What is Kid Writing?
Kid Writing is a highly successful approach to early literacy which was developed over the course of 10 to 15 years first in Eileen's and then Isabell's classrooms. Because of the successes they were experiencing with this approach, they started a support group for teachers who wanted to make the transition from traditional, phonics workbook based classrooms to exciting classrooms based on cutting edge research. The teachers in the support group urged Eileen and Isabell to write the book because they and their students were experiencing such phenomenal successes. Published by the Wright Group, Kid Writing is an outgrowth of Eileen's doctoral dissertation at the University of Pennsylvania in 1995.
Is Kid Writing research based?
Throughout the book are research citations with full documentation at the ends of chapters. One of the strongest studies on this process is the research done by Dr. Richard Allington with the Children's Literacy Initiative Project that shows - without a doubt - that early writing is important and that the Kid Writing approach in particular is highly effective. There are also three national reports calling for writing daily in kindergarten and grade one: The joint position statement of IRA and NAEYC, Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children report from NIHCD, and the new early literacy standards from New Standards.
How can I fit Kid Writing in when I teach 2 half day sessions of kindergarten with only 2 1/2 hours for each?
Our hearts are with you in the realization that we need more time for kindergarten. Although the schedule we provide here is a 3 hour program, on 3 of those days we have preparation time and the kids go to another teacher for art, music, and gym. We recommend that half day teachers plan approximately 20 minutes for choice time. Once a week, extend choice time to 35-45 minutes to accommodate messy activities such as finger painting. Don't have outdoor play and choice time on the same day - either/or - not time for both. Serve snack informally during choice time. Incorporate science and social studies with writing - teacher demonstration writing, interactive writing, and kid writing - and also with read-alouds. Do small group math manipulative lessons 3 times a week instead of daily. Math is taught every day through calendar and counting activities. Sometimes math can even be incorporated into the writing workshop mini-lessons. (Use a child's drawing/story about an apple tree to add and subtract the number of apples on the tree.)
The above recommendations worked for us when we taught half day sessions and still work for many teachers today. Although it may be hard to incorporate kid writing every day in half day sessions, we find that it has the biggest pay-off per minute of instructional time - kids learn so much that transfers to reading. We find that the majority of our children are reading and writing independently, with great joy and confidence, on a first or second grade level by the end of kindergarten. Usually, the most "at-risk" children know all of the letters and sounds, have a small sight vocabulary (10 to 15 words) and are writing at the semi-phonetic stage.
What if I can't get any adult or older student help?
You may want to start by directing your parents to this website to look at our "before and after" samples of children's writing. When parents see what is possible for their young children they are often eager to help make it happen! Of course, many parents are simply unavailable to help, so you may want to contact a retired senior volunteer program in your area, contact local colleges and universities, and even recruit the grandparents of your students.
If you still can't get volunteers, we suggest that you work with as many children as possible one day and work with the rest of them the next day. Remember, even the kids who haven't done their kid writing are still being exposed to a literate environment and lots of teaching because of the social climate in the classroom. The children are focused not only on their own projects, but are tuned in to all of the teaching and learning that goes on during writing workshop. They learn as they join and help other children to stretch words and find print in the classroom environment.. They watch and listen to the teacher's interactions with other kids. In other words, they experience total immersion in literacy. Also, please check the section in Kid Writing on "Managing Time, Space, Materials, and Assistants" for suggestions on training your volunteers.
How do I know when a child is ready to write independently?
When children are able to stretch out words using sensible phonetic spellings, they are ready to write independently. If you suspect that a child is ready (based on the ease with which he does his assisted kid writing), ask him to stretch out a word and tell you each letter just before he writes it down. If he is able to do so without missing any of the important phonemes, he is ready. You also may want to say something like: "I know you can figure out how to write the 'My mom and I' part of your story. Go write that part, then come back to me and I'll help you figure out the rest." This way, the child becomes independent through a gradual weaning process, rather than an abrupt withdrawal of support.
Remember, there may be some backsliding when you first allow a child to write independently, but she will continue to learn during the adult writing phase and the mini-lesson phase, so her writing will continue to improve.
One more thing - when a child has written independently and misses an important letter, praise her for her excellent kid writing, then read the kid writing back to her (emphasizing the sound of the missing letter) and ask her to listen for a missing letter. In most cases, the child is able to figure it out and place it in the word. We like to call this "emergent editing"!