Interactive writing sessions enable teachers to provide effective instruction in basic skills while students work together to compose short texts. Kathryn Button and Margaret J. Johnson, Texas Tech University, describe how Paige Furgerson, Lubbock, Texas, Independent School District, does this in her kindergarten classroom.
Interactive writing is a form of shared writing developed by educators at Ohio State University. Its purpose is to provide a rich literacy experience to children who are considered to be educationally at risk. The teacher and students collaborate on a writing task. Often the daily writing lesson is associated with a book read aloud to the class.
As the class works together to compose a sentence, individual children take part in writing single letters or words on a chart in front of the classroom. Through questioning and direct instruction, the teacher focuses the children’s attention on such conventions of print, as the spaces between words, left-to-right and top-to-bottom directionality, capital letters and punctuation.
At the beginning of the school year, Furgerson’s informal assessment of her students revealed that half her children could write their names but only two could name all the letters of the alphabet. All could identify the front of a book and distinguish illustrations from print; all knew where to begin reading. She used everything the children knew and then, through demonstration and explanation, extended their knowledge. For example, she would call on a child to write a letter that they knew because it appeared in their name.
Direct instruction in interactive writing includes questioning as a basic technique. Furgerson might ask the children, “How many words are there in our sentence?” “Where do we begin writing?” “What word are we writing next?” “Say the word slowly. What sounds do you hear?” “Can you find the letter that we need to write?” “What comes at the end of the sentence?” “Would that make sense?” “Does that look right?” “Would you point and read what we have written so far?”
Furgerson demonstrates how a teacher needs sensitivity in order to value the knowledge reflected in a child’s attempt while teaching the standard conventions of print.
For example, the class agrees that the first word in a certain sentence should be when. A child steps up to the chart and writes w-e-n. Furgerson says, “It does sound like w-e-n, but we need an h before the e.” She then covers the en with a piece of correction tape and the child writes an h and then the en that she initially wrote.
When another child writes teh for the, Furgerson tells him that he has the right letters but the h come before the e. Furgerson calls on students to write letters they know so that all have a chance for success. As the children finish writing a word, a list or a sentence, one child points under each word to help others track the print as they read aloud.
Children become thoroughly aware of the routine of the interactive writing sessions as the year progresses and they become sophisticated in their knowledge of print.
The process is a powerful and immediate way to demonstrate the reciprocal nature of reading and writing. These children learn to analyze the phonological features of the message to be written, listening for sounds in words and sequencing the sounds they hear. They can represent these sounds as letters and discern many different patterns. The class often spends several days listening to repeated readings of a book and using interactive writing to make a list of characters and settings. They then use their list to make a story map and then write a retelling of the story.
Throughout the school year Furgerson’s students also spend 20 to 30 minutes every day writing in their journals or at the classroom’s writing centers. In their individual writing they are encouraged to attempt to spell words themselves or to copy words from print displayed in the classroom.
Furgerson uses this independent writing to evaluate what students have learned and to inform her teaching for future interactive writing sessions. By the end-of-the-year assessment, Furgerson’s students greatly improve their ability to hear sounds in words. At the beginning of one year, the children could write, on average, about 10 out of the 37 phonemes in a dictated sentence. By the end of the year the average score was 29 out of 37. This growth is particularly important because phonemic awareness is a predictor of success in learning to read.
“Interactive Writing in a Primary Classroom” The Reading Teacher Volume 49, Number 6, March 1996 pp.446-454.
Published in ERN May/June 1996 Volume 9 Number 3