Writing development from preschool to third grade: Critical skills and contexts

Writing development from preschool to third grade: Critical skills and contexts

First Author: Hope Gerde -- Michigan State University
Keywords: Writing development, Early Literacy, Early childhood age 3-8, Self-regulation, Intervention
Abstract / Summary: 

This dynamic symposium examines children’s writing, a fundamental but understudied area of development related to later reading success (Graham & Hebert, 2011; NELP, 2008), from preschool to third grade and considers critical factors and contexts that influence that development. The papers present multiple theoretical perspectives and utilize a range of methodologies to answer questions of writing development for diverse students including children living in poverty, at-risk for reading difficulty, and speaking varied languages (i.e., English and Hebrew). Collectively, the works examine writing within multiple contexts including the writing task, diverse classroom environments, and varied intervention supports. The studies offer new ideas and the potential to ignite insightful discussion regarding the importance of child skills across language, literacy and socioemotional domains related to early and later writing. Further, this symposium expands the limited research investigating how early writing is influenced by child, assessment, and intervention factors across time in international contexts.

Symposium Papers: 

Early Composing Development: Longitudinal Predictions of Performance on Multiple Tasks

First Author/Chair:Margaret Quinn -- University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Additional authors/chairs: 
Gary Bingham

Purpose: Component skills of early writing are disproportionately studied and understood. Considerable research has examined children’s handwriting and spelling; less is known about composing—its nature, measurement, development, or related skills that may impact or predict it. As such, the current study examined children’s early composing and the related skills predicting composing across the Pre-K year.
Method: Participants included 150 ethnically diverse prekindergarten-aged children (mean age in Spring = 59.39, SD = 5.90) from centers serving low socioeconomic status populations. Children were assessed in the fall in transcription skills, oral language, executive function, and prereading. Children were also assessed in composing in the spring. Composing tasks included two procedural, a contextual, and a narrative task. Children’s writing was coded using two coding systems (transcription-focused, Puranik & Lonigan, 2011; oral language-focused, Quinn et al., 2016). Analyses included partial correlations and hierarchical regression to determine predictors of spring composing.
Results: Measures of composing were significantly correlated to related fall skills (rs ranging .18-.61). Regressions indicated that fall letter writing and receptive syntax were significant predictors of spring composing in the contextual task using transcription-focused coding (Puranik & Lonigan, 2011), ps <.05. Further, receptive vocabulary and spelling significantly predicted narrative composing when using a coding system focused upon children’s oral language while engaged in composing (Quinn et al., 2016), ps < .05.
Conclusions: The initial results demonstrate potential foundational skills in order to support children’s early composing prior to kindergarten entry. This inquiry has implications for composing development, measurement, and instruction in preschool.

The emergent writing ability of preschool children considered at-risk for later literacy difficulties

First Author/Chair:Leiah Groom -- The Ohio State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Shayne Piasta; Hope Gerde; Jessica Logan; Cynthia Zettler-Greenley; Laura Bailet

Purpose: Writing skills are an important component of early literacy (NELP, 2008). Although recent research has focused on the early writing skills of young children, less is known about those considered at-risk. The purpose of this study was to characterize the story composition, name, letter, and word writing skills of young children identified as at-risk for later reading ability in comparison to their non-at risk peers.

Method: We screened 130 3-to-5 year old children on their risk for later reading difficulties using the Get Ready to Read—Revised. All children (62 identified as at-risk) also completed a writing assessment measuring name/letter writing, invented spelling, and story composition. Trained coders (ICC = .91) rated features of children’s writing reflecting the continuum of writing development.

Results: Children identified as at-risk typically used drawing/scribbling or letter-like shapes when asked to write their names, letters, and words, significantly lower than their peers. Also, they were less likely than peers to write linearly or horizontally. When examining composing, at-risk children were less likely to connect their verbal description to what they wrote and used fewer actual letters in their writing.

Conclusion: When compared to their peers, at-risk children were less developed in regards to various aspects of early writing. Results show that preschool children identified as at-risk for later reading difficulties also lag behind peers in writing development. Findings highlight the need to support both reading and writing skills in early childhood classrooms and suggest that early screeners may identify both reading and writing delays.

