AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE COMPOSING PROCESSES
AND GRAPHIC LINGUISTIC AWARENESS
OF THREE VERY YOUNG CHILDREN
NANCYE M. CHILDERS
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE COUNCIL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN
PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS
FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Nancye M. Childers
This dissertation is dedicated
to the children of the study,
Terry, Laurel, and Amy
who taught, that I might teach.
I wish to acknowledge the following people who made
this study a reality, and who provided support and en-
couragement throughout my doctoral program:
My chairperson and good friend, Dr. Linda Lamme, who
was the inspiration for this study and who introduced me
to the wonders of children's language;
My committee,Dr. Patricia Ashton, Dr. Linda Crocker,
Dr. Suzanne Krogh, Dr. Dorene Ross, and Dr. Evelyn Wenzel,
who gave freely of their advice and enthusiasm and who
exemplify the highest professional standards;
My sons, Timmy, Kelly, and Terry,who cheered me on
with their eternal optimism, pride, and a Thesaurus;
My daughter, Kate, who provided kisses and hugs as
My husband, Dick, who gave me a smile when I
succeeded, a nudge when I hesitated, and his hand when
My Mom, who will always be a part of everything I
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. . . . . . . . . .. iv
ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . . . . viii
I INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . 1
Statement of the Problem . . . . 6
Need for the Study . . . . . . 7
Design of the Study. . . . . .. 10
Scope of the Study . . . . . . 11
Definition of Terms. . . . . .. 12
II REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE. . . . . ... 13
Graphic Linguistic Awareness . . . 13
The Composing Process. . . . . .. 20
Methodology. . . . . . . .. 31
Summary. . . . . . . . .. 36
III DESIGN. . . . . . . . . .. 38
Subjects . . . . . . . . 38
Procedure. . . . . . . . .. 40
Role of the Researcher in Episodes . .. 43
Data Collection and Analysis . . . 44
Limitations. . . . . . . .. 47
IV THE COMPOSING EPISODES. . . . . .. 48
Episode 1--Exploration of Materials. . 48
Episode 2--Halloween Cards . . . . 51
Episode 3--Thanksgiving Placecards . .. 54
Episode 4--Letters to Santa. . . ... 58
Episode 5--Individual Stories. . . . 62
Episode 6--Christmas Placemats . . . 65
Episode 7--Valentine Cards . . . . 68
Episode 8--Valentine Cards . . . . 71
Episode 9--Group Book. . . . . .. 74
Episode 10--Individual Books . . . 77
Episode 11--Easter Cards . . . . 80
Episode 12--Easter Cards . . . . 83
Episode 13--Easter Cards . . . . 86
Episode 14--Individual Books . . . 89
Episode 15--Personal Letters . . . 92
Episode 16--Mother's Day Cards . . . 96
Terry as Composer. . . . . . .. 99
Profile . . . . . . . . 99
Laurel as Composer . . . . . . 103
Profile . . . . . . . . 103
Amy as Composer. . . . . . .. 107
Profile . . . . . . . . 107
Summary. . . . . . . . .. 110
V GRAPHIC LINGUISTIC AWARENESS. . . . ... 116
Alphabet Letter Awareness. . . . ... 117
Mock and Scribble Letters . . . 118
Tracing and Coloring in Alphabet
Letters . . . . . . . 120
Notices Alphabet Letters. . . ... 121
Naming and Writing Alphabet Letters . 122
Summary . . . . . . . . 123
Word Awareness . . . . . . . 124
Defining Concept of Word. . . ... 126
Copying and Writing Words . . . 127
Summary . . . . . . . . 128
Spelling Awareness . . . . . . 129
Defines Concept of Spelling . . . 129
Spelling Words. . . . . . .. 131
Summary . . . . . . . . 132
Print Awareness. . . . . . .. 133
Defines Concept of Writing. . . . 133
Demonstrating Audience Awareness. . 136
Reading Pictures or Print . . . 137
Writes, Dictates, or Draws. . . . 139
Summary . . . . . . . . 141
Children's Verbal Terminology. . . . 142
Summary. . . . . . . . .. 145
VI NATURE AND FUNCTION OF ORAL INTERACTION
WHILE COMPOSING . . . . . . . 148
Nature of Oral Interaction While
Composing. . . . . . . .. 149
Questions . . . . . . . 150
Answers/Responds. . . . . .. 153
Tells/Shares. . . . . . .. 153
Takes a Break . . . . . . 154
Functions of Oral Interaction While
Composing. . . . . . . .. 155
Planning. . . . . . . .. 158
Describing Materials. . . . .. 158
Dictating a Message . . . . . 159
Questioning and Responding to a
Question . . . . . .. 159
Commanding or Directing . . . . 161
Announcing. . . . . . . .. 161
Explaining. . . . . . . .. 161
Evaluating and Revising . . . . 162
Being Responsive to Another . . . 163
Expressing Frustration. . . . ... 163
Unrelated Comments and Questions. . 164
Role of the Researcher . . . . . 166
Summary. . . . . . . . .. 167
VII DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS . . . . 170
The Composing Process. . . . . .. 170
Graphic Linguistic Awareness . . . 175
Nature and Function of Oral Inter-
action While Composing . . . . 177
Implications for Research on Composing 179
Implications for Research on Graphic
Linguistic Awareness . . . . 184
Implications for Research on Oral
Interaction While Composing. . . . 187
Implications for Curriculum and
Instruction Research . . . . 188
Summary. . . . . . . . . 192
APPENDIX A BEHAVIORS IN EPISODE 3 (THANKSGIVING
PLACECARDS) . . . . . . . 198
Terry . . . . . . . . 198
Laurel. . . . . . . . .. 203
Amy . . . . . . . . . 208
APPENDIX B GRAPHIC LINGUISTIC AWARENESS IN
PERSONAL COMMUNICATION COMPARED
WITH BOOK EPISODES . . . . . . 214
REFERENCES . . . . . . . . . . . 219
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. . . . . . . . .. 231
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
AN INVESTIGATION INTO THE COMPOSING PROCESSES
AND GRAPHIC LINGUISTIC AWARENESS
OF THREE VERY YOUNG CHILDREN
Nancye M. Childers
Chairperson: Linda Leonard Lamme
Major Department: Curriculum and Instruction
This study consisted of an investigation into the
composing (dictating/writing/drawing) processes of 3
children ages 2, 3, and 4 at the onset, and the graphic
linguistic awareness evidenced as these children generated
their own graphic representation. Sixteen structured
composing episodes were conducted over a 6 month period,
in which the children composed as a group with a respon-
sive adult. Research methodology employed in the study
was eclectic in design, involving case study, observa-
tional, and ethnographic techniques. Videotapes of the
16 sessions were transcribed and analyzed by 2 coders to
describe children's composing processes and to graph and
to analyze their graphic linguistic awareness and the
nature and functions of their oral interaction while
The unique contribution of this study to research in
the area of composing was the development of a research
methodology for obtaining and analyzing data on the com-
posing processes of children ages 2-4. Previous research
has not studied children so young and appropriate research
methodologies had not been developed. The group setting,
together with the composing tasks and adult direction,
resulted in lengthy sessions (35 to 80 minutes) of active
composing. Other researchers have studied children
individually. For the 3 children in this study, the
group sessions were productive research environments.
Secondarily, it was observed that the children
participated more actively in the composing process when
the activities were personal, purposeful, and communica-
tion for an immediate audience (personal letters and
greeting cards) than when the audience was less well
defined (group books).
The primary contribution of this study to the re-
search literature in language awareness was likewise the
development of a research setting and methodology con-
ducive to ascertaining the graphic linguistic awareness
of children ages 2-4. The term graphic linguistic aware-
ness was identified by this study to represent that com-
ponent of metalinguistic awareness which focuses on
graphic representation and its meaning.
The study further contributes an operational defini-
tion of graphic linguistic awareness which emerged from
observations of the 3 children as they composed. This
study has operationally defined graphic linguistic aware-
ness to include letter awareness, word awareness, spelling
awareness, and print awareness.
In the area of graphic linguistic awareness, some of
the findings might have been anticipated, i.e., that
children would be fascinated with each other's names.
The quantity of graphic linguistic awareness displayed
was an unexpected finding, as were the many diverse ways
in which the awareness was demonstrated.
This study raised questions about viewing the com-
posing process for young children as solitary and silent
and demonstrated the usefulness of the children's oral
interactions both for gathering data about graphic
linguistic awareness and for enhancing the composing
processes themselves. A schema of the functions of oral
interaction while composing was developed.
Research in composing might utilize the group setting
and composing strategies developed for this study. Re-
searchers might investigate the impact of an immediate
audience and of purposeful, meaningful communication on
the composing processes of children ages 2-4.
The term graphic linguistic awareness provides
clarity to researchers. The operational definition offers
a framework around which future studies might be designed.
The amount of graphic linguistic awareness already ob-
tained by the children in this study was substantial,
indicating a need to explore the origins of graphic
linguistic awareness with even younger children.
