How can preliterate children participate in writer’s workshop? This was the focus question of my Master-level research project. I discovered there are indeed ways teachers can modify the essential elements of writer’s workshop to meet the needs of Preschool aged children. This post deals specifically with conferencing with writers in the early years.
The most common form of writing in workshop is journaling. In their book Teaching the Best Practice Way, Daniels and Bizar’s description of journaling attributes its value to a method whereby students represent their learning, as a means to understand: “Journaling involves short writings or drawings that help students move into, through, and beyond the content of the curriculum in any subject. . . they are short, spontaneous, exploratory, expressive, informal, personal, unedited, and ungraded”. Of course, young children thrive with this kind of “writing” and thus, journaling is a cornerstone of my classwork.
This week I’ve been attending workshops and labs with literacy coach, Kasey Perry. She’s helping here with a school-wide transition to the writer’s workshop. I spoke with her about my approach to journaling: Students are instructed they may write whatever they chose in their journals. After some minutes of uninterrupted work, I confer individually with each writer, “What are you writing today?”. I then transcribe verbatim what each speaks about their writing. Kasey suggests that rather than transcribe, let the children “write” the letters themselves, though certainly I can expect scribbles and wavy lines from most. However, they are learning they are able writers, fully independent, capable, with a voice and a message- each is an author.
I was excited to adopt Kasey Perry’s suggestion. This is one more step students can take toward achieving complete independence. It also provides a more meaning-rich experience for my students who are learning English as a second language, for whom it can be difficult for them to convey to me the meaning of their writing and often results in truncated expression. This week I had my students write their own “words” to narrate their journals. The student whose work is displayed above used a green pencil and developmentally appropriate writing to express herself. We’re one step closer to a wholly student-driven classroom.
If you’d like to know more about the Preschool writer’s workshop follow my site. I’ll post more about different elements of writer’s workshop in the Preschool, including ideas for working with mentor texts. I’d also love to hear what you’re doing with your children to foster literacy- leave a comment.