyone else want to say something about what makes writing hard for you?

Mika: When you sound it out, you might don’t know what that letter sounds like so then you could ask somebody.

Jenna: Oh, so when something’s hard you can always ask for help, right? Yeah those letter sounds are hard to remember.

Mika: But you can also try hard to get it right.

Jenna: You can keep trying and you can be brave? (Kids nod their heads.) Yeah because we’re brave spellers in this class, aren’t we? (Kids say, “Yes!”

Jenna: What do you do if you want to write a word that you don’t know how to spell?

Milan: Stretch it out like a rubber band.

Jenna: Does anyone else want to share about what feels hard about writing? Natalia?

Natalia: It feels hard sometimes when it’s a word where you only hear three sounds but then at the end there’s one quiet sound. It’s kind of hard because you kind of don’t really realize. So that’s a harder part of a word.

Jenna: What parts of writing feel easy to you?

Dillon: That you get to write about stuff. 

Jenna: And what do you like to write about?

Dillon: Like pictures that I make.

Jenna: Nikhil, what part of writing feels easy to you?

Nikhil: A part of writing is easy cuz you can make whatever you want and if you think it’s hard you cannot make it and if you think it’s easy it’s just easy.

Ben: Like, writing words that you already know. I know a couple more words than all of our snap words.

Jenna: You do? So writing snap words feels easy to you? What about you, Milan? Is there any part of writing that feels easy to you?

Milan: Like say, sometimes I do writing wrong. Like I sound it out but I feel like I skip some letters I sound out.

Jenna: Yeah, so is that what makes writing feel hard to you? Trying to sound out words?

Milan: Yeah.

Jenna: But is there any part that feels easy for you?

Milan: The stuff that feels easy for me is the sight words.

Jenna: Is drawing part of writing?

Milan: Yeah.

Jenna: How do we use drawing when we write?

Milan: Because if we were drawing a book, how would they know what’s the page looking like? With a chapter book, nothing.

Lucy: So the words in the book tell you what it’s about and for to label. You can label.

Jenna: Oh! What are the labels for?

Lucy: The labels are for you to know what it is.

Jenna: To know what it is in the picture part? So drawing is part of our writing, isn’t it? Is the drawing hard for you to do or is it easy to do?

Milan: I say it’s like easy or hard.

Ben: It’s hard to draw things if I don’t know how to draw it.

Jenna: Is writing fun?

Lucy: Yes, because then you get to learn new letters.

Ben: Or you could draw whatever you want. 

Jenna: And when you write for fun, what do you write about?

Milan: Sometimes if I went to somewhere special I write for fun.

Ben: I do! I love to write for fun.

Jenna: What do you write about for fun?

Milan: Well next weekend I’m going to a chess tournament and maybe I’ll write about that because that’s exciting.

Ben: Whatever I’m thinking. I’ll write about whatever I’m thinking about.

Jenna: And what might you be thinking about?

Ben: I don’t know…when we battle at outdoor play. I’m going to write about that at quiet time.

Jenna: Is there anything fun you write about, Lucy?

Lucy: Birthday parties!

Jenna: How does writing help you express your ideas or what you think about? Do you ever write about things you think about?

Lucy: It can help you remember things that if you’re not really a good rememberer you can write it down if you know how to write and then when the next day if you forgot you can look at so you’ll know.

Mika: Like I have a book that I got for Christmas and I really like it and I write all my wishes in there.

Jenna: Is it like a journal?

Mika: Yeah.

Jenna: When you do your work at quiet time, what kind of writing are you doing in your journals? What do you like to write to about during quiet time?

Michelle: I only do pictures.

Jenna: And what do you draw about?

Michelle: It’s a secret because it’s really weird.

Jenna: Ok, you don’t have to tell us. Grayson, what do you like to write about?

Grayson: Me and my mommy playing Nintendo switch.

Jenna: So you can write about your family, or things you like to do?

Mika: I write in there but I write about stuff that I like to do.

Jenna: Like what?

Mika: Like today for quiet time I’m going to write down in there when I finish using that quiet time journal and I take it home I could remember at my house that I’m going to try to jump rope with my new jump rope.

