Sunday, March 27, 2016

Nurturing Young Writers Through Book-Making- Week 1 Already Ready Book Study

A teacher emailed me last week asking my thoughts on traditional writer's workshop versus a book-making format of writer's workshop. When I was in the classroom I used a traditional model of writer's workshop, we made lots of books as a class, I offered up plenty of invitations for functional writing, and provided the materials needed for individual book making. I thought I was doing everything I needed to do to build my students as writers and illustrators.

Since I had recently heard someone speak on making books during writer's workshop, I decided to look more into this alternative version of writer's workshop before answering the question. In my effort to find out more, I turned to several books by Katie Ray Wood. In the end, the book that was the most helpful was Already Ready: Nurturing Writers in Preschool and Kindergarten.

Through my reading I discovered three "big" things about writer's workshop-
1) Many of my previous thoughts, attitudes, and methods for growing writers were right on
2) I could have achieved so much more with my young writers if I have used a book-making format during workshop time
3) While I did not use dictation often, when I did it may have sent a message I did not intend to send

The more I read from Already Ready the more I decided that a chapter by chapter book study over several posts would be more helpful and less overwhelming than trying to sum up everything in one long post. So here goes...

Chapter 1- What It Means to Be a Writer

People define themselves by the kinds of things they do in life and young children are no different. If a child spends his time in the classroom doing what writers and illustrators do, then he or she will think and act like a writer and an illustrator. You, the teacher, need to make the time, space, and materials available so that young children can do what writers and illustrators do- make books about topics that interest them. 

Book-making is fed by the same energy children bring to any activity where they are making and creating things - such as in the art or block center - or making things up - like during dramatic play. 

Oftentimes adults see young children as illustrators rather than writers because their written work doesn't yet match adult expectations for what someone who knows how to write should be able to do. The first step in growing young children as writers is to see them as writers- not pretend or play writers or even emergent writers- but simply writers.
I loved this quote shared in the chapter-

Members of the literacy club are people who read and write, even the beginners, and the fact that one is not very competent yet is no reason for exclusion or ridicule. A newcomer is the same kind of person as the most proficient club member, except that he or she hasn't yet had much experience.
(from Joining the Literacy Club by Frank Smith, 1988) 

Young children do not need to do anything to get ready for membership.
Young children are already ready.
Young children may say they know how to draw a dog, but not make the words. Experienced writers are prone to tentativeness too. It's okay not to know how to do everything. Just do the best you can.

Teachers must hold two understandings of young children- They are writers and they are 4, 5, or 6 year olds. The two do not cancel each other out. They are equally true at once. Teachers must not let either one of these identities hold more weight than the other in their thinking.
If a teacher focuses on the "writer" then he or she runs the risk of having developmentally inappropriate expectations for the child.
On the other hand, if the teacher focuses too much on the child's age, then he or she runs the risk of not helping the child realize his or her potential as a writer.

A few things to consider about your own classroom...

Do you think that children need to learn to read before they begin thinking about writing? Does your classroom offer suggestions or invitations for writing?

Offer invitations to write regardless of whether children are reading or not

Do you provide markers and paper for writing and drawing, making lists, writing notes, and signs, but offer very little to children in terms of book-making- in doing the work of an author and illustrator?

Invite children to make books- to work as authors and illustrators

Do you always give your students a topic for writing or do you allow them to choose their own ideas?

Allow children to choose their own ideas, decide what will go on each page of their book, make changes along the way as they reread and revisit, and to decide when the book is finished

Do you only offer up one sheet of paper for writing and drawing because you think making an entire book is too overwhelming? 

Allow students to use their understandings of genre and text structure to create books. 

Do you believe that building writing stamina is not really an age-appropriate goal for young children? Do you believe your students can't stay on task long enough to work on a book?

When students make books, they are not just writing something, they are making something. Young children can stay with with something for a good bit of time when they find it engaging. 

After your students write and illustrate a piece do you encourage them to save the writing and reread it or do you believe that once it's over, it's over? 

Children need to see that while they may have finished the piece, writing itself is not temporal. Their work should be a fixture in the classroom that is read over and over again. 

Do you take dictation? Do you transcribe students' words underneath their writing? 

Regardless of the benefits you believe dictation or transcription might bring, if a student sees an adult's writing as part of the writing process, then the transcription has a message attached to it, whether it is intended or not. The child can try to write on his own, but adults are the real writers. This message gets enforced when teachers make students redo the writing, but not the illustrations. 

Teachers needs to accept approximations. They need to welcome the understanding that a young child's finished book will not look the same as one finished by a writer with more experience. 

Do you understand that a young child's writing may not carry as much meaning when he or she is not there to read it and that is okay?

If you hold that writing has to hold its meaning when the writer is not present, then dictation and transcription are the only options for turning the youngest writer's work into writing. This belief privileges the text itself over the writer's intention to make meaning. 

Do you value a child's writing because it supports their development as a writer or because you think it supports their development as a reader?

When writing is valued for how it supports a child's reading development, an emphasis is placed on getting the words down- on the transcription aspect of it. Practices that focus on a child's growing letter-sound knowledge and accurate transcription are privileged above all others. 

The chapter concludes with a few thoughts on the goals of the book. This thought stood out to me... 

Randy Bomer (2006) calls a blank page for writing an invitation to make meaning and reading an expectation to figure out someone else's meaning. 

When children are new to the literacy club, invitations are more developmentally appropriate than expectations. When children respond to an invitation they can't get it "wrong" because their was no expectation to begin with. 

We will pick up next week with Chapter 2- Composition and the Importance of Making of Picture Books.


  1. I totally agree with not writing on a child's writing piece, BUT- how does a parent read this when it comes home, as they are not always as "skilled" at reading a 5 or year child's writing? I get all the time "how do you know what that says?" Also, what about the kiddo that writes, but then isn't able to read it to me, let alone his parents 6 hours or even a day later? Thanks!! I LOVE that you are back to blogging!! Have totally missed your insight and expertise!! :0) M. Rohrbaugh in Ohio

  2. Maribeth- Thanks for the questions. I think those are questions that teachers often have. I just made a new post and in it I addressed my personal thoughts on them. Sometimes there is pressure from administrators and parents that makes my answer difficult to go with. You have to do what works for where you are, but I offered a few thoughts on it in my post. I am glad to be back to blogging too :)