Reflections on Scaffolding Young Writers, Chapter 1; The Development of Young Writers, by Linda Dorn & Carla Soffos
Writing, the action, has both a social and a cognitive side. “Writing is by nature a social process. Writing represents the means by which a message can be communicated to someone else.” (p.2) Children uses inquirers such as “What does this say?” as foundation for learning how to write. Children that come from homes of writing environments before they start school. have already acquired critical understanding for learning about the writing process (p. 2). Healy (1994, p.2) talks about the cognitive side of writing, and describes that for a child to start the writing process, the child must understand and pull together ideas (feelings, emotions and images) or knowledge from their own memories, desired to be communicated. “Language becomes a tool for consolidating bigger ideas into original statements while choosing the best words and placing them in the correct order.” (p.2), which is a complex process driven by a personal need to express a message. The more meaningful and personal the idea is for the child, the easier it will be for the child to use its transcription skill. Scaffolding the child at appropriate points is a tool of mediation, that then helps the child’s ability to orchestrate the social, cognitive, and mechanicals sides of writing, thus writing is a learned skill, shaped through practice and constructive feedback, which further helps the child to become a self-regulated writer (Harries & Graham:1999). Writing itself is a very complex process, which you have to recognise, when teaching young learners, after having identified ideas and words for expressing them, the writer then has to read, revise the text by e.g., deleting unnecessary words, sections or rearrings sentences, and paragraphs, to clarify concepts. Thus the next level of complexity is added as the writer has to consider the receiver’s (read: reader or audience) need and experience of the text and, their knowledge of the given idea, concept or information. During the act of writing, the writer will develop and apply strategies of organising, monitoring and revising the specific message to the particular audience (p. 3). According to Healy (1994, p.3) developing a well-orchestrated writing process depends on the interrelatedness of the following three aspects; comprehension of ideas, expressive language and facility with mechanics. It is the teacher’s role to strive to create a balance between the child’s composing and transcribing skills, yet the ultimate goal of teaching is to promote an orchestration process, which happens at the intersection where old knowledge meets new knowledge i.e., if the child has too many new things to learn, this can interfere with the orchestration process (p. 4). There are specific benchmark behaviours along a continuum of writing control with young writers, and the primary grades are critical times for shaping orchestration. Therefore the teacher must recognise the behaviours that indicate how students are becoming writers, and to promote this process, teachers can ask four simple questions:
- What is easy for the writer to do?
- What is hard for the writer to do?
- What does the teacher expect the writer to do?
- What does the teacher expect to do for the writer?
Levels of writing competence
The emergent writer
Greatest challenge occurs with transcribing the message. Here teacher can guide the child to learn to use simple resources to assist problem-solving efforts. Risk-taking behaviours are the basis for early monitoring, searching and self-correcting actions, which are the foundation for successful writing. As the emergent writer practise reading behaviours, it allows them to make logical and realistic predictions for the upcoming words and phrases (p. 7).
The early writer:
Here the writer has begun to think about the length of their stories, and it is common for the writer to evaluate their words with comments such as “Look at how many pages I wrote!” (p. 8). The early writer will move from chronological accounts to more focussed pieces, that sustains the theme throughout. The teacher can introduce the early writer to new resources, including writing forms and checklists, serving as self-help guides to promote independent thinking. It is important, that the child must possess the knowledge and skills to use these resources in productive ways (p. 9)
The transitional writer:
The transcribing skills of young writers are faster and more automatic, thus the control frees their attention to focus more actively on the craft of writing (p. 9).
In conclusion, to develop independent writers, the teacher must consider both the cognitive and social sides to learning by being attuned to what the child already knows.
Dorn, L. J. & Soffos, C. (2001): Scaffolding Young Writers: A Writer’s Workshop Approach. Stenhouse Publishers