This investigation gives guidance to researchers in
the areas of early childhood composing and linguistic
awareness. It provides a theoretical construct around
which an early childhood writing curriculum might be
developed and researched. Many questions were generated
which provide direction for future research in these
Research into the field of writing is shifting in
focus from an evaluation of product to an investigation of
process (Vukelich & Golden, 1981). Studies by Emig (1969)
with 12th grade children, and Graves (1977, 1978) with five
and seven year olds have opened the door to research on the
writing process and have introduced alternative orienta-
tions and methodology. A natural extension of their
efforts was to research the very beginning of composing
(writing/drawing) in younger children (ages 2-4).
Children of these ages are also beginning to try to
make sense of the world of print which surrounds them (Clay,
1975). This emerging process may be termed graphic
linguistic awareness, i.e., an awareness of the printed
word or the symbols used in writing or printing to convey
meaning. Studies involving this area of research have
recorded children's linguistic awareness in response to
reading activities (Downing, 1970b; Holden & MacGinitie,
1972) or in response to print not of their own generation
(Harste, Burke & Woodward, 1979). Research which would
investigate the evidence of graphic linguistic awareness
manifested by children as they are composing (writing/
drawing) was needed. Children's generation of their own
graphic representations served as a useful tool for the
revelation of graphic linguistic awareness.
Numerous studies have been published within the last
decade focusing on reading (and prereading) skills and
language development. Most currently "metalinguistic
awareness"--an awareness of the nature of one's own
language--predominates as a topic of research in the area
of early childhood education. This awareness includes
knowing what reading and language are; what a letter,
word, sentence and story are; and what the conventions of
print are (such as left to right and top to bottom pro-
gression, word boundaries, etc.) (Weaver & Shonkoff, 1978).
This awareness has also been termed "linguistic accessi-
bility" (Klima in Cazden, 1974) and the ability to
"manipulate language as an object" (Ehri, 1975).
Pertinent studies consistently demonstrate that
young children ages 2-4 have a vague and confusing aware-
ness of the terms typically used in conjunction with
interaction with print, such as sentence, word, sound,
letter, etc. (Clay, 1975; Downing, 1970a; Johns, 1977;
Reid, 1966). Practically all of the research in this
area has concentrated on studies of oral language and
reading. Writing, or the generation of one's own graphic
symbols, is rarely the focus of research in preschool age
children and seldom is the vehicle for assessing linguistic
awareness at any level.
Although the areas of reading, speaking and writing
have been demonstrated consistently to be highly inter-
related (Gibson & Levin-,.1975; Mason, 1980; Page, 1974;
Reid, 1966), Stanley and Pershin (1978) state that writing
has long been considered a "secondary system" to speech
and reading. Studies that have been conducted have been
almost exclusively concerned with the product of the
children's efforts. Writing process research is "virgin
territory" (Graves, 1979b).
For some reason long obscured, the child has "little
motivation to learn writing when we begin to teach it and
has only a vague idea of its usefulness" (Vygotsky, 1962,
p. 99). Yet research has clearly demonstrated that between
3 and 5 years of age most children in a literate
society express an interest in writing (Hall, Moretz &
Statom, 1976), and become aware that "people make marks
on paper purposefully" (Clay, 1977). This expressed
interest in writing appears to correspond roughly with a
child's beginning interest in reading and with an increase
in his/her verbal development. Oral and written language,
in fact, appear to have parallel development (Harste et al.,
Evidence is now being submitted to support the theory
that written language develops naturally just as oral
language does (Goodman & Goodman, 1981), and growth in
one area of communication enhances the development of
another (Harste et al., 1979; Klein, 1981). In fact,
studies show that children acquire skills in reading and
writing, just as they do in speaking and listening, at a
very young age (Doake, 1979b). Mattingly (1972)
hypothesizes that the wider the gap in time between a
child's major acquisition of speech skills and the
literacy skills of reading and writing, the greater will
be the child's "cognitive confusion" and the harder it
will be to learn to read and write.
Traditionally, the processes of writing and reading
have been researched separately, as if each were an entity
unto itself. Development in writing, however, has been
demonstrated to be closely related to development in
reading (Luria, in Clay, 1977; Hall et al., 1976; Harste
et al., 1979). Early readers studied by Durkin (1966) and
Clark (1975) were termed "pencil and paper kids" by their
parents, and the initial indication of curiosity about
written language was an interest in scribbling and drawing
(Durkin, 1966, p. 137). Ferguson (1975) found children's
ability to write their name at the beginning of kinder-
garten to be a predictor of later reading ability.
Serious questions must be raised about the prevailing
notion that the sequence of language learning is listening,
speaking, reading, and then writing (Hall et al., 1976).
Indeed, it would seem that research in prereading mandates
simultaneous research in prewriting, as both are forms of
language processing (Page, 1974). Further, it would seem
that the interrelationships among all forms of written
language should be the focal point of study rather than
the segmentation and polarization thereof. Communication
is, after all, the intent of writer, reader, and speaker
(Gillooly, 1973; Page, 1974).
Instruction in writing, commonly practiced as though
it were synonomous with handwriting (Whiteman, 1980), is
one of the most rigid areas in the early childhood
curriculum. Children are typically forced to copy, trace,
and stay within lines. The products of their labors are
very technically evaluated, even in the preschool. Yet,
research has shown that direct instruction is of limited
use at a young age (Hildreth, 1936) and that exploration
and trial-and-error by the child are most beneficial (Clay,
1977). Demands for accuracy and perfection actually hinder
instruction in writing (Goodman & Goodman, 1981). Un-
structured composing (drawing and writing) or precomposing
activities (consisting of scribbles, drawing and emerging
graphic symbols) are a foundation upon which instruction
may be based. Zepeda de Kane (1980) cites children
communicating graphically as "building bridges of meaning
as they drew" (p. iv). It has been demonstrated that
writing emerges from drawing, without direct instruction
(Ames & Ilg, 1951; Wheeler, 1971) and, further, that
children's drawings become the basis of written communi-
cation (Lamme, 1981). In fact, these composing behaviors
may even serve as organizers of reading behaviors (Clay,
1975). The removal of rigidity and preoccupation with
product may tend to encourage more positive writing
experiences and more enjoyment.
Composing activities are seldom presented that pro-
vide young children the opportunity to see that their own
efforts have meaning--that their writing/drawing is pur-
poseful and can communicate. As Bruner (1971, p. 113)
There is a very crucial matter about acquiring
a skill--be it chess, political savvy, biology,
or skiing. The goal must be plain, one must
have a sense of where one is trying to get to
in any given instance of activity.
This aspect appears to have been ignored in the area
of prewriting instruction. Drawing sticks, circles, and
lollipops are merely an exercise. Communication is a
necessary prerequisite of learning to write (DeFord, 1980).
Writing has a purpose, so writing (and prewriting) educa-
tion must "suit the child's real purpose of communication
from the beginning" (Hildreth, 1964, p. 19).
Statement of the Problem
Research into children's composing processes demon-
strates the need for an investigation of the composing
processes of children prior to school age. In this study
the researcher attempted to describe the composing
processes of 3 very young children as they communi-
cated through dictating, writing, and drawing. At each
session children were given an opportunity to dictate or
write a message for real communication (such as a greeting
card, letter, placecard for a table, or a book). The
children then completed their messages by drawing and/or
Research in the area of metalinguistic awareness has
focused on asking children direct questions about print not
of their own generation. Such direct metalinguistic ques-
tions may be inappropriate for very young children (Sulzby,
1979). This study used the composing processes as sources
for information about children's graphic linguistic aware-
ness. The environment for the investigation was much like
one that could exist in a preschool situation--a group of
3 children interacting with a responsive adult.
Need for the Study
The proposed study addressed the call for composing
process research (Graves, 1981). Typically, evaluation
and discussion have centered on an examination of the final
effort without specific inquiry into the operations per-
formed within the composing process itself. This type of
research has proved unsatisfactory (Applebee, 1981). The
products of very young children often reveal layers of
work which are later covered up by additional graphic
symbols (Lamme, 1981). Also, in the examination of the
product only, any verbalization or "composing aloud"
(Emig, 1977) that accompanies the process of composing is
lost. Drawing/writing can provide situations in which the
researcher observes the ways in which a child "organizes
his behavior" (Clay, 1975) verbally and physically. Sulzby
(1979) claims that both the direct metalinguistic question
and the indirect metalinguistic question are important in
research investigations. The indirect metalinguistic
question is defined as "giving a child something to do and
then observing what happens" (p. 3). It was the contention
of this investigator that it is the indirect graphic
linguistic question that is of primary concern; for
questioning a very young child directly may result in
misleading information or no information at all (Sulzby,
The researcher, also, through detailed descriptions
of the young child's composing episodes could provide
needed information to educators and parents about learning
to write and learning to read (Hall et al., 1976). Indepth
studies of children while they are writing is of prime
importance (Graves, 1981) in order to provide the data
needed to begin the development of a theory of writing
(King & Rentel, 1979). It is probable that the first pre-
writing steps in composing (drawing/writing) and the
accompanying verbal expressions have been ignored because
there is not, as yet, a theoretical base upon which to make
"formulations and predictions" (King & Rentel, 1979).