Longitudinal associations between self-regulation and early writing

First Author/Chair:Cynthia Puranik -- Georgia State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Yaacov Petscher

Purpose: Ample research indicates that self-regulation may be important for children to successfully learn in a classroom (Blair, 2002; Blair & Diamond, 2008). As children transition from home to an academic setting, there is an increase in the demand for self-regulation skills to support classroom learning. Given evidence linking self-regulation and academic skills (math, reading), this study explored the longitudinal and bidirectional associations between self-regulation and early writing. Research questions: 1) Do self-regulation skills predict writing skills from pre-K to kindergarten and kindergarten to 1st grade? 2) Is the relation between self-regulation and early writing bidirectional?

Method: Participants included preschool children and their teachers from public and private preschools in Florida and Pennsylvania. Four and five-year-old preschoolers were followed for three years. Data are available for 108 students who transitioned from preschool to kindergarten and first grade and 122 students who were in preschool for two years and kindergarten for a year. Writing measures included standardized and researcher-generated measures of letters, words, and text. Measures of self-regulation included the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulder (HTKS) task and three teacher surveys: Children’s Behavioral Questionnaire, Conner’s Teacher Rating, EASI Child Activity & Temperament.
Results: Data analysis is underway and will include descriptive and inferential statistics to examine concurrent and longitudinal relations between self-regulation and early writing at the letter, word, and text level. Parallel process structural equation growth models will identify the functional form of growth for individual constructs and the co-development of skills from preschool to 1st grade. Implications and future directions of this research will be discussed.

Dig vs. Jig: Do Young Children Spell by Analogy?

First Author/Chair:Laura Tortorelli -- Michigan State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Lori Bruner

Purpose: This study tested the claim of developmental spelling theory (Bear, Invernizzi, Templeton, & Johnston, 2015; Ehri, 2007; Sharp, Sinatra, & Reynolds, 2008) that children spell words by analogy (e.g. dig-jig, coach-poach). The hypothesis was that elementary students would perform similarly on spelling items of similar orthographic difficulty but different frequencies and semantic features.
Methods: In September 2017, 62 first-grade and 29 third-grade students from four schools in a suburban, Midwestern district (44% male, 86% White, 31% FRPL) took the Primary Spelling Inventory (PSI; Bear et al., 2015) and the researcher-created Alternative Primary Spelling Inventory (APSI). The APSI words share orthographic patterns with PSI words but are lower frequency, higher age of acquisition, and/or lower concreteness, for example, jig instead of dig. Each word was scored correct (1) or incorrect (0). Paired-sample correlations and t-tests were used to analyze total scores and item-level data.
Results: Total scores were significantly different for the PSI (M=9.46, SD = 7.16) and the APSI (M=8.80, SD = 6.30). Paired-sample correlations for similar orthographic items were high (.37-.83) and significant for all but one word pair (shawl-crawl). Paired-samples t-tests indicated that children performed significantly differently on 9 out of 26 item pairs (p<.05). Results were similar when broken out for first- vs. third-graders.
Conclusions: Young children show some evidence of spelling by analogy, but this strategy is not applied in all cases and is not used more frequently by older children. The characteristics of word pairs that make analogizing more likely will be discussed.

Promoting early literacy in Hebrew using a computerized writing game: The unique contribution of auditory and visual digital aids

First Author/Chair:Dorit Aram -- Tel Aviv University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Adi Elimelech

Purpose: The study evaluates an eight-session intervention aiming to promote children's early literacy by practicing writing using a computer game. We created a computerized writing game adjusted for Hebrew. The study assessed the advantages of auditory and visual aids during writing. Method: Participants were 129 children (ages 5-6.5) from five low SES kindergartens. Children in each kindergarten were randomly divided into three intervention groups that played the game (1) without support, (2) with auditory support (hearing the word divided into syllable/sub-syllable), (3) with auditory and visual support (the syllable/sub-syllable was highlighted while being heard) and, (4) a control group that watched E-books. Results: Results showed that beyond the children’s language level and visual perception, the group with auditory + visual support advanced more than the group without support and the control group on all literacy skills (letter knowledge, phonological awareness, writing, and reading) and more than the group with auditory-only support on the writing measures. The auditory-only support group advanced more than the no-support group and the control group on all the measures. The group that played with no support did not differ from the control group. Conclusions: Children need support when practicing early writing. In Hebrew, auditory support (splitting the word into syllable/sub-syllables) is the major aid in children's writing and visual support (highlighting each letter) adds to their understanding of the writing process. A short intervention that helps children practice writing using a computer game with proper support can help promote early literacy.