Sunday, April 14, 2013

Reflections on a Kindergarten Writing Journey

Kindergarten is a year of amazing growth.  On the first day of school, students walk in from a variety of backgrounds.  Some students have attended preschool, perhaps even in our building.  Some students have come from a literacy rich background and have a rich vocabulary, good letter knowledge, and a good sense of how print works.  However, I also have students who have had limited experiences.  I have students who cannot hold a pencil or write their name.  I have students who don't know how to "line up" or walk in the hallway.  I have students who don't know how to sit and listen or how to solve a conflict with a peer.  Students come in who know no letters or sounds, cannot yet count, or are unable to draw an identifiable picture.

As these diverse learners enter my class, we embark together on a year filled with joy, tears, excitement, smiles, difficulty, friendship, love, and learning.  Throughout the year there are good moments and bad, happy and sad, triumphant and disappointing.   Then, before we know it, we only have 5 weeks of school left, and we wonder where the year went.  That is exactly where I find myself now.

I came to the realization that the year is passing much too quickly at the end of last week when I was looking over the writing my students did about their Show and Tell items.  I was thrilled with the work they did, but it caused me to reflect on the struggles and successes we have had along our journey.

Writing in kindergarten has always been a bit of a struggle for me.  I struggle with balancing high expectations with developmentally appropriate learning for my students.  Should kindergartners be expected to write 3-4 sentences -- even those students who came in unable to hold a pencil, write their name, and didn't know any letters/sounds?  Should kindergartners be expected to have correct capitalization?  Is the content of the writing or the correctness of their writing more important?  Is it better for a student to write one sentence with correct capitalization and punctuation or to write several sentences with a few capitals mixed into the middle of words and have difficulty placing periods correctly?  How much detail should I require a student to include in his or her illustration?  Is there a point in the year when it's okay for their illustrations to become simpler as their writing becomes more complex or should I encourage them to reflect the complexity with their illustration?

I have read many books in the past few years as I have struggled with these questions.  Linda Dorn, Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, Katie Keier, and Adrienne Gear are the authors I have focused most on this year.  I've concluded that I want our writing workshop to be an organic time where my students'  writing grows out of their interests and experiences or as a reflection of a book we have read, not as a response to a given prompt.  I want to provide support through conferencing that takes them to the next natural step in the progression of kindergarten writing.  I want my students to express their meaning through pictures when it's right for them and words when it's right for them.  I believe that content is more important than correctness (although I'm sure there are many people out there who would disagree with me.).  I would much rather have a student write a few interesting sentences with errors than a safe, simple sentence correctly.  When guiding my students through revision, we will focus on a couple areas, but my kindergartners' papers will probably not come out perfect.  I believe that many students will be able to write 3-4 sentences, but with that student who struggled to get one sentence down, I will celebrate that one sentence.

These questions and conclusions have driven the writing journey that my class has taken this year.  Looking back it has not always been easy, it has not always been fun, but we have all learned a lot.

In August, this student demonstrated some beginning and ending sound knowledge when she wrote, "pn" for person.

In April, this student wrote, "This is a sening (singing) frog!  He can rebet (ribbit)!  He can mmvhas ibibls!" (move his eyeballs)  

In August, this student wrote "EO" for hippo.  He also wrote his name four times on the page as well as "Mom" and "the".  He demonstrated knowledge of a few words that he already knew how to write.

In April, this student wrote about his Skylanders toys. "I got voodood at toys are us.  I was going to git flame slingr but I got voodood.  But now I have flame slingr. He is coolr!" 

In August, this student told me he was going to write about a hippopotamus.  He drew it and wrote "H", but when asked about it, just responded with, "I don't know."
In April, this student wrote, "Ges what this Scilanders nam is.   This is Chile or this is stubsmash.  Look at the back to see if you are rite."  The back of the page says, "This is Chile."   This student is good friends with the student above, and they obviously have similar interests.

In August, this student came in displaying some letter/sound correspondence as she wrote "squid".

In April, she wrote, "I got to go to Gulf World.  It was fun.  It was my birthday.  I got to kiss a se liyn (sea lion).  I got to sak a dofine flipper (shake a dolphin's flipper).  I got to hld a algadr (hold an alligator) and I got to sit wit a fune dog."


  1. We need to remember that writing is a progression. When a child comes into school and can't write their name, we need to think about where they are on the writing progression at the end of the year and celebrate the progress they made.

    1. You are so right, Becky! Thank you for your comment! The progress is what is important. Our job as teachers is to work with a student right where she is and move her to new learning. Students will start the year at different places on the learning progression. Some will move along faster or slower than others, but our job as teachers does not change - meet the learning needs of each child, take them as far as you can.