The emphasis in the schools has typically been formal
instruction in reading and listening (passive), while a
knowledge of child development indicates that stressing
talking and writing (active) would be preferable in en-
hancing all communication skills (Emig, 1977). This study
sought to take advantage of the links between these active
communication processes. First, the researcher examined
the process of writing--how very young children go about
composing. This was accomplished by placing children in
a particular set of situations that provided for composing
to be viewed as communication. Secondly, the ways in
which children evidenced graphic linguistic awareness at
a young age were studied, with the composing episode as
a focal point of data generation.
To do this on a large scale or with experimental
methodology was inappropriate at this time. Pertinent
variables in writing research are only beginning to be
identified (Graves, 1979a). "Detailed observational
descriptions" (Hall et al., 1976, p. 585) and observations
over time to investigate interrelationships among the
variables identified were mandatory.
The present study differed from previous studies of
the composing process by
(1) involving children at younger ages than have
previously been studied;
(2) involving children who were composing in a small
group (of three children) similar to composing
as it may take place in school settings;
(3) following and videotaping the children periodically
for a period of 6 months, for a total of 16
(4) centering the composing episodes around communi-
cation that is purposeful and meaningful to the
The present study differed from previous studies of
children's graphic linguistic awareness by
(1) gathering data as children generated graphic
representation (not as they responded to the
print of others); and
(2) gathering data from the small group of children
as they discussed their composing during and
subsequent to the composing process.
Design of the Study
The study consisted of indepth case studies and
ethnographic observations of three children ages 35, 46,
and 50 months at the onset of the study. The children
were videotaped in structured composing sessions involving
purposeful graphic communication for a period of 6
months--a total of 16 tapes. The videotapes were analyzed
in a variety of ways for insight into children's composi-
tional writing processes and for evidences of their graphic
linguistic awareness. Data were transcribed from the
videotapes in descriptive narrative form so that a profile
of each individual child as a composer could be obtained.
From careful analysis of videotapes, specific behaviors
were charted as they pertained to each child's evidences
of graphic linguistic awareness. These observations
further operationally refined current definitions of
graphic linguistic awareness.
As with any study based on anthropologic methodology,
the researcher was continually interpreting, reappraising,
analyzing, and reorganizing the composing sessions and
reexamining the focus of research in the light of previous
findings. Questions were generated throughout and evidence
reported to either refute or support emerging conclusions.
Scope of the Study
The following questions were asked at the onset of
(1) What are the composing processes of 3 very young
children (ages 2-4)?
(2) What evidences of graphic linguistic awareness
appear in the composing processes of 3 very young
children (ages 2-4)?
These questions were discussed in light of 16 com-
posing sessions over a period of 6 months. As the study
progressed, new questions emerged and these also were
considered. The role of oral interaction surrounding the
composing episodes particularly demanded attention.
Implications were discussed for early childhood education
and parental practices. A new list of questions and
hypotheses necessitating further study was generated.
Definition of Terms
Composing refers to the drawing/writing/dictating
process as evidenced by the young child in structured
situations designed by the investigator.
Metalinguistic awareness is defined as an awareness
of the nature of one's own language including such aware-
ness as: knowing what reading is; what a letter, word,
sentence, and story are; and an awareness of the conven-
tions of print such as left to right progression, word
boundaries, etc. (Weaver & Shonkoff, 1978). The origin
of the word is in metalanguage--meaning a language used
to talk about another language.
Graphic linguistic awareness refers specifically to
a child's awareness of the written or printed word or the
symbols used in writing or printing to convey meaning.
This includes letter awareness, word awareness, spelling
awareness, and print awareness.
REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE
This study was designed to investigate the composing
processes and graphic linguistic awareness of 3 chil-
dren ages 2-4, utilizing observational and case study
procedures. The 3 purposes of this chapter are to
review: (a) research findings pertaining to graphic
linguistic awareness; (b) available literature on the
composing process; and (c) relevant research surrounding
various anthropologic techniques of collecting, analyzing,
and presenting qualitative data.
Graphic Linguistic Awareness
The term graphic linguistic awareness embodies the
child's awareness of the printed word or the symbols used
in writing or printing to represent sound and convey
meaning. Researchers consistently demonstrate that the
terms word, letter, sentence, and number are often con-
fused (Clay, 1977; Downing, 1970a;Reid, 1966) and used
interchangeably by children (Downing, 1969) when they are
confronted with printed language. Johns (1977) suggests
that, in fact, young children do not possess an adequate
concept of a spoken word, which may somewhat account for
their difficulty in identifying words in printed form.
Studies have further shown that children have difficulty
segmenting words visually and identifying visual word
boundaries (Holden & MacGinitie, 1972; Meltzer & Herse,
1969). Downing (1969) quotes Vernon as citing a kind of
"cognitive confusion" that typically characterizes young
children's encounters with print, though most children
are able to work themselves into increasing "cognitive
clarity" (Downing, 1979). It is also suggested that this
initial cognitive phase, in which the basic conventions
of print are introduced and enriched, is often neglected
by educators (Downing, 1979; Ferguson, 1975). It is for
this reason that the "abstract quality of written language
is the main stumbling block" (Vygotsky, 1962, p. 99) for
many children in learning to read and write and that chil-
dren regard the purpose of print as mysterious (Reid, 1966).
Yet, print or writing is merely observable language
(Page, 1974) and has communication as its basic function
just as oral language does. Researchers state that chil-
dren will attain a level of graphic linguistic awareness
in much the same way as they learn to speak and listen
to their language (Doake, 1979b; Goodman & Goodman, 1981;
Harste et al., 1979). Children appear, however, to grasp
the purposeful communication facet of oral language more
readily than they grasp that of written language (Downing,
1969). Perhaps this is because language is not learned in
a situation where it is independent of function (Klein,
1981; Smith, 1977). Children are often asked to learn
about the conventions of print in contexts which are, to
the child, meaningless and contrived. The child, quite
reasonably, may be able to make more sense of written
language if it is meaningfully context-bound (Hiebert,
1978). Written language which is meaningful
to children, i.e., their own name, has been successfully
used to teach conventions of print such as word boundaries
(Holden & MacGinitie, 1972).
The sequence of a child's development in the communica-
tion skills is generally thought to be listening,
speaking, reading, and then, writing (Hall et al., 1976).
However, many researchers point out that a child's interest
in written language occurs at a very young age (Clay, 1975;
Durkin, 1966; Read, 1971). Clay (1977) maintains that
children somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5 become
aware that marks are made on paper purposefully and that
they contain a message. Researchers (Gibson & Levin, 1975;
Lavine, 1977) have found that children as young as age 3
can distinguish pictures from writing and preschool children
have a definite list of conditions as to what constitutes
writing (Lavine, 1977). Harste et al. (1979) contend that
the development of oral and written language are parallel
rather than serial and that the child will draw on his/her
"linguistic data pool" in order to communicate--utilizing
"alternative and available communications systems" (p. 32)
in his/her interactions with the environment. The early
preschool years appear to be an active time for the develop-
ment of graphic linguistic awareness (Hiebert, 1981), and
children apparently do not progress in this development
in a linear manner (Deford, 1980; Harste et al., 1979;
Lundsteen, 1976). Growth in the area of graphic linguistic
awareness appears to vary considerably with the individual
Further, Doake (1979a) deplores the distinction con-
sistently made between oral and written language and con-
tends that children are intrinsically motivated toward
literacy. It has been demonstrated that children can and
do acquire written language at the same time they are
acquiring oral language (Rhodes, 1979) if they are
surrounded by an environment in which literacy is valued
(Bissex, 1980a; Clay, 1977; Gibson & Levin, 1975). The
same "linguistic curiosity" that motivates the child's
interactions with oral language will motivate them in
interactions with print as well (Downing, 1979). In no
way are reading and writing a second order abstraction
of oral language (Baghban, 1979). Conversely, Downing
(1979, p. 5) reaffirms Mattingly's position that "the
child who is no longer very actively acquiring language
will surely find learning to read very difficult and
Development in writing has been frequently associated
with development in reading (Hall, 1976; Harste et al.,
1979; Luria, 1970), although Reid (1966) found that the
children in his studies had a general lack of knowledge
of the relationship between reading and writing. Page
(1974) states that writing and reading are both forms of
language processing. Both have communication as their
common function (Gillooly, 1973) and children learn how
to write as an extension of their innate need to communi-
cate (King & Rentel, 1979; Lundsteen, 1976). Chomsky (1971)
feels that the common practice of learning to read prior to
learning to write in schools should be reversed, and
Durkin (1966) found that her early readers were extremely
interested in writing, some learning to write first and
thereby learning to read.
Jean Piaget (1969, p. 70) in citing work done by
Freinet in setting up a school states that
It is obvious that a child who is himself
printing small fragments of text will
succeed in learning to read, write and
spell in a very different manner from
one who has no idea at all how the
printed documents he has to use are made.
