This statement, formerly known as How to Help Your Child Become a Better Writer, was updated in October 2018 with the new title, Parents as Partners in Promoting Writing among Children and Youth.
Originally developed in July 1980, revised October 2018
Dear Parents and Caregivers,
As educators, we know that a dialogue between parents and teachers is important for children and youth becoming purposeful and skillful writers. The purpose of this position statement is to further that conversation.
Overview: In this position statement, we stress in Part 1 that children, in diverse families and communities, may be introduced to, and involved in, writing at home. Writing at home is rooted in the everyday, talk-filled activities of children and their families. When families build a climate for talk and storytelling at home by sharing experiences about the places they go, things they see, and ideas they wonder about, they create a fertile ground for writing. Today, writers compose in a variety of ways using a multitude of tools. From making messages in the sand or dirt to communicating through digital means like making movies on iPads or connecting to websites, our youth communicate their stories in numerous ways. Moreover, each writer has their own learning path. For some children, writing is an early and favored symbolic tool; for others it comes more slowly. Nonetheless, with our help and encouragement, every child can progress.
In Part 2, we consider the kinds of information parents may want to share with their children’s teachers about their family experiences and child preferences. We consider a range of ways that, with your help, school curricula may become more “permeable” (Dyson, 1993), that is, more open to each child’s learning resources. Since children’s experiential, language, and symbolic resources will vary, so too will their ways of responding to school writing tasks; when children can build on their resources, they are better supported in their learning.
Overall, our key message is that writing is useful in the lives of children and youth. Parents and teachers can enrich the writing experiences of our young by coming to know about each other as they meet on the common ground created by their shared attention to and care for their young.
Part 1, Writing in Community and Family
Beginning in the early childhood years . . .
- Children represent and communicate their stories through playing, drawing, and storytelling. Children’s writing is an outgrowth of these ways of symbolizing experiences. So, simply providing paper (including backs of used paper or envelopes), crayons, markers, or pens while engaging in these situations can encourage writing. For example, children may write their versions of labels for drawn people (MOM), actions (BOOM), and neighborhood signs (PZ [pizza]). Some families have access to tablets or laptop computers such as iPads or Chromebooks at home or at the local library, and these tools further the exploration of writing when using drawing and creating apps, software, or websites.
- Storytelling is a cross-cultural universal. It is a practice in which children’s families’ economic or social status doesn’t determine how important stories are or how well children learn to tell their own stories (Miller & Sperry, 2012). By listening and joining in on children’s daily stories about what happened (or was imagined), parents can provide opportunities for children to organize, communicate, and possibly perform stories that matter in their lives. Composing stories can also happen when children draw, write, and enact a story with other children.
- Children and youth learn about writing from their parents, older siblings, and other adults in their lives. These adults are models and thereby teachers. Sometimes parents involve children in everyday writing experiences for a specific purpose and process (e.g., making to-do lists on paper or on a smartphone). Sometimes children are observers, as parents may do writing that demands the use of many resources—books, websites, and notes. Some children and youth assume writing roles independently and try out particular ways of talking or writing their interests (e.g., playing teacher, store clerk, or scientist; creating and sharing YouTube stories; blogging, or sharing photo/video stories on social media). If writing is only associated with assigned homework, the enjoyment of writing can be dampened.
And continuing through the school years . . .
- As children gain more control of writing, they benefit from helpful adults and siblings. When in the role of helper, parents may laugh, sympathize, be amazed—whatever is a supportive response to the content of children’s writing. Parents should provide children help when they request it. They might ask the child what knowledge they have about their request. Parents may then help by sharing their reasoning for it. For example, parents could talk about why they chose a particular punctuation mark or a spelling, or they could think aloud about how they might provide additional information.
- Children’s ways of speaking in their home languages and language variants are important for learning to speak on paper, that is, for having a writer’s voice. Their listening to, interacting with, and playfully adopting the voices around them all contribute to a rich language repertoire. As children’s sense of the purposes, and audiences, for their writing broadens, they draw on their repertoire differently in different situations. Engaging with multilingual books written by adults and by children is a helpful way of experiencing a language repertoire. We do not recommend formal attention to young children’s grammar—or isolated attention to anyone’s grammar—without a clear sense of a text’s audience and purpose and, overall, an understanding of the politics of language (Alim & Smitherman, 2012). We encourage children to write authentically.
