The majority of the “writing” we do in our pre-k class starts as drawings. At this important stage, my students are expressing their ideas and stories through pictures they draw. I use “pictures” as loosely as I do “writing” here. At four and five-years old, they are still experimenting with how to use (and hold!) various writing tools, copying and drawing simple shapes and symbols, and attempting to write their letters in first their names. Though some come to school able to write letters and words and are already reading; they need practice telling stories and revealing their voices.
I’m hear to tell you- writing during the preschool years is, well, messy! We scribble. We paint. We throw letters and lines and curves all together. We staple pages and pages of paper with words or drawings or random dots and lines. We start over again and again. This is all good stuff, important parts of the process. The process of becoming writers. First though, children have to experiment and understand how writing works. They need to see how it connects in meaningful ways to reading and see how it communicates information through words and symbols.
Have you ever had training or a workshop mid-year and wish you could go back and start again “now that you know”? Ever find something and feel that it’s a little too late? (Not too late, but sure wish you had it sooner?). I am so inspired by this book a colleague tweeted on Twitter. Horn and Gicacobbe’s Talking, Drawing, Writing: Lessons for Our Youngest Writers is about teaching young children the craft of writing. The book’s lessons are organized by topic and include oral storytelling, drawing, writing words, assessment, and other ways to move writers forward. Horn and Gicacobbe tell us to begin with what our students know best, stories. Their stories!
At the beginning of the book, the authors explain WHY they feel that talking MUST come before writing. I am sure that all of us who are early education teachers have had this happen to us. We do a great shared writing lesson with our students and get them all excited about writing their own stories. They head off to their tables ready to write and draw and we, as the teacher, are so excited to read the glorious stories that they come up with. We prepare to walk around the classroom all ready to praise and encourage our students for their first efforts and…… just as we begin our walk around the room, we hear “I’m done!” And then comes another “I’m done” and another…… sigh……… this is NOT the experience you had planned for your students!
Here is an excerpt from the book about this phenomenon: “Any teacher of writing, it seems, has experienced a moment like that. It can happen for many reasons. One could be that we begin with our vision of the end, rather than building toward it over time…….” Isn’t this so true?
Talking comes naturally to children; so starting with talking makes sense. I know that when school starts for me in August, I still have a vision of how my students looked in May. I KNOW that I begin with the ending rather than the beginning and am often disappointed by the output of my students at the beginning of the year. I ALWAYS have to remind myself that I need to start slow and remember this is August NOT May! This book stresses BUILDING on what children know before launching the writing/drawing process. I usually start the year with drawing, (again, wish I would have read this in August), but for now on, and to begin the year next year, I have started beginning our writing time with intentional talking…. partner talking and listening. One child is the ears and the other is the mouth.
I found these simple cards for each child to hold to define their roles as listener and talker. I just started modeling this process last week, thanks to my assistant teacher that should have been an actor! Much to the childrens’ amusement, we modeled some scenarios that we thought we might see, like not paying attention to the story or going off topic.
Then we practiced being the speaker and the listener using a timer to take turns. It went pretty well, though a little loud as the kids were too close to other partner groups. Also, I think I will give the kids a choice of fidget toys to hold while they listen/speak. I have a basket of various sensory ball, squeezy toys, wiki stix, etc. After this Thanksgiving break we will add the next step, which is to go back to tables and draw their stories they told. I’m a little reluctant of the length of this process and know that some students will finish way before or after others. Should each student be a listener and teller in the same day? What if the second partner who shares is the only story that is remembered? How much stamina will this require?
Finally, this book states that we must believe that every single one of our students has something to say, and we must believe in our ability to help them find it and say it. Modeling, listening intently, giving back words, and allowing our students time will help even the most reluctant speaker.
I’m looking forward to seeing how my students’ experiences with storytelling and sharing will help inspire their drawings, and eventually their writing.
Does anyone else have experience with storytelling with peers in the youngest grades? I’d love to hear your advice and ideas!