First experience with exposure to labels and alphabet
letters provides a background for linguistic awareness
(Ehri, 1975) and enables the child to make "good guesses"
about the function of print (Mason, 1980). Smith (1976,
p. 299) contends that "children probably begin to read
from the moment they become aware of print in any
meaningful way." The sequence of this developing aware-
ness has been shown to be recitation, then naming and
printing of letters, then the actual reading of signs
and labels (Mason, 1980). Smith (1976) terms this early
struggling of children to make sense of print the "roots
of reading." The naming of alphabet letters appears to
be an important component of the linguistic awareness
process (Hardy, Stennett & Smythe, 1974) but researchers
are undecided as to what function this ability serves.
Templeton (1980) terms it a "simple but engaging task"
(p. 457) that the child can utilize as a beginning
venture into the world of reading and writing. Parnell
(in Hiebert, 1978) cites the notion held by many that
the recitation of alphabet letters is a fundamental
prerequisite of learning to read. Others believe that
the learning of letters is an isolated exercise with
little relation to reading. Beers and Beers (1980) fear
the use of letters as one dimensional characters will
hinder reading and writing progress. Smith (1976) states
flatly that the knowledge of alphabet letters is not a
prerequisite of word identification. Opinion is divided
as to whether the child is able to understand the concept
"letter" before "word" (Francis, 1973) or "word" before
"letter" or even "sentence" before "words" (Goodman &
Goodman, 1981; Holden & MacGinitie, 1972). Stanley and
Pershin (1978) state that an examination of the children's
concepts of what they believe they are writing (i.e.,
letter, word, story, etc.) could give insight as to the
child's ability to deal with these concepts in reading.
Children's graphic linguistic awareness can be enhanced
by immersion in an atmosphere rich with printed language
(Bissex, 1980a; Rhodes, 1979; Templeton, 1980). Children
need someone to answer their questions about written
language (Chomsky, 1979) and to share their graphic and
oral communications (Shanahan, 1980). Children must be
provided adult models of literacy and must be able to
observe print utilized in purposeful ways (Hildreth, 1964).
The child is bombarded on all sides with language, both
oral and written, and is actively trying to develop a
system to make sense of it all (Clay, 1975). Writing may
well serve as such a system.
The graphic linguistic awareness of the very young
child (i.e., his/her awareness of the printed word or the
symbols used in writing or printing to represent sound
and convey meaning) can provide researchers and educators
with valuable information concerning the development of
all aspects of the communication skills. Previous studies
have recorded young children's graphic linguistic awareness
in response to reading activities (Downing, 197Qa;Holden
& MacGinitie, 1972) and in response to print not of their
own generation (Harste et al., 1979). It would seem a
valuable research opportunity to investigate children's
expression of graphic linguistic awareness as they generate
their own graphic representations in the process of composing.
The Composing Process
Research in the field of composing is beginning to take
a welcome turn from an emphasis on the evaluation of products
to an investigation of the composing process (Applebee,
1981; Vukelich & Golden, 1981). This emphasis was first
demonstrated by Emig (1969) in her description of the com-
posing processes with twelfth grade children. Her research
was followed by Graves' study of the composing behaviors of
7 year old children in 1973 and of 5. year old
children in 1977.
The composing process of preschool children is a
particularly interesting area of investigation. Verbal
activity which accompanies the composing process can serve
as a rich source of data concerning children's conceptions
of language and print. Very young children may not be
able to answer a direct metalinguistic question, but may
provide, through observation, answers to the indirect
metalinguistic question (Sulzby, 1979). In addition, the
examination of the products of young children may fail to
reveal layers of work, later obscured by more graphic
symbols (Lamme, 1981).
Researchers have categorized the writing process into
3 stages (Vukelich & Golden, 1981):
Stage 1--the prewriting stage or incubation period
(Schiff, 1979) that included preparation, planning, organiza-
tion and commitment (Britton et al., 1975) to the writing
act. This may include talking and drawing in young children
Stage 2--the composing stage in which the actual
graphic representation takes place. In young children
this may consist of dictation (Froese, 1978), writing,
drawing, or a combination--but the text is clearly that
of the child's generation (Clay, 1975). The number and
length of pauses children take while composing appear
to be significant (Graves, 1979b; Pianko, 1979) as is the
simultaneous verbalization of the task that takes place
Stage 3--the postwriting stage consists of revision
and alteration of the product. In young children this
stage may consist of the seeking of approval, rereading
of message and sharing. Graves (1979b) finds peers to be
an important factor in this stage.
The composing process of very young children (ages
2-4) contains another vital dimension--drawing. Children
of this age cannot (or choose not to) communicate their
thoughts adequately using alphabet symbols, but they can
purposefully communicate utilizing an infinite variety
of graphic representations. Therefore, the composing
process for very young children includes both the elements
of writing and drawing.
Drawing is enjoyable motor activity--an ability which
children innately possess (Platt, 1977). This concrete
activity contributes to the learning process in young
children (Fillmer & Zepeda de Kane, 1980). Very early in
life children are intrinsically motivated (Lowenfeld &
Brittain, 1975) to scribble (graphic expression) just as
they are motivated to babble (verbal expression) (Eng,
1932; Zepeda de Kane, 1980). Scribbling is "motor
pleasure" (Kellog, 1969) and much more. Thought to be
the "building blocks of art" (Kellog, 1969), scribbling
provides the child with the necessary building blocks of
writing as well. In fact, in the very earliest stages,
writing and scribbling are all one in the same (Hildreth,
in Ames & Ilg, 1951)--an external graphic representation
of internal imagery (Zepeda de Kane, 1980). As early as
age 3, however, children display a knowledge of the
difference between writing and drawing (Hiebert, 1978;
Lavine, 1977). When asked to write, very young children
have been found to produce scribbles that share the
properties of linearity and horizontal orientation
(Hildreth, 1936) which are not evident in their drawings.
Researchers have demonstrated that by allowing a child to
interact freely with materials and immersing him in a
literate environment, the child's composing behaviors
will evidence a network of graphic representations--among
them being most alphabet letters (Kellog, 1969). Eng (1954,
p. 34), in her daily study of her niece, Margaret, states
she had no actual teaching, but asked from
time to time what the name of this or that
letter was, or asked to have drawn for her
a letter which she knew she could not draw.
Margaret was 3 years, 8 months at the time. Ames and Ilg
(1951), Clay (1975), and Hiebert (1978) are among the
researchers who continue to emphasize the child's active
interest in the production of print.
Children's early drawing, writing, and scribbling
progress through a series of predictable stages, the
first of which is the seemingly random scribbling motions,
back and forth, circular--which appear aimless, but which
give pleasure (Lowenfeld & Brittain, 1975) and practice
in the eye-hand coordination needed for writing (Kellog,
1969). It has also been suggested that these early
spontaneous scribbles define space for the child
(deAjuriaguerra & Auzias, 1975). Lowenfeld and Brittain
(1975) see the child as progressing from making these
random marks on paper to producing a series of controlled
scribbles where some control over his movements is
exhibited, to the naming of scribbling stage, in which
the child has changed "from kinesthetic to imaginative
thinking" (p. 131). It is at this juncture that the
notion of graphic representations as viable communication
begins to emerge (Clay, 1975). It is also at this stage
that the development of a symbol system becomes evident
and that alphabet letters and other signs begin to appear
(Deford, 1980). The appearance of linear mock writing
and the creation of mock letters (Clay, 1975) indicate
that the child has transformed the pleasure of scribbling
into a manifestation of graphic linguistic awareness.
Left-to-right and top-to-bottom directionality may also
be in evidence (Harste et al., 1979).
Lowenfeld and Brittain (1975) term the years typically
between the ages of 4 and 7 as being the children's pre-
schematic stage. They are consciously aware of form and
their own ability to create it. They know that symbols
are representational and integrate this concept into their
composing repertoires. They may try to copy alphabet
symbols (Hildreth in Ames & Ilg, 1951), invent their own,
or utilize a combination of both. Frequently children,
at this stage, express interest in learning an array of
signs (Clay, 1975) that have special meaning to them--their
names. Hildreth (1936) cites experimentation and practice
as the byword of this highly motivating task and concluded
that direct instruction was counterindicated.
Clay (1975) found that children may emphasize and
reaffirm their growing knowledge of composing behaviors
by tracing over letters an adult has written for them.
Frequently, then, the children attempt to copy what the
adult had written directly underneath. From the composing
behaviors of creating alphabet letters and words in
isolation (commonly beginning with their names), the
child progresses to word phrases and words in sentences
Drawing continues to be of value in composing process
even after the children are able to write as they wish.
Clay's (1975) notion that drawing is an organizational
activity in very young composers, seems to hold true as
children acquire more writing skill. Graves (1978) and
Emig (1977) found drawing to be an essential prewriting
activity. Often, however, the meaning becomes apparent
for children during the composing process (Graves, 1979b).
They use the composing process in conjunction with the
Children are sure, very early in their lives, that
writing conveys a message (Clay, 1977). They have no
doubt that written language is functional (Harste et al.,
1979), perhaps because they regard their drawings as
functional. Children, then, view their acquisition of
the ability to generate graphic representation as a tool
through which they can realize their desire to communi-
cate with themselves and others (King & Rentel, 1979;
Platt, 1977). Hildreth (1964) urges that the communica-
tion aspect of composing be emphasized from the beginning
and states that "there is no real writing apart from
writing something" (p. 19).