- The “symbol-weaving” (Dyson, 1989) that young children do—the intermixing of drawing, talk, and writing—foreshadows children’s learning about the strengths of varied multimodal tools. Children and youth are increasingly using images, sound, and text to create posts, blogs, websites, and videos and other forms of digital composing (Pahl & Rowsell, 2012). These new ways of composing are a major part of our literacy worlds. To help guide students to become critical consumers and creators, it is important to begin discussion at home by raising questions that will guide them in reflecting on digital texts in their worlds (e.g., How can we decide if the site is truthful? What does this site think its participants like or are like? Do you agree? What messages is this site sending? Do you agree? What symbolic tools (e.g., images, text, sound) does this site rely on? Why do you think the site has made those choices?). Children’s digital composing may also serve family needs or pleasures. For example, there may be oral histories, especially of family elders, to document or photos that should be printed out and organized to tell a family story.
Part 2, Parents and Writing in School
- Just as parents may be curious about the writing their children are doing at school, teachers may be curious about family experiences and knowledge that may inform student writing. Family members are important audience members for children and youth’s school writing. As an interested listener, parents may ask, and talk, about the ideas their children have been working on in school writing. Children also benefit from, and enjoy, celebratory occasions at school when they read their writing to an audience that includes family members. Such occasions not only provide children with a special audience, but they also may provide teachers with opportunities to learn about families. Parents and teachers may need language translators to ease conversation.
- All children bring experiences to school gained through family life; those experiences are often drenched in particular kinds of knowledge and know-how. Parents can encourage their children to write about their interests, experiences, and hobbies at school. Such writing may allow children to be recognized as experts, thereby connecting home and school life, but it may also allow teachers to take advantage of these “funds of knowledge” (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005). Common family activities—like cooking, gardening, music-making, and communicating with faraway relatives—all contain knowledge and know-how that teachers may use in their study units. Samples of resulting composing activities include writing family histories and crafting related geographic maps, recording recipes and planning and filming a cooking show, and explaining the life cycle of a certain sort of plant (which could lead to composing gardening guidelines). Family members can serve as authoritative discussants, as can children themselves.
- Multimodal artistic expression can allow children to bring out-of-school feelings and experiences into the classroom for inclusive and potentially critical discussion. We suggest parents take opportunities to share their family story. Helping children connect with others by sharing family or neighborhood photos or adding to class websites will bridge home and school learning. Children may particularly enjoy composing multimodal texts, with photos and stories; such texts clearly set up a dialogue between home and school (Martinez-Alvarez, Ghiso, & Campano, 2014). Parents may find library-, bookstore-, or community-sponsored spoken-word poetry groups, in which youth may perform their feelings in artistic ways and gain experience and confidence to bring this personal poetry to inviting classrooms (Fisher, 2007). In all these ways, classroom learning and discussion are enriched by each individual’s unique narrative.
In closing . . . our children and youth are supported as writers when we engage in conversation with them at home and school. As a committee, we have emphasized respect for children and their out-of-school lives where writing begins. Just as important, we have emphasized that teachers can best support students by learning about and building on the experiences that children carry with them as they enter school. Parent and teacher conversation may be difficult, given differing agendas and timetables, but it is critical. When we talk and listen to our youth and each other, we all learn.
Research Supporting This Statement
Alim, H. S., & Smitherman, G. (2012). Articulate while black: Barack Obama, language, and race in the U.S. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Dyson, A. H. (1989). Multiple worlds of child writers: Friends learning to write. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Dyson, A. H. (1993). The social worlds of children learning to write in an urban primary school. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Fisher, M. (2007). Writing in rhythm: Spoken word poetry in urban classrooms. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Genishi, C., & Dyson, A. H. (2009). Children, language, and literacy: Diverse learners in diverse times. New York, NY, and Washington, DC: Teachers College Press & the National Association for the Education of Young Children.
Gonzalez, N, Moll, L., & Amanti, C. (2005). Funds of knowledge: Theorizing practices in households, communities, and classrooms. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Martínez-Álvarez, P., Ghiso, M. P., & Campano, G. (2014). Engaging double binds for critical inquiry with first-grade Latina/o emergent bilinguals. Sustainable Multilingualism, 5, 62-98.
Miller, P., & Sperry, D. (2012). Déjà vu: The continuing misrecognition of low-income children’s verbal abilities. In S. Fiske & H.R. Markus (Eds.), Facing social class: How societal rank influences interaction (pp. 109-130). New York, NY: Russell Sage Foundation.
Pahl, K., & Rowsell, J. (2012). Literacy and education, 2nd edition. London, England: SAGE.
Connection to Past NCTE Statements
NCTE. (1980). How to help your child become a better writer. Urbana, IL: NCTE.
This document was reconceived and rewritten by an NCTE working committee comprising the following:
Anne Haas Dyson, Chair – University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Katie Dicesare – Dublin City Schools, Dublin, OH
Aurelia Dávila de Silva – San Antonio, TX
This position statement may be printed, copied, and disseminated without permission from NCTE.