Writing development processes and practices: Attention to child, parent, and teacher factors

Writing development processes and practices: Attention to child, parent, and teacher factors

First Author: Gary Bingham -- Georgia State University
Keywords: Writing development, Writing Instruction, Teacher Knowledge, Parent-child interactions, Writing motivation
Abstract / Summary: 

Children’s writing development is a critical, but understudied, contributor to reading and academic achievement (Graham & Hebert, 2011; Hammill, 2004). This symposium addresses the importance of children’s early experiences to their writing development within home and school settings. The papers within this symposium attend to factors within the home (parenting beliefs and practices), school (teachers’ beliefs and practices) and child (writing interest and academic language) that support the acquisition of writing skill from early childhood to secondary school settings. Presentations represent diverse theoretical and empirical perspectives of writing development across multiple international contexts (e.g., Canada, Israel, and the United States). Although the majority of papers seek to understand ways in which adults support writing development, attention is also paid to child level factors (child interest, disability status, prior achievement) that relate to children’s writing achievement. This symposium will advance the small, but growing, body of research addressing how adults can attend to children's writing development in home and school contexts through modeling and scaffolding behaviors as well as other mechanisms for supporting writing growth.

Symposium Papers: 

Do you like to write?: Young children’s perceptions of early writing experiences

First Author/Chair:Chenyi Zhang -- Georgia State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Margaret F. Quinn

Children’s interest in writing reflects their understanding of writing and shapes their choices of play and interactions with people, materials, and activities. Little research has examined the nature of children’s perceptions of their writing experiences. Using child interview, this study explored children’s interest in writing activities as it related to their early writing skills.
42 children (21 girls), mean age = 56 months, SD = 6.5) participated in this study. Children were interviewed for their understanding of, experiences with, and interest in writing. Children’s writing skills (name writing, letter writing and invented spelling) were assessed. Content analyses generated the themes in children’s interviews. ANOVAs were conducted to explore the associations between children’s interests and their writing skills.
During the prekindergarten year, a large number of children could understand the function of writing materials (75.6%) and differentiated writing activities from other classroom activities (80%). Less than 25% considered digital writing activities as writing. Over 90% of children indicated that they wrote at home and in classrooms. Children’s self-reported interest in writing was not significantly associated with skills. However, children who reported drawing pictures at home (as opposed to writing) performed significantly lower in name and letter writing than their peers, (name: F (1,40) = 4.65, p<.05; letter: F (1,40) = 4.36, p<.05).
The results demonstrate potential impacts of experience on skill. This has implications for early writing instruction and development.

Maternal Writing Supports for Kindergartners with and without Cerebral Palsy

First Author/Chair:Lori Skibbe -- Michigan State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Dorit Aram

Purpose. For children with physical impairments, writing offers a functional modality whereby children can communicate their knowledge, desires, and thoughts, often with adult support. Mothers' observed writing supports for children with cerebral palsy (CP), a group of disorders related to movement and posture, were compared to their supports for children with typical development.
Method. Sixty-nine Israeli kindergartners (20 with CP) and their mothers were observed as they composed a grocery list containing four items using a keyboard. Children's age and mothers' education were equivalent in both groups. We assessed children's independent spelling and analyzed the writing interactions focusing on mothers’ grapho-phonemic support (i.e., support focused on letter-sound correspondence), printing mediation (i.e., guidance on letter choice and form), entering the child's space, and demand for accurate writing products.
Results. Both groups wrote a similar number of letters, although the task took longer for dyads that included a child with CP. Mothers of children with CP provided lower levels of graphophonemic and print support to their child as compared to those exhibiting typical development. Mothers entered more into their child space and demanded less accurate writing when children had CP than when children were typically developing. Regression analyses revealed that writing supports were lower for the children with CP even when children’s own spelling level was considered.
Conclusion. Mothers of children with CP may miss critical opportunities to provide high quality writing instruction.