The young child is striving for self-expression--an
expression of feelings and thoughts--in constructive forms
(Kellog, 1969). Early composing which is meaningful and
purposeful can facilitate this self-confidence in a
developmentally satisfying way. Children can compose
with writing, drawing--or any combination of the two--de-
pending on the level of their proficiency. They can
purposefully communicate utilizing the elements at their
disposal (Klein & Schickedanz, 1980). Stanley and Pershin
(1978) maintain that children's own ideas of what is being
composed should be the focus of investigation.
As children progress in their composing behaviors,
they may ask for adult help in their spelling. Researchers
are divided as to whether immediate assistance should be
provided (Clay, 1975), or whether the child should be
persuaded to represent the word with whatever symbols are
at his command (Chomsky, 1979; Paul, 1976; Reid, 1966).
This invented spelling frees children from some of the
constraints of their limited knowledge of rule and con-
vention, and gives them the confidence that anything that
is said can be written (Chomsky, 1979), a kind of spelling
consciousness (Gentry, 1981). Sometimes children will
utilize only the first letter of a word to stand for the
word itself (Chomsky, 1979). Paul (1976) observed that
children seldom invented the same spelling twice; emphasis
is placed by the child on the act of figuring the word
out rather than on the product itself. She also observed
that as soon as the child learned the correct spelling of
a word, it would be substituted for the invented spelling
of that word. Purposeful communication gives spelling
meaning and spelling skills seem to evolve naturally in
a responsive environment (Gentry, 1981). Research into
early spelling has been concerned with the product; the
context in which children invent spellings merits in-
Two elements of the composing process appear to be
critical in order for the composing experiences to be
fruitful. The first, that the purpose of the composing
activity be real and meaningful, has been discussed. The
second, then, is that the writer have a sense of
audience--an awareness of the persons) for whom the
communication is intended (Britton, 1978; Shanahan, 1980).
Too often in composing situations the teacher chooses
the topic, which may or may not be meaningful to the
child (Harste & Burke, 1980), and is the only available
audience (Burgess & Burgess, 1973) and a critical audience
at that (Birnbaum, 1980). A significant difference between
oral and written language is that oral communication is
always replete with an audience (Barritt & Kroll, 1978).
Kroll (1978a) maintains that young composers have
an incomplete sense of audience; that is, they do not
have their audience in mind as they write. He attributes
this lack of awareness to their egocentricity and indicates
that the resulting communication suffers. It seems, how-
ever, that the term audience awareness may have a somewhat
different meaning for the egocentric child. Egocentricity
may keep the very young child from realizing that an
audience can be critical and judgmental. Graves (1979b)
cited Sarah, age 6, as not yet possessing the concept of
audience awareness and thus her graphic play went un-
disturbed. It is possible that the immediacy of an
audience is implicit in an egocentric child's purposeful
communication. These children are the center of their
world. Their compositions are meaningful and fully in-
tended to be read and enjoyed by a significant audience.
The egocentric period may be the perfect moment to intro-
duce composition as meaningful, purposeful communication.
Until they decenter their orientation, and until arbitrary
structure is imposed upon them by the schools (deAjuriaguerra
& Auzias, 1975), children do not realize that writing is
a rigid product-oriented process to be judged. In fact,
Higgins (in Kroll, 1978a) tentatively believes that it is
easier for children to decenter in graphic than in oral
Writing experiences in schools are often typified
by solitude (Burgess & Burgess, 1973; King, 1980) and
mechanical drill (Hildreth, 1964). Mastery of conventions
is viewed as the desirable endproduct, rather than
communication and meaning (Birnbaum, 1980). Given the
freedom with which children are allowed to acquire oral
language, it seems incongruous that so many constraints
are placed on the acquisition of written language (Doake,
197a)-. Early graphic representation in the preschool
child can be compared to a toddler's expression of
"allgone milk" (Gentry, 1978, p. 89). The toddler is
not chastized for his incomplete speech structure, but
the beginning writer is often red-penciled for his in-
complete written structure. Errors in written language
may, in fact, indicate progress through experimentation
rather than failure (Applebee, 1981).
Implications for parents and educators concerning
the composing process are emerging in the literature.
Parents are urged to immerse their children in an environ-
ment of print (Lavine, 1977; Rhodes, 1979), to "cradle
the child with words" (Bullock Report in Doake, 1979a,
p. 4), and to provide children a myriad of opportunities
for graphic expression (Baghban, 1979; Chomsky, 1971;
Gibson & Levin, 1975). Teachers are encouraged to serve
as a writing model and to demonstrate the communicative
aspect of graphic representation (Vukelich & Golden, 1981).
Further, researchers are calling for as much class time
devoted to writing as to reading (Hildreth, 1964). Hughes
(1978) determined that British children spend from 8 to
14 hours per week engaged in the composing process. By
contrast, children in the United States were found to
spend from a low of 1/2 hour per month to a high of 2-1/2
hours per week composing.
Teachers are encouraged to regard composing as a
highly individual process (Graves, 1975) and to allow
children to proceed at their own pace aided by an array
of graphic materials (Lavine, 1977). Shanahan (1980)
cautions educators not to wait until children can read
to begin composing instruction, and Chomsky (1979) main-
tains that effective reading instruction should begin
Adults must be active, interested and accepting
factors in the child's composing environment, offering
assistance when asked (Lamme, 1981) and remaining silent
when the child wants (and needs) to go it alone (Klein
& Schieckedanz, 1980). Children must be allowed to make
their own discoveries about written language (Goodman &
Goodman, 1981). Young children actively express more
interest in process than product. Adults are asked to
do the same (Rhodes, 1979).
Researchers also speak of those who would build a
theory of the development of the composing process.
King and Rentel (197.9) urges careful examination of the early
stages of writing development and a close look at the
way in which children move from oral to graphic ex-
pression. Graves (1981) calls for the identification
of pertinent variables in the composing process and
illustration of their interrelationships. The process
of composing must be the focal point of study, not the
finished product (Hall et al., 1976). The context in
which the composing process takes place also must be
investigated (Graves, 1981).
A wealth of data exists in the behaviors of preschool
children; researchers must tap this source with methodology
that is both dynamic and precise in order for the founda-
tions of a theory to be laid. It is possible that elements
of transactional reading theory (Rosenblatt, 1969) and the
socio-psycholinguistic theory of written language develop-
ment (Harste et al., 1979) may be meaningfully applied to
formulation of a theory of early composing behavior and the
accompanying manifestations of graphic linguistic awareness.
Research methodologies concerned with investigations
into new fields of inquiry must be eclectic in design.
Studies performed with very young children (ages 2-4) must
include alternative data gathering and analytic techniques
in addition to conventional measurement and evaluation
The development of graphic linguistic awareness and
the composing (dictating/drawing/writing) processes of
very young children (ages 2-4) are areas currently in
need of study (Vukelich & Golden, 1981). The examination
of finished composing products and quantifiable evaluations
of children's verbal expressions of graphic linguistic
awareness yield data that can be enriched through
qualitative evaluation. Quantitative assessment has
typified the literature in the past and has indicated
the need for more descriptive research techniques utilizing
alternative methodology (Cooper & Odell, 1978).
The fields of anthropology, linguistics, and psychology
yield applicable qualitative methods of data collection and
analysis. Whereas traditional experimental procedures con-
tribute to the amount of data gathered, these disciplines
offer additional qualitative methodologies that seek an
understanding of the data generated (Mishler, 1979). Carini
(1975) contrasts the positivist approach to research with
the phenomenonological approach. In the positivist model,
the researcher is independent of the research situation
observing behavior that is channeled into predetermined
categories. In phenomenological studies, the researcher
is part of the situation to be observed and no preset cate-
gories are imposed on his/her perceptions. The researcher
develops those categories necessary in accordance with the
demands of the phenomenon observed (Wilson, 1977). Studies
fitting this paradigm are commonly called qualitative,
phenomenological, or ethnographic.
Ethnographic research attempts, through observer
participation in the research episode, to gather infor-
mation about behavior that is lost in traditional quanti-
tative study (Wilson, 1977). Proponents of this method,
which is borrowed from the field of anthropology, empha-
size their ability to focus on events in progress, rather
than on the quantifications of past events (Willis, 1978).
The categorization of behavior is open-ended, not auto-
matic (Garfinkel, 1972). Behaviors are not dissected
into variables isolated for manipulation (Bauman, 1970)
but are described in context, indicating the interrela-
tionships and complexities of variables (Bogdan, 1972).
The popular terminology "illuminative evaluation" (Parlett
& Hamilton in Jenkins & O'Toole, 1978) and "action research"
(Corey in Kyle, 1979) refer to the notion of the researcher
as participant, describing and evaluating behavior as it
In emerging fields of study, such as the composing
process and graphic linguistic awareness, much of the
research must be exploratory in design (Lazarsfeld &
Barton, 1959). Bronfenbrenner (1977, p. 513) cites the
emphasis on rigor in research as often producing results
that are technically refined but limited in relevancy.
