This post connects to two earlier posts on this Blog. If you find the topic of interest, I suggest you also read ‘Understanding and Supporting Young Writers‘ and ‘Creating or locating ‘hooks’ for teaching writing in the early years”.
Writing is an effortful activity.
- To write something that it is easy to read and understand is hard work.
- Writing entails the interaction of cognitive and physical factors involving the hand, eye, and both sides of the brain (Bromley, 2007)
- Writing is not a natural communicative competence like speech and thus normally requires intentional teaching (Olson 2009).
The sample below shows that the author (aged 6) has already learned a lot about this complex process – although she still has much to learn.
Young children begin their writing journey creating meaning by combining multimodal symbolic system or modes such as talking, drawing, singing and role-playing, long before they engage in the mature written linguistic forms of their culture (Kress and Bezemer, 2008). If given the models, opportunity, tools and encouragement, children spontaneously start to add writing to their drawings.
If we encourage this process “writing becomes a parallel means of meaning making rather than a replacement for the drawing and talking they already do so well when they arrive at school” [or preschool/Kindergarten]. (Mackenzie, 2011, p. 338).
Note the complexity of the multimodal text below. The creativity is fantastic to see. Of course this child still has a lot to learn about conventional writing but he is well on the way.
The transcript below shows how children see a logical connection between drawing and writing.
TRANSCRIPT of conversation between a researcher and two children: Sam (Age 7 years 11 months) and Zac (Age 8 years 1 month)
Researcher: “How come you both draw pictures in the middle of your stories”
Sam: “So you can see what is happening”
Zac: “I just draw what has been happening in the story so far”
Sam: “yeah so you can see what they are doing – because I couldn’t really explain it”
Researcher: “What do you mean?”
Sam – “sometimes it is hard to explain exactly what is going on – so I draw it instead”
In this strategy, young writers draw and talk about their ideas first, adding writing when they are ready to do so. A child may move through the draw-talk-write (Mackenzie, 2011) cycle a number of times throughout a writing lesson.
Children are encouraged to build on what they already ‘know and can do’, thus providing “a powerful connection between home and school [and preschool] and offering both motivation and scaffolding for early writing” (Mackenzie, 2011, p.323).
The teacher (or parent or teaching assistant) acts as a model and facilitator of the drawing and talking, and can use opportunities for teaching about writing, offering appropriate input to meet individual needs.
This approach is the result of Australian research conducted by Mackenzie between 2010 and 2019. Findings show that when drawing is valued and given priority as a meaning making system for children particulary within the first six months of school, the written texts created when they write are longer and more complex, than when conventional writing is introduced without the supports of drawing and talking.
The strategy has also been successfully utilised by preschool teachers with children who are showing an interest in writing in their final year of preschool.
The draw, talk, write strategy is an individual writing strategy, although a whole class of children or small groups of children may be engaged in the process at the same time.
Step 1: The teacher models the drawing and writing processes or talks about a visual text, for example, a shared experience, picture book, photograph or short video.
Step 2: The children are given scrapbooks with large, blank pages (without lines). In these books children can draw and write freely and creatively.
[In some classrooms these books are called “My Free Drawing and Writing Book”.]
Step 3: Children begin to draw and to talk. Talk between children and any adults in the room is encouraged as children create texts that include both drawings and talking.
Drawing + Talking = 2 modes of communication
Children are encouraged to take risks with both their drawing and their writing. In the sample below you can see the creativity of the child with both drawing and writing. I particularly like the pet holder on the side.
As their understanding of written language increases, children add written texts to their drawings.
Drawing + Talking + Writing = 3 modes
Teachers (or any other adults in the room) can engage individual children in talk to extend their thinking, vocabulary and sentence structures.
Teachers may also act as scribe for children who have at this stage, little or no experience of written text creation.
Children are also encouraged to work collaboratively, sharing ideas and solving problems together.
As they begin to master some of the secretarial aspects of writing (spelling, punctuation and handwriting), they might write first and then draw. They may also go back and forth between the written text and drawing (Mackenzie, 2011). See the transcript above for the boy’s explanation.
Draw, talk, write can be used as the strategy for independent writing at preschool and during the first two years of school.
If you want to know more: Mackenzie, N.M., & Scull, J.A. (Eds) (2018), Understanding and supporting young writers from birth to 8. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Bromley, K. (2007). Best practices in teaching writing. In L. B. Gambrell, L. M. Morrow, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (pp. 243-263). New York: The Guilford Press.
Kress, G., & Bezemer, J. (2009). Writing in a multimodal world of representation. In R. Beard, D. Myhill, J. Riley, & M. Nystrand (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of writing development (pp. 167-181). Los Angeles: SAGE.
Mackenzie, N. M. (2010). Motivating young writers. In J. Fletcher, F. Parkhill, & G. Gillon (Eds.), Motivating literacy learners in today’s world (pp. 23-32). Auckland: New Zealand Council for Educational Research (NZCER).
Mackenzie, N. M. (2011). From drawing to writing: What happens when you shift teaching priorities in the first six months of school? Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, 34(3), 322-340.
Nicolazzo, M., & Mackenzie, N.M. (2018). Teaching writing strategies. In M. Mackenzie & J.A. Scull (Eds), Understanding and supporting young writers from birth to 8. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Olson, D. R. (2009). The history of writing. In R. Beard, D. Myhill, J. Riley, & M. Nystrand (Eds.), The Sage handbook of writing development. London: SAGE.