Young Writers and Inventive Spelling

Once upon a not too distant time I had a parent who felt her first grader should be taught only second grade work.  She felt he was way beyond our first grade curriculum and as proof she brought to our conference a paper he had written in kindergarten.  Keep in mind that I had been working with this child for a few weeks and knew his writing style which included, at that point in time, no capitalization or punctuation and sprinkled in were some misspelled words.  What she shows me is this beautifully written story with no mistakes.  There was nothing in his present work to indicate that he had written the story by himself.  It looked as if he had dictated it to someone and they in turn sat by him and told him exactly what to write so it looked like a masterpiece.  It gave a false indication of his level of work and his level of developement. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this done.

As an early childhood teacher I want my students to love to write just as I want them to love to read.  I want them to be creative.  I want them to enjoy what they are doing.  In my experience, I’ve never had a student that loved to correct and rewrite until they had a perfectly written product.  I’ve seen correcting and rewriting stop them dead in their tracks  and they never finish which made me rethink the way I was teaching writing.

Young writers should first learn to love writing and what they write should be celebrated without question.  This is why I feel inventive spelling is a huge part of creating a writer.  Its a foundation that eventually leads to the more sophisticated writing process of prewriting, drafting, revising, editing and publishing.  Inventive spelling is part of the writing process.  I see it as the foundation.

When a young child is learning to explore creative writing, they need to feel in total control of it.  It needs the same freedom as learning to draw.  Great parents ask their child to tell them about the scribbles and shapes they drew on a piece of paper.  They don’t ask, “What is it?”  The same should apply to something a child has “written” in scribbled lines.  They see you writing grocery lists, reminders, etc.   They want to be just like you so they imitate you.

As a child matures, their drawings mature.  They go from scribbles, to a single crayon of choice person with no neck and arms probably coming out of the head, to a person with arms with fingers.  By the time they are in 1st grade most of them draw people with clothes in detailed color.  Being able to “draw the man” is an indicator of developmental maturity.  On the first and last day of school my students draw me in their journals.  I’m always amazed at the progression of maturity and detail when I look at the first drawing and the last drawing of the year.

That same maturing pattern is true in their writing as well.  Their writing starts out as scribbles, just like their beginning drawings.   Eventually, as they learn the alphabet and start to associate the written symbol to the letter name, the scribbles turn into random letters.  Parents should now be asking them to tell about what they wrote.  Even though the answer might be just their name, the random letters show they are beginning to realize they can put their thoughts on paper.  When they put sounds with the symbols inventive spelling begins.

When inventive spelling starts there are 3 things I want my students to learn before they learn to spell correctly.

* to recall events

* to order the events

* to write in complete sentences because they speak in complete sentences

One of my favorite examples of watching a child to naturally mature in to a writer was a 1st grade girl that entered into my class with very few writing skills.  In late September, after being in school for over a month, it was time to celebrate Johnny Appleseed’s birthday.  We watched the Disney movie, peeled apples using an apple peeler, measured the length of  the apple peels, tasted red, green and yellow apples, and made apple crisp.  Later they wrote about the experience in their journals.

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“We celebrated Johnny Appleseed’s birthday.  My favorite activity was when we tasted the apples.  My favorite was the red apple.”

By looking at her account of the day you can see that she knows how to spell a few words and knows the beginning and some ending sounds of most of the words.  Her inventive spelling tells me I need to work with her hearing and identifying ending sounds.

About three weeks after this was written we began teaching spelling as a subject.  Learning to spell along with rhyming and reading leads to becoming a proficient speller.  Each week I teach the children to rhyme other words with their spelling words.  If the lesson is teaching cat, bat, and hat, rhyming will teach they can also spell fat, mat, pat, rat, sat, vat, flat, plat, etc.  So instead of learning to spell 3 words they now can spell 11 or more. Spelling rhyming words greatly increases their spelling vocabulary.

 By the end of the year we reach the “ou” and “ow” words.  One year I gave my students the assignment to use their “ou” and “ow” words to write a story.  My same little girl that somewhat struggled at the beginning of the year as a writer wrote this:

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It wasn’t edited and as you can see she progressed through out the year to become a excellent first grade speller.  She also learned to love writing and in second grade she won and essay contest.

When she first started her writing journey inventive spelling gave her the luxury of focusing on what to write and not having to focus on how to write it.  The rest came naturally as more was taught.  When we ask a 4, 5 or 6 year old to rewrite their work until it is perfect we are not teaching them to love writing.  They view it as what they wrote is not good enough and rewriting it as a punishment.

So I changed my way of thinking to ease my young student’s writing frustrations. I now feel in the beginning of their writing experience a young child needs to be able to enjoy the content of their writing and not worry about the mechanics.  We shouldn’t stifle creativity for the sake of a perfect finished product.

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