He further states that researchers often structure experi-
ments so that the results reflect
the strange behavior of children in strange
situations with strange adults for the
briefest possible periods of time.
Ethnographers maintain that human behavior cannot be
understood without consideration of the environment in
which that behavior occurs (Wilson, 1977). Concepts and
hypotheses emerge in the context of the research episode
(McCutcheon's emergent questions, 1978) and theory is
generated as the result of this dynamic methodology
(Glaser & Strauss, 1967). Analysis is not a separate stage
in the process, but an ongoing process which shapes the
research as it progresses (Becker et al., 1961).
Documenting, a process described by Carini (1975),
involves a method of observing, recording, describing,
and analyzing behavior in accordance with ethnographic
research techniques. No standard format is applicable
to all settings; the researcher's encounter with the
situation dictates the documenting procedures (Mishler,
The case study approach has been shown to be a valid
one when applied to composing behaviors (Emig, 1977;
Graves, 1978) and graphic linguistic awareness in young
children (Bissex, 1980a; Rhodes, 1979). Hedda Bolgar
(in Graves, 1977, p. 2) states that "whenever an investi-
gator approaches a new area in which little is known,
the case study is his first methodological choice." This
approach gathers information over time and in great depth,
and generates crucial data to be later utilized in a
variety of research dimensions and in theory building.
Methodology of this type must be meticulously done
if it is to be credible. Researchers must display an
objectivity--an ability to move beyond their own perspective
and include the perspectives of others (Wilson, 1977).
Data must be examined in a variety of ways and reported
clearly and vividly (Kyle, 1979). The researcher must
constantly describe and interpret data and report emerging
patterns as they become evident (Ross, 1978) with truth-
fulness a prime requisite (McCutcheon, 1978). Rigor in
research design and relevance in the ethnographic tradi-
tion do not have to be mutually exclusive (Bronfenbrenner,
1977). Enough evidence should be reported on a given
point to give the reader confidence in the researcher's
tentative multiple hypotheses (Becker et al., 1961). The
final conclusions reached or questions generated must be
thoroughly checked and receive adequate support from data
gathered throughout the research endeavor (Becker, 1958).
Some results may be presented in ways similar to tradi-
tional educational research, if the data justify this
type of presentation (Wilson, 1977). The reader must be
able to understand the theoretical framework (however
tentative) under which the researcher is operating (Glaser
& Strauss, 1965).
The descriptive, ethnographic, and case study
approaches to research are not ends in themselves. They
generate questions and tentative hypotheses which may
serve as the basis for further research projects. These
methodologies can propose general categories, properties
or processes; further investigation can validate and
confirm them (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
Research into the composing behaviors and graphic
linguistic awareness of very young children is in its
infancy. It appears, however, that a study of the
evidence of graphic linguistic awareness manifested by
children as they are composing (dictating, writing,
drawing) would provide much needed information in both
of the areas in question. Traditional methodology is not
a feasible alternative; qualitative, descriptive, ethno-
graphic research in the form of case studies is the design
This study endeavored to broaden the field of com-
posing research by:
(1) examining the composing process of very young
children (ages 2-4) over time;
(2) focusing on the process of composing rather
than the product;
(3) involving children who are composing in a small
group similar to composing as it could take
place in school settings; and
(4) investigating the effect of composing purposeful
activities on the generation of graphic repre-
This study endeavored to broaden the field of graphic
linguistic awareness by:
(1) examining the graphic linguistic awareness children
evidence as they generate their own graphic repre-
(2) exploring the verbal interactions of a small group
of children during and subsequent to the composing
(3) determining the effect of purposeful composing
activities on children's development of graphic
The purpose of this study was to investigate the
development of the composing processes and emergent graphic
linguistic awareness of 3 very young children. This
was done through the qualitative analysis of data generated
in 16 structured composing sessions conducted over a 6
month time span. This chapter describes the research
design and analysis procedures employed in this study.
Three subjects were recruited for the study. A
description of each child follows.
Terrence (Terry) was age 46 months at the onset of
the study. He is 1 of 4 children, with 2 older
brothers (Kelly, age 9-1/2 and Timmy, age 10-1/2) and a
younger sister (Kate, age 10 months). Terry's father is
a physician and his mother is a doctoral student in early
childhood education at the University of Florida (this
researcher). Terry attended preschool three mornings a
week at the time of the study.
Laurel was 35 months old when the study began. She
is an only child. Her father is an associate professor
of geography at the University of Florida where her mother
is an associate professor of early childhood education.
Laurel did not attend nursery school during the time of
Amy, 50 months, is I1 of 4 children. She has
2 older sisters (Kathleen, age 9-1/2 and Maureen, age
6-1/2) and 1 younger sister (Megan, age 9 months). Her
father is a physician at the University of Florida Medical
Center. Her mother has a master's degree in reading and
conducts preschool playgroups. Amy attended preschool
5 mornings a week during the study.
These children were chosen for a variety of reasons.
All 3 were easily accessible to the investigator and
could be closely followed and videotaped for the 6 month
period of study.
Glaser and Strauss (1967) encourage the choice of
a group for discovering theory that will help generate
as many properties of the development of emergent cate-
gories as possible. Graves (1979b) maintains that the
choice of children for a case study approach is the exact
opposite of the typical experimental approach of random
sampling. Children are carefully selected who will
generate quantities of data and illustrate critical
variables. The children chosen for this study possessed
a verbal ability that enabled the researcher to obtain
a clearer picture of the composing activities and
accompanying thought processes than if the children were
reluctant verbalizers. The 3 children were all com-
fortable with the researcher and with each other.
The 3 children were brought to the College of
Education by the researcher. They were taken to a room
containing a videotape apparatus, toys and games, and a
writing corner with a small table and four chairs. The
children usually brought their lunch.
Each of the 16 videotaped sessions began with the
children sitting at the small table with the researcher.
The focus of all these composing episodes was the genera-
tion of meaningful communication. Each product, rather
than being evaluated and kept by the researcher, was to
be delivered to the person for whom it was intended. The
course of the composing activities was not charted in
advance, nor were the materials used. Each session was
guided by the observation, analysis, and questions raised
in the previous sessions. The sessions which emerged
through this process were as follows:
Episode 1--Introduction, exploration of materials.
The children were introduced to the format, the room, and
the notion of composing together with the researcher at
the table. No structured activity was proposed for this
first session. The children were allowed to freely inter-
act with the materials and each other. (35 minutes)
Episode 2--Making Halloween cards. Each child was
given a specific composing task of making a greeting card
for anyone he/she wished. The children were taped
individually with the researcher. It was decided at
this juncture to allow the children to compose as a
group of three to see if more data would be generated.
Episode 3--Making placecards. The children composed
as a group and made placecards for those who would be
attending their Thanksgiving dinners. (1 hour 20 minutes)
Episode 4--Writing letters. The children composed
letters to leave for Santa when he came on Christmas eve.
Episode 5--Composing a story. The children were
encouraged to write and draw a story of their choice.
Episode 6--Making Christmas gifts. The children
drew and wrote messages that were put into plastic holders
and given as placemats to the person of their choice as a
Christmas present. (55 minutes)
Episode 7--Making greeting cards. The children made
Valentine cards for each other. (35 minutes)
Episode 8--Making greeting cards. The children made
Valentine cards for family members. (45 minutes)
Episode 9--Making a book. The children made a
collaborative book about Terry's birthday party, which
they had all attended. (45 minutes)
Episode 10--Making a book.
individual book of their choice.
The children each made an
Episode 11--Making greeting cards. The children made
Easter cards for the person of their choice. (40 minutes)
Episode 12--Making greeting cards. By request, the
children made additional Easter cards for the person of
their choice. (50 minutes)
Episode 13--Making greeting cards. The children made
Easter cards for each other. (55 minutes)
Episode 14--Making a book. The children made indi-
vidual books of their own choice. (45 minutes)
Episode 15--Writing a letter.
The children composed
a letter to someone of their choice. (60 minutes)
Episode 16--Making greeting cards. The children made
Mother's Day cards for their mothers and grandmothers.
Sessions began with the researcher proposing the day's
activity and then having each child state the message he/she
wished to convey. The children dictated and the researcher
wrote the intended communication. The product was then
given to the child to "finish the message--writing or
drawing--any way you wish." In later sessions the children
asked to write parts of their messages independently. For
the last session the dictated messages were written on
cards for the children to copy.
The children composed in this manner for a minimum
of 45 minutes a session. The researcher was present at
the table during the entire process. Verbal interaction
was encouraged among the participants. The children,
almost without exception, had to be urged to stop at the
end of the allotted time.
At the termination of each session a short discussion
was held concerning the day's activities. The children
then ate their lunch and, if time permitted, played with
the toys in the room. The researcher then drove the
children home for naps.
Early sessions indicated far more generation of data
and time on task in a group of three than when each child
was composing alone. The children's verbal interaction
was a primary source of the evidences of graphic linguistic
awareness. Taping three children simultaneously created
a more social and less test-like atmosphere. A further
reason for taping in a small group was because so many
children (ages 3 and 4) are in school settings for part
of the day that the composing process on tape would more
closely resemble possible composing activities outside
the research setting.