Jenna: Here’s my last question: What is writing for?

Seraphina: To learn.

Natalia: Writing’s for so you could get better and actually do your homework cuz when you get bigger you’re going to have to have a lot of homework.

Ben: Yeah.

Natalia: So you have to be able to write to do homework because there’s some things you need to write in homework.

Ben: Some things like why you’re special? 

Jenna: Yeah, writing is for writing why you’re special, like we wrote about in our class.

Milan: Like ourselves, how special we are…like what kind of parts of our body we have.

Natalia: And sometimes your dad or your mom or somebody they might be like, “Hey, can you spell something for me?” And then if you don’t know how to then you’ll never learn how to write. So that’s why you need to learn how to write, so if someone asks you how to write, “what” you’ll be able to tell them.

Milan: And also, if you ask your parents how to write something it means that you don’t know how to write something before you ask your parents because you could sound it out at the end of the school. So if you want to write it in your journal you could just sound it out instead.

Ben: If there’s nobody in your town and you live in a place where there’s like nobody, like nobody could even journey there, if you lived in a place like that place like Antarctica or something and you don’t know how to write and you need to write something down, it would be really bad because there’s nobody to tell you how to.

Milan: Well you have to be a brave writer.

Ben: And you know how when you’re a kid you have parents and then when you’re like about 18 you go off on your own, that’s what I’m talking about.

Milan: No, but when you’re 18 you know how to write so many stuff.

Ben: But if you don’t know then you would be in big trouble.

Dillon: Writing is important because then you can do things fun and at work it will help you.

Mika: Writing is for to remember stuff and remember stuff that you’re gonna learn about and about fun stuff that you could do. And you could even write about a fun place that you’re gonna go tomorrow.

Charlie: Writing is for learning how to read and also spelling.

Gemma: To write so you can get better at writing. And you can also draw stuff that you want to draw.

Joshua: Writing is to write stuff that we remember and to get fun.

Natalia: Writing is for learning.

Reflection: Learning how to write is one of the hardest cognitive tasks there is! It requires a child to coordinate so many moving parts–from the very physical graphomotor piece, to the generation of ideas or stories, to the formation of sentences and the phonemic and phonological components that go into turning those sentences into sounds that become words, and more. Learning how to write is a major undertaking at every turn! Kindergarten students are in the thick of it, and as a teacher, watching them grow in this regard is such rewarding work.

One of my take aways from this interview is that learning how to write is what makes writing important to many of my students. They don’t necessarily know yet why they write, but they know that they will need to write to do their homework when they’re older, when they’re stranded in Antarctica, when they need to remember to do something, or even for their future job. They know that writing is something they are trying to do all by themselves, but sometimes they need to use other resources or ask grownups for help.

Something else that I learned is that for my students, drawing is deeply connected to writing–as it should be! Many of my students spoke about drawing as writing, and some said that’s what they do when they write for fun or during quiet time. Drawing is still the primary way that many of my students communicate their ideas. Just as a toddler may have a lot to say but does not yet have the spoken words to say it, most five and six year olds have the words to verbally communicate their ideas, but writing them down is an arduous process with a high level of cognitive demand, and it can take a long time. Drawing is still the most accessible form of writing for them at this point in their writing progression.

Finally, spelling and sight words are a major focus for my students for reasons that are both easy and hard for them. How do you spell the words you want to write? Do you sound them out? Do you ask for help? What about those tricky words with quiet sounds and unconventional spelling patterns? What if you don’t even know what sound a letter makes? There are so many variables at play, and yet my Kindergarten students are piecing it all together, day by day, figuring it out in their own way. I love this messy process. And as their teacher, I couldn’t be prouder!

One thought on “Listen to the Children

  1. When working with kindergarten children, how much should you prompt them or how much conversation do you have before you leave them alone to write? Also, with spelling, how much do you help them? If they aren’t sounding out, do we help them to sound it out? Do we ever give the a spelling if its a word where sounding out won’t help or if they hadn’t yet gotten to those particular blends, etc? Thank, a grandpa who has to do homework with his grandson three nights a week.


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