Sunday, April 4, 2010

Children and Writing

Chapter Four: "Writing in a Second Language Across the Curriculum, An Integrated Approach" from Pauline Gibbons' text, Scaffolding Language Scaffolding Learning, provides readers with a look into an English Language Learners (ELLs) struggle with the written word. Writing is difficult for MANY students; it's a process that involves numerous steps and understandings...ranging from brainstorming, free-writing, planning, outlining, drafting, editing, revising, etc. This process requires an understanding of language structure, an author's "purpose", linguistic features, and genre (to name a few), and children who are only beginning to grasp a second language may not have even begun to understand writing in their OWN language, let a lone, a foreign one. Can you imagine?

Personally, writing was a struggle for me when I was in elementary school. I had a difficult time understanding that the way you write changes, depending on your audience, and the genre. Gibbons' chapter emphasizes the importance of understanding different genres and their features when learning to write (specifically, learning to write narratives). I agree with Gibbons. Helping students develop a meaningful understanding of genres and their features is an important part of, both the writing, AND the reading processes.

Another point Gibbons made in Chapter Four, is how intricately woven language is in an individuals' culture. An ELL student not only is unfamiliar with the language, but doubling their struggle, is the fact that this is a whole new culture for them too. There is no reference point for these children. That being said, I believe taking time for explicit instruction on genres, their cultural connections, and writing is very important in elementary school for ELLs.

Scaffolding and modeling are essential tools that we, as teachers, can utilize when attempting to help and instruct ELLs. I think it is very important that we create safe environments that allow children to learn to appreciate writing and learn to value their abilities to be good writers. When our students are able to feel proud of themselves and the work they are creating, then we are doing our job well.


  1. I think you bring some great points up in your post, especially how writing is tied in with a child's culture and their past experiences. In the past I know I have found myself just assuming that all students understand the concepts that are being discussed in a text, but not all students know the different cultural indicators. Some children have never had any experience with cultures other than their own, so being able to provide students not only with various texts that explore the different cultures, but also being able to come up with discussion questions and activities that focus on understanding various vocabulary or terms that are specific to a culture, is equally important. I do not really remember seeing different genres or multicultural literature when learning to read and write, but it is important to expose these students to various types of text to broaden their foundation to move onto more complex reading and writing topics. Have you had the opportunity to see how culture is affecting reading and writing in your fourth grade class? In my kindergarten class the students have been doing a lot with multicultural literature and reading, but I have not seen much of the writing across cultures occurring yet. If you have any suggestions on how to incorporate culture into writing for your grade, I would love to hear it because I am working in a 4/5 split classroom, and could use any advice at all! Thanks!

  2. My fourth graders really haven't had a lot of exposure to multicultural literature. Which is pretty disappointing considering the fact that my students are pretty diverse and range from Hispanic heritage, Vietnamese heritage, African, and Greek. I feel like there is a rich array of culture to discuss and draw upon when choosing literature and discussion points in class. That being said, when I've had opportunities to sit in during teacher led work in specific reading level groups, I've heard a lot of discussion about specific vocabulary that relates to certain cultures. When slang that is specific to different backgrounds is used in stories (for instance, one reading group is discussing a Patricia Polacco book) he stops the students and asks their opinions as to what they think that word is referring to. I like this strategy because it focuses on the culture, AND helps the students develop strategies for figuring out unknown vocabulary, specifically through the use of illustrations and context clues. I really wish cross-cultural and multicultural references were incorporated more in my class's writing process. I wish I could share some advice, but I don't have any!