Role of the Researcher in Episodes
The researcher's active role in the study was both
directive and responsive. It was directive in the sense
that the composing episodes were carefully structured and
tasks were explicit for each session. The children were
guided in their compositions and were apprised of the
format in which they were to operate.
The researcher was responsive to the children's oral
and graphic language. She encouraged them to verbalize
as they composed and refrained from criticizing or judging
their efforts. Socialization and interaction were at the
core of the study and an atmosphere conducive to these was
The researcher was present throughout the sessions
and endeavored to make each episode a positive experience
for the children. She incorporated their suggestions into
the study and utilized their emergent behavior in directing
the course of the composing sessions. The researcher's
participation in the episodes is further discussed in
Data Collection and Analysis
In an effort to make the methodology match the study
(Wilson, 1977), the approach to the collection and analysis
of data used in this study was multi-faceted. The time
for composing process research appears to be ripe, but
Graves (1980) cautions against a fragmentary approach.
This investigation is ethnographic in orientation, in that
the context of the composing episode is of major importance.
Employed also are techniques of case study research--extended
observations over time and large amounts of in-depth
anecdotal records. The researcher was also a factor in
the research setting, invoking the tenets of participant
observation. Traditional research methodology was utilized
in the forms of structured episodes and activities and a
laboratory-like setting. These methods, though somewhat
diverse, contributed to a global picture of the children's
ventures into the composing process and the resultant
graphic linguistic awareness they evidenced.
Each of the 16 episodes was videotaped in its
entirety (except when the equipment malfunctioned or
the children's desire to compose outlasted the supply of
tape). The researcher kept additional field notes during
the actual sessions in order to pick up nonverbal infor-
mation the tape may have missed. In addition, the chil-
dren were very young and very eager to verbalize and
often the tapes are characterized by all the children
talking at once. Each tape was reviewed shortly after
the session, so the researcher could add pertinent comments
to the analysis. Since the products were actually
delivered, notes were kept on unique features of composi-
tion that may not have shown up on tape.
Every tape was considered in a variety of ways.
First, the composing episodes were looked at across the
three children. Features common to the children's
processes were noted as were emergent patterns and
sequences of behavior. Each episode was discussed in
light of the activity it generated, unique variables that
were in evidence, and tentative conclusions and questions
that guided future sessions.
Next, each child's composing behaviors were extracted
in the descriptive narrative form of a case study. This
technique yielded individual profiles of Terry, Laurel,
and Amy as composers.
Graphic linguistic awareness was analyzed in two
different ways. First, evidences of graphic linguistic
awareness were recorded from each tape. From these data
a chart was constructed in order to graphically represent
each child's progression in graphic linguistic awareness.
Categorization for charting emerged from the episodes
themselves and was fluid in design, not being complete
until the last tape was analyzed. This charting, over a
6 month period of time, was intended to give insight into
and further operationally define the term graphic
In addition, Terry, Laurel, and Amy used a variety
of terms to discuss their graphic representation. All of
the children utilized the terms "draw," "write," "make,"
"do," and "spell" at one time or another. Since children
ages 2-4 often give verbal clues to their thoughts and
concept formation, charting these expressions and the
accompanying behavior was seen as a viable analysis of
graphic linguistic awareness.
The above analytic procedures were then drawn together
in an effort to formulate tentative conclusions and lay the
groundwork for future research.
1. The participants in this study were observed in a lab-
oratory-type setting and were videotaped. Although the
children were very young and did not appear to be af-
fected, the artificiality of the environment may have
had an effect. Comments like Amy's "Oh, the camera fell
down; is this how you spell 'happy'?" lead the researcher
to believe the distortion in behavior was minimal.
2. The children in the study were chosen by the researcher
because of their accessibility, familiarity with the
researcher and verbal skills. Their behavior does not
necessarily typify other children's progress through
the composing episodes.
3. No factor was built into the design to control for ob-
server bias aside from the researcher's experience in
research methodology and in experimental studies with
4. Frequency counts of the occurrences of elements of
graphic linguistic awareness were, at times, subjective.
When children verbalized an element, each verbalization
was counted, even if it was repetitive. If the children
expressed an element graphically (i.e., colored in the
letters of the message), one tally was given for the en-
tire operation. This system of quantification was con-
sistent throughout the study.
THE COMPOSING EPISODES
The composing processes of the children will be
considered in 2 ways. First, the composing behaviors of
the three children as a group as they progressed through
the structured composing episodes of the study will be
investigated. Then, the composing processes of the
individual child will be discussed and a profile of each
child as a composer will be created. The participants
in the episodes were Terry (T), age 46 months; Laurel (L),
age 35 months; Amy (A), age 50 months; and Nancye (N), the
Episode 1--Exploration of Materials
The initial composing episode was held in the middle
of September. Its central purpose was to familiarize the
children with the room, the writing area, and the process
of composing with the researcher. An additional function
of the session was for the researcher to set the tone for
future meetings. Verbalization and interaction were en-
couraged and initiated by the researcher. The children
were commended on their efforts and questioned about their
products and processes in the hope of introducing them to
the style of verbal discourse while composing. Since the
researcher knew the children and their families prior to
the study, talk of a personal nature was in evidence. This
was not discouraged. Verbal interaction of any kind was
The children adjusted effortlessly to the research
situation. All were eager to come together and very in-
terested in using the materials that were on the writing
No particular task or activity was presented at this
first session. The children were provided with a stack of
white drawing paper and a box of large felt tip markers.
They were encouraged to write or draw as they wished.
The markers were brand new and each had a distinc-
tive fragrance. The children spent a good deal of time
discussing them, experimenting, and changing colors.
Each child was very interested in what the others
were doing. They all frequently looked at each other's
papers, remarked on what was taking place, and often
borrowed or embellished on an idea. A spirit of free
interaction and cooperation prevailed.
A: (shows picture) This is a happy face .
this is a design . this is a person . .
T: (to N) Can you make me a people?
N: This is for you to draw.
A: I can make you a people.
Very little writing occurred aside from the children's
attempts to write their own names. Letters did emerge in
the drawings, however. The children remarked on some of
these; on others they did not. Often the character of the
composition changed as it was being created.
T: Hey, she's making her own name. Hey,
Amy, I can make my own name. (T begins
to make T, turns it into a A)
N: What's that?
T: A tent.
L: A triangle.
N: A triangle and a tent, too.
T: A Christmas tree.
The children were anxious to show their compositions
to the researcher and to each other. When one child said,
"Look what I made" the others would turn their attention
L: See this fish! (A & T lean over to see)
That's the eye and that's the beak and
that's the tail and the head.
The children verbalized freely in their precomposing
phase often orally planning what would come next in the
T: Hey, you know what I can make? I can
make . I can make . You know what
I'm going to make, Mom? A something .
Much more drawing activity was in evidence than
writing activity, perhaps because the large size markers
were thought of more as a tool for drawing, or because
no specific purpose for communication was offered as a
reason for composing. A purposeful activity might have
generated more writing-type representation.
The session lasted approximately 30 minutes. The
children seemed pleased with the day's activities and with
each other. All asked when they could come back.
Episode 2--Halloween Cards
In this session, each child was observed composing
individually with the researcher. A specific activity was
offered: making Halloween cards for the person of choice.
The children were eager to get together and before com-
posing spent some time playing with the toys in the room.
The children took turns entering the writing area
with the researcher. Laurel elected not to participate in
this session. She had wanted to compose while Terry was
so engaged, but was turned away and asked to wait her turn.
By the time it was her turn, the moment had passed.
In their individual sessions with the researcher, both
Terry and Amy were anxious to write/draw, but also wanted
to be with the other two children who were outside the
writing area. The verbal interaction was not nearly as
rich as it had been in session one where all three chil-
dren composed together.
The episode began with a short discussion of the up-
coming holiday, Halloween, and the notion of sending a card
to someone. Both the children were familiar with the con-
cept of greeting cards and had someone in mind with whom
they wished to communicate.
The researcher used this session to set the tone for
the ones to follow. (Although Laurel did not directly
participate, she was in and out of the composing area
enough to know what was going on.) After deciding to whom
the card would be sent, the child dictated and the re-
searcher wrote the appropriate message. The avenue of
communication had to be directed.
N: Okay, how about if I write . .
T: A witch!
N: How about if I write "Dear Grandma . ."
The children then completed the dictation by relating the
messages they wished to convey. The cards were then signed
with "Love," followed by the child's name.
Terry and Amy leaned over and carefully watched as the
researcher wrote. Materials used for this session were
large felt tip markers and large white or colored paper
folded like a card.
The children were very anxious to take a marker and
begin composing. All the graphic representation on the
cards was the product of drawing. No writing, mock letters
or emergent letters were in evidence, perhaps because the
large size markers suggested drawing rather than writing.
All the representations, however, were pertinent to Hallo-
ween. The children were clearly excited about the upcoming
holiday and enjoyed drawing scores of pumpkins, witches'
The researcher tried the technique Graves (1978) used
so successfully with older children of encouraging the
child to talk about his/her finished composition. Ques-
tions like "What will Grandma like best about your card?"
were unproductive for the most part with Terry and Amy.
