Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Writing in the early years - what should we be trying to achieve?

Inspired by this ...have a listen, it is very interesting.

Writing...a complex way to communicate with many pieces to the puzzle that I think often go overlooked.  I have previously shared some ideas on writing that can be linked to here.

http://numberagents.blogspot.com/2018/02/storytelling-way-into-writing.html

What I wanted to think about today, for myself, as much as anyone reading this, is the parts of the jigsaw that have to be in place for a child to become successful at communicating in the written form.  Too often I think writing is thought of as this stand alone area, taught in isolation and without purpose. 

Firstly let me say this, children learn best through play, it is my belief that particularly in Year 1 - 2 their experience of school should be through play.  The most important part of learning for these children is social and emotional, if we fail to get this right, we can be part of creating huge problems later on.   We only have to look at our depressing stats around mental health in young people to know that something is going wrong.  Should we accept complete responsibility for that, of course not, but by placing stress on a child from a young age to do something their brain is not capable of doing yet, we are contributing to those statistics, as confronting as that may be, it is the truth. 

Have we done it knowingly, of course not.  Do we know better now?  Yes, so it is time to stop and it is time to put the overwhelming research into practice, because to not do so would be completely ignorant. 
If that means ignoring ERO, ignoring our Education Ministry, so be it...it is the children that matter, and we are the ones who have the power to make a difference for them.

 From Year 3 onwards play continues to be very important, but if we can get it right in the first couple of years, we have done a huge service to the child and their later development as a well rounded, happy, secure person.

I've blogged about literacy development before.  That post can be found here, and many of my previous posts talk about my what I think about developmental readiness.  My diagrams on brain development in the classroom and literacy development are very relevant to this post.



Today I wanted to  blog specifically about writing...however as we know, writing is a broad term and it is all about communication.  Children don't learn to write in isolation and the teaching of writing can can attempt to do just that! Writing is far more than just the mechanics and the product.

Writing is not something that exists as abstract genres, which we teach on rotation, writing is about having a message, something to say.  Many write for pleasure and others write for purpose, some write for both.  When was the last time you sat down and decided it was time you wrote an instructional text.  Children will develop an understanding of different types of writing, not because we spend three weeks focusing on it, but because for  for the message they need to convey, this type of writing is necessary.  When it is necessary, when they are interested, then they will learn about it and be receptive to us teaching them more.

Ultimately "writing is the painting of the voice" - Voltaire

The thought that in many new entrant rooms across our country, children are forced to write from day one (and yes I also was guilty of this) makes me incredibly sad.  These children sit in classrooms, where they are not yet able to speak clearly, yet they are expected to write a message, to learn their name, to even have an understanding of what they are being required to do.  It all seems so absurd to me now that I've travelled this path into play.

There is nothing wrong with invitations to write, experiences based around storytelling, but the expectation that all children at five will magically walk in the door ready to sit and spend an extended time recording a message is quite ridiculous.  We sit down as a class, we talk about messages, we storytell, we expose children to a wide variety of rich and wonderful language through play, but when it comes to actually writing, if they are not ready, they are not ready and no amount of the teacher requiring them to write will make them ready.  In fact it will put them off and later on, they will become our reluctant writers.  As Nathan Wallis says, all they learn from being pushed into this learning is that they can't do it and therefore they are dumb.

And so to go with the diagrams above, what do I think are the crucial parts of the jigsaw puzzle to get children started out as writers when they are ready.  These are my thoughts.



I have shared this before, but it is a really useful tool for 'assessing' the product so that we can better engage developmentally.  Children will make marks during play in a variety of ways and this little assessment can be used to assess anything they produce through play...it doesn't have to be a piece of writing on paper and it doesn't need to happen inside four walls of a classroom.






It is our job as teachers of the youngest learners to know that we do them no favours by foisting the mechanics of writing on them before they are developmentally ready.  However we can assist them by slowly putting the jigsaw puzzle together so that writing becomes a natural and enjoyable process that has everyday purpose in their lives. 




Play is the way and the sooner we realise that, the better off we all will be.  Play has purpose, through purpose comes authentic learning and learner voice and from there everything falls into place!

How would you feel if you were forced to write and you had nothing to say?