In her fascinating book I Already Know how to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy researcher Prisca Martens documents the writing development of her daughter, Sarah. She quotes Jean Piaget, a cognitive developmental psychologist, in stating his belief that we don’t “know what we see”; we “see what we know”. She supports the notion that our interpretation of a child’s statements and actions are influenced by our beliefs about children and how they learn. Through this lens take a look at two different pieces of student writing.
The above was written by a six year old deaf boy. It depicts a very detailed story that I will relate to you. On the left is Charlie Chaplin – notice the exquisite detail; the easily recognizable mustache, the hat, the walking stick, the out turned feet. Next to Charlie is a woman and they are going to get married. See them holding hands? The heart between them is further evidence. As I sat with this boy I questioned him on the drawing and he told me more, which he added to the picture. They are filming a movie (see the light of the camera above the heart and how it reflects off of his hat). He went further by adding letters to the top of the page. He knew that writing served a purpose and although he has not yet mastered conventional spelling or writing conventions he has made this important connection. This is part of writing development. I am conscious of seeing this piece of writing from the child’s perspective. My belief is that he will continue to progress along the writing continuum. I am happy to be in a position where I can support that. I am a lucky man to be able to watch this development and give whatever assistance I can to aid it.
I love the picture above. It is the first page of a six page story written by another student who a short time ago was drawing one page pictures of Superman. His previous work contained primarily a one word label - Superman. His art work has always been impressive. Notice the details in this picture. Some people have their eyes open, others are closed. His sister’s hair is blowing in the back seat; faces are in profile and full on. There is a steering wheel, a flag, the bank is labeled. He is also showing evidence here of his development by writing on the lines and spelling conventionally. Directionality has been learned, the text matches the picture, he is telling about a real event across several pages and beginning to incorporate punctuation. This is great stuff. And the best part is he will keep developing along a path of writing that is pretty much consistent across all beginning writers.
I met Prisca Martens on July 10, 2002 and she signed my copy of her book with a quote from author/researcher Yetta M. Goodman. She wrote “Keep kidwatching!” Children teach us quite a bit about themselves if we watch and keep believing that they can. How powerful.