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Sharing the Pen: Interactive Writing

My son has always been what I would describe as a reluctant writer. He has always loved letters and numbers. So, when he started Kindergarten this year reading came easily for him, and working with numbers is something he would do anytime or anywhere. His struggle has been putting pencil to paper.

For as long as I can remember he was never a toddler who wanted to dot paint or color. In preschool he was easily frustrated with trying to find the right pencil grip. This year in kindergarten we talk a lot about the ideas he has for books, but when I was volunteering in his classroom I heard his teacher say to him, “Wow James you have a great idea! Let’s see if you can push yourself to get a few of the words you just told me into your book.” I watched as an annoyed look come over his face. Later that night I asked him about what his teacher said to him, and his reply was that it felt hard for him to write a lot. Of course, my writing teacher heart sank a little bit. I started to think about how I could make my son feel more successful as a writer.

I instantly thought about doing some interactive writing with him. This year I have been trying to do more interactive writing in small groups, but I have yet to try it as a strategy for reluctant writers. I know that in my previous work with reluctant writers I thought about strategies to get them to do a lot of writing independently or we did some shared writing together. I did not think about how for some writers interactive writing could be the key to building a reluctant writer’s confidence.

In interactive writing the writer(s) are sharing the pen with you to produce a book. Together you will think of an idea, plan for how you will write it, and begin to write. The focus of the group with regards to how much or what students write- depends on their needs. Some writers will just focus on consonant sounds, while others might be thinking about writing a vowel. More seasoned writers might share the pen to write a word. One thing that makes interactive writing different is that students are not writing every single word.

Shared Writing

  • Small Group or Whole Class

  • Generate an idea, plan, and write

  • Teacher and Students decide what to write

  • Teacher does all the writing

  • Students can have a copy to use as a mentor

Interactive Writing

  • Small Group or Whole Class

  • Generate an idea, plan, and write

  • Teacher and Students decide what to write

  • Teacher and Students share the pen during writing

  • Focus can be on letter spacing, writing from left to right, etc.

  • Students can write letters, words, or a whole sentence

  • Teaches students to write in context

  • Students can continue writing or revising independently

As I thought more about trying this out with James, I began to think about all of the things we could try over time that would help to build his writing confidence. I wanted to try to help James with three things: sequence of the story, placement of text and pictures, and construction of words using letter sound relations. I wanted James to know that even though writing the words that match the ideas does feel hard, he could do it. I knew we could build his writing tool bank with strategies he could use when he felt like he wanted to give up. The more I thought about strategies for James, the more I thought about other young writers I know. I realized that over time some of the work that could continue to be done through interactive writing include: understanding a particular genre, the writing process, providing a social interaction around writing, vocabulary building, spelling patterns, punctuation choices, and strategies for generating ideas.

When James and I sat down to write he was quick to say he wanted to write a book that taught someone about school. As we started to plan the book we touched each page, saying what we would write and draw. We drew a little symbol in the top corner to help us remember what that page would be about. Then we went back and started to draw the picture. His initial inclination was to just draw a bus and himself. I gently coached- asking, “What else was at the bus stop? Who else was with us?” I drew trees, myself, and his brother. We then labeled the pictures so that it would be more clear to our reader.

As we began to write the actual text James was brimming with words he wanted to write. I found when we thought about letter sounds before writing it seemed to ease his anxiety about writing the words. He also seemed more excited when he began to see our volume- a lot of writing! I found it pretty easy to write the first page about riding the bus with him. His apprehension and frustration seemed to disappear and was replaced with excitement. When we got to the end of the first page he was already getting the second page ready to draw the picture. After writing and drawing a few pages together we had finished his school book. He instantly wanted to read it, and share it with his dad. I could see that my reluctant writer now felt proud. As his mom my heart was bursting, and as a writing teacher I knew that I had found another way for all of my reluctant writers to feel that same excitement and sense of accomplishment that James felt.

“Through interactive writing, children become apprentices, working alongside a more expert writer, their teachers. Everyone in the group has the opportunity to see a clear demonstration of the process of producing a piece of writing-from thinking about and composing the message to using the writing product. Even children who can read and write very little independently have a chance to see themselves as writers and readers.” Andrea Mc Carrier, Gay Su Pinnell & Irene C. Fountas, Interactive Writing.

James already had ways to see himself as a reader and a mathematician. Now he has a way to see himself as a writer as well.

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