With children of this young age, the direct metalinguistic
question (Sulzby, 1979) was also of little use. Few
meaningful verbal responses were generated, perhaps due to
the children's egocentricity and inability to decenter.
The children did exhibit an ability to recognize
N: Would you like to try your name?
T: Well, you already writed my name (points
correctly to name on card).
and to appreciate the concept of communication:
N: I love your picture. Do you like it?
A: Yeah, 'cause it says (points to written
message, touches words as she talks,
goes left to right) Amy. I love you.
Happy Halloween (points to words out of
order, but touches Amy correctly;
smiles at N).
Several aspects of this episode directed future
(1) It was decided to have the children compose as
a group. No one would be turned away or have
to take turns, and group sessions, moreover,
would foster valuable verbal interaction.
(2) Since the children's names appeared to be
highly motivating, it was decided to make names
the focus of the next activity.
(3) Utensils other than large markers would be used
to see if more writing-type composing would be
Episode 3--Thanksgiving Placecards
Terry, Laurel, Amy, and Nancye (the researcher) all
gathered around the small table upon which the materials
were displayed. The children were pleased to be sitting
down together. A discussion of the upcoming holiday of
Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving dinner followed. The chil-
dren were eager to share who was coming to their houses,
what would be served, etc. The researcher then suggested
that they make placecards to be used at Thanksgiving dinner,
i.e., a card with each person's name on it that would be
put at his/her own place at the table.
Four by 6 unlined index cards were folded so they
would stand up. Utensils offered to the children were
thin (pencil sized) felt tip markers of assorted colors.
The researcher began the composing activity by stating
that she would write the desired name on the card and the
children would finish the card by writing and drawing as
they wished. The children were anxious to get started,
and it was decided that they would begin with their own
The task appeared to be of interest to the children
and a great deal of verbalization was generated relating
to the composing that was taking place. The
researcher always verbalized what she was writing
as she wrote. The children leaned over and closely
watched as the researcher wrote each name, prompting,
evaluating, and commenting as she was printing.
N: (writing for Laurel) I'll put it right up
there. L . .
L: A . (watching N; T & A lean way over to
N: (writing) A . .
A: She has an A, just like me!
This activity definitely engendered more writing
type activity than those previously proposed. All the
children engaged in scribbling and writing. They also
did some mock writing (Clay, 1975) making wave like marks
across the page, left to right, and termed it writing.
The children continually showed their accomplishments
to the researcher and to each other. This sharing seemed
to serve multiple purposes. The children were anxious to
interact, to socialize, and to gain approval for their
efforts. Also, showing and sharing seemed to give credence
to their attempts at graphic communication and to reaffirm
their emerging composing competence and graphic linguistic
L: (holding up her card) What is that, Terry?
N: (to T) Laurel's asking you a question.
T: An i.
L: (smiling) Yeeeesssssss! (A looks up, all smile)
Composing in a group situation enabled the children to
make discoveries about their graphic representation and en-
abled the researcher to draw conclusions about their graphic
N: (writing for T) Let's see . Daddy is . .
capital D . .
T: (watching closely) D . .
N: (writes and spells) a . d . d
L: (looks at card, excited) Well, that's how I
write my daddy's name!
A: (looks over) Hey, a y is in the end of my name
and it's in his name.
The fact that graphic representation is used as
communication was apparent as the children progressed in
this activity. They were clearly aware of their audience.
A: Can I have it for all my family?
A: Okay. This is going to be for my dad. Oh,
yeah, this is going to be for my mom and this
is going to be for my daddy--and then Kathleen,
and then Maureen, and then Megan.
The children enjoyed tracing over the letters the
researcher had made and then coloring them in. It was
postulated that this coloring in was done for a number of
reasons. It seemed to reaffirm the child's developing
awareness of print. It also seemed that coloring in made
the product pretty, served to finish or complete the
message, and provided a break or rest from the actual
generation of graphic representation.
Individual composing styles began to emerge. Laurel
spent the entire session completing one card, while Amy
finished four and Terry sped through ten.
The children seemed to use verbal interaction to take
a break from the activity of composing. They would leave
their task briefly, converse with the researcher or with
each other, and then resume composing.
A: (gets up and walks over to N) I want to tell
you something. You have dark black hair.
N: Yes, I do. And nobody in your family has black
hair, do they? (L is working and T is standing
A: Everyone almost has brown hair.
A: (returning to chair) But my mommy doesn't have
that short hair anymore.
A: I don't even know what her hair looks like. I
forget everytime I leave. (A & N laugh)
This session was a long one (1 hour and 20 minutes)
but the children were reluctant to leave at that.
N: Now, we have to get going, in a few minutes.
T: I only need Nana and Gus and Grandma and
N: All right. Why don't we . you can do
one more and then we'll stop. How about
A: But I want to do my whole family.
The researcher provided the children extra cards to
take home and finish. They asserted that they had
adequate pens at home.
As anticipated the 3 children enjoyed being together.
Small group composing was infinitely more productive than
individual effort, both in drawing/writing and in graphic
The small markers were more successful in producing
writing-type representation. Only one marker of each
color was available, however. The children frequently
had to wait for the desired color and talk tended to
center around this rather than the composing process. In
future sessions, more markers would be provided.
The purposeful nature of the communication in the
session was very worthwhile. Names as a focal point of
activity were highly motivating.
The children were pleased with themselves after this
session. Terry, Laurel, and Amy all used their placecards
at Thanksgiving dinner. All 3 also asked to return to the
university before the next scheduled session.
Episode 4--Letters to Santa
Since the Christmas season was approaching, it was
decided to capitalize on the interest of the children in
the holiday season. It was further decided to maintain
the group format, utilize purposeful communication, and
provide more writing utensils.
The story "The Night Before Christmas" was read to
introduce the activity. Rather than write a list of "I
wants" to Santa, in this session the children wrote a
card to leave for Santa when he visited on Christmas eve.
The children were very enthusiastic about the story, the
activity, and the approach of Christmas.
Materials provided in this session were white drawing
paper folded like a card, small markers (more than one of
each color) and the large "fragrance" markers.
Once again, the session began with the children dic-
tating and the researcher writing the message. Terry,
Laurel, and Amy all paced their dictation from the onset
of the study and watched carefully as the message was written.
All the children began their dictation with "Dear
Santa" and clearly were aware of the purpose of their
N: (writing) Dear . Santa . what would
you like me to say to Santa?
T: O.K. That . '"I'm going to write your
They also brought out the idea that receiving this
communication would bring pleasure.
L: Boy, will he (Santa) be happy!
Once again, the children shared their efforts with
the others present and talked about what they saW in other's
drawing and writing. Often they challenged what they saw
on the other child's card.
L: Look at my L. (T leans over to look)
N: Let me see.
T: What is the owl?
N: An L. That's a good one.
T: No, it's a V, you silly.
L: It's an L.
T: That is a V.
N: Well, look at it the way Laurel's looking
This challenging and the answering of the challenge served
as a verbal affirmation of the children's graphic linguistic
awareness and their ability to compose. They did not get
angry or hurt, but seemed to play their emerging con-
ceptualizations off one another. Verbal interchange of
this type was both important to the children's sense of
self-as-composer and revealing to the researcher.
Praise was also a factor in the children's interaction.
Praise from the researcher was one thing, but praise from a
peer offered a new dimension to the composing episode. At
one point, Terry had been trying desperately to write all
the letters in Santa's name. It was very difficult for him
and he worked very hard for an extended period of time.
Laurel watched the process intently and when Terry finally
completed his effort, she shouted, "There! There!" Terry
smiled and held up his card to show the others. "There.
I writed Santa's name." Laurel was as pleased as Terry
From time to time the children exhibited a degree of
frustration in not being able to produce a symbol the way
they wanted. The atmosphere of freedom to exchange ideas
and to help each other seemed to minimize the frustration
and helped the children achieve their goal.
T: Aaaaaggggghhh. (makes a pounding motion with
A: What are you trying to make, Terry?
T: Santa's name; I can't cause I did a wrong . .
wrong . Mom, can you write a other S?
N: Where would you like me to put it?
T: Here! (N writes for T)
N: There you go.
T: Thank you.
Assistance seems to help children make transitions
and facilitates the acquisition of skills. If assistance
is not given, the urge to communicate is thwarted and the
frustration is magnified. In another situation, Terry
might have torn up his paper or refused to complete the
The children also felt free to request and give help
T: Hey, Amy, can you write an S for me?
A: What kind of an S? You mean a snake letter?
N: A snake letter is called an S.
A: Oh. (writes on T's card)
This session revealed 2 general themes. One was the
concept that graphic messages make someone happy. The other
was a noticeable interest in the alphabet. Much of the time
was spent in experimentation with and talking about letters.
Also, for the first time, the concept of "spell" emerged.
L: I made a T . for Terry! (T looks)
N: Well, you made a T, didn't you? Is that the T
you made out of dots?
N: Very nice, Laurel.
A: Know what my mommy said? "Will you spell Terry's
name for me?" I spelled it without her telling
Again, names (Terry, Laurel, Amy and Santa) were