Several years ago, when sorting through some old papers, I came across a piece of crumpled yellow notebook paper. When I opened it, I found this line of scribble. Underneath the scribble, the child's mother had written:
Dear Miss Hoppin,
Please do not get married. I want you to be the same old Miss Hoppin the way you are now.
Andrew was a 4-year-old in the preschool class I taught the year I got married. He wrote the note at home and brought it to me at school. As I looked at the crumpled piece of paper, I recalled many aspects of the original episode. I remembered receiving the piece of paper from Andrew and reading what Andrew's mother had written. I also remembered explaining to Andrew that getting married would not change me in any significant way. I recalled, as well, that I was surprised by his confusion and touched by his concern that I would somehow become a different person after getting married (no doubt because he had been told that I would have a new name). But I did not recall thinking at all about Andrew's scribble writing. This aspect of the experience had totally failed to register with me at the time.
Thirty years ago, when the episode occurred, I didn't think that young children knew anything about writing. It was not something that experts in child development or education knew anything about. Years later, when I found the note, I knew more about children's writing because young children's capabilities were beginning to be discovered. Then, when I looked at the very same piece of paper, Andrew as a writer jumped off the page at me. I saw clearly what had completely escaped my attention before. Andrew had organized his scribbles to appear print-like, not picture-like. His dictation to his mother (telling her what the line of scribble writing said) took the form of a letter text, not the form of a story or a grocery list. If the idea of writing the note was Andrew's own-and I believe it was-he knew that thoughts can be saved for a later time if we write them down. And because Andrew never spoke about his feelings before giving the note to me, he must have realized that some things are easier to bring up if they are presented -first in writing.
I wonder what else Andrew knew that simply passed me by. I am startled at the images that enter my mind as I think about that classroom. I never gave the children a chance to show me what they knew about writing. The only pencil in the room hung from a string attached to the easel. The teachers used the pencil to write children's names on their artwork so that they could later identify pictures and put them away in children's cubbies. Andrew's mother, wiser than his young, inexperienced teacher, made paper and pencil available to him. He also had four older brothers in elementary school. Observing them as they did their homework or wrote messages and letters, he probably requested materials so he could engage in the same kinds of activities. His mother or his brothers apparently supplied them.
If we have a restricted view about what early literacy behavior includes, and we have inaccurate concepts of how both oral and written languages are learned, then we are likely to believe that the onset of literacy skills occurs more abruptly and much later than research over the last several decades suggests. Even though most children will not read and write conventionally until the early grades, many have considerable knowledge about literacy and are well on their way to becoming conventional readers and writers by the time they encounter formal instruction.
Excerpted from Much More Than ABC's, by Judith Schickedanz.
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If we have a narrow view about childhood literacy and learning, then we are likely to erroneously believe that language skills are learned by children much later and more abruptly than they actually are. This would cause us to provide inadequate learning opportunities and equipment to the younger children. Thirty ...
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