The unique role of academic language in written expression across late elementary to secondary grade levels

First Author/Chair:Adrea Truckenmiller -- Michigan State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Yaacov Petscher

Synthesizing and writing about text to communicate discipline-specific knowledge is a requisite competency for most jobs as well as participation in our increasingly digital society. The components of teaching this skill set has been extensively studied. However, there is little empirical research identifying the specific teachable skills that make up the ideation component of writing. As evidence from a variety of research perspectives converge on the importance of academic language for student achievement, the current study explores the degree to which students’ academic language abilities predict their writing quality when writing about expository text. Measures of general academic language at the sub-word (spelling), word (vocabulary), sentence (syntax), and text (reading comprehension) levels were administered to 820 students in grades 3 through 9. Students’ performance on these academic language measures were compared to their written composition quality in response to a brief expository text and text-dependent prompt. Results from a structural equation model demonstrate that each academic language skill is predictive of writing quality and together these measures predict 32% of the variance in writing quality. Furthermore, the amount of variance predicted by each measure was relatively similar with each measure predicting 18% to 23% of the variance in writing quality. Implications of the study highlight several understudied and potentially teachable mechanisms that predict writing outcomes.

You wrote the right letter for the right sound!”: Parents’ reading-related knowledge and the writing feedback they provide in a joint writing activity

First Author/Chair:Aviva Segal -- Concordia University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Sandra Martin-Chang

Purpose: Both research and theory support the role that parents play in children’s reading and writing development (Aram & Levin, 2001). However, the lion’s share of literacy studies focuses on teachers’ content knowledge necessary for effective instruction (reading-related knowledge; RRK), their pedagogical practices, and students’ literacy outcomes (e.g., Cunningham & Ryan O’Donnell, 2015). The present exploratory investigation examined parents’ RRK and practices (feedback and supports) during a joint writing activity. Method: Seventy parents and their children, entering Grades 1 and 2, participated in the study. Videotaped sessions started with children writing a thank you note to someone special; parents were asked to help as they usually would. Both verbal and non-verbal responses were transcribed and coded based on five pre-established criteria (evaluative feedback: praise, criticism; support types: handwriting, spelling, composition). When the note was finished, parents completed a RRK questionnaire (adapted from Cunningham, Stanovich, & Stanovich, 2004; Moats & Foorman, 2003; Spear-Swerling & Brucker, 2003) while children were administered the WRAT 4 spelling measure. Results: Parents’ RRK was significantly correlated with children’s spelling scores. In addition, parents with higher RRK provided more praise during the joint writing session; the association between RRK and praise remained significant after controlling for children’s spelling performances. Associations between RRK and writing supports did not reach statistical significance. Conclusions: Our results suggest that regardless of children’s spelling abilities, parents with higher RRK provide more affirmation when their children tackle writing tasks. This practice reflects parental sensitivity associated with RRK, which can promote sustained child engagement.

Early childhood teachers’ knowledge and beliefs about writing: Associations with classroom practices and children’s writing development

First Author/Chair:Gary Bingham -- Georgia State University
Additional authors/chairs: 
Margaret F. Quinn; Hope K. Gerde; Xiao Zhang; Rebecca Barria

Purpose: This study examined teachers’ early writing beliefs, knowledge, and practices. In order to design effective intervention and education programs, it is important to understand how teachers’ early writing knowledge and beliefs relate to classroom practices.
Method: Fifty preschool teachers completed a survey of teacher knowledge/beliefs and were videotaped for three hours. Video taped coding examined environmental and pedagogical supports available to children using two early writing practice measures (WRITE: Gerde & Bingham, 2015; ELLCO: Smith, et al., 2008). Children’s writing development was assessed with handwriting, spelling, and composing tasks.
Teachers’ knowledge/beliefs were coded qualitatively using inductive coding techniques (Chamaz, 2000), organized into conceptually meaningful categories, and then quantified to create belief scores and profiles for teachers. Analyses included partial correlations and hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to examine associations among beliefs, practices, and children’s early writing development.
Findings: Results reveal considerable variability in teachers’ early writing beliefs and practices. Teachers frequently acknowledged writing stages/progressions, both in their definition of early writing and in evaluating children’s work samples. Teachers who emphasized stages/progressions spoke of the importance of environmental supports/materials (75%) and name writing opportunities (65%). Results between beliefs and practices indicated high levels of concurrence regarding providing children materials (r=.65), but low levels of match between reported and observed teaching practices (r=.22). An emphasis on handwriting and spelling skills were evident in both beliefs and practices, with limited discussion of how teachers supported children’s composing (18%). HLM analyses of child outcomes are underway and will examine longitudinal associations among teachers' beliefs, practices, and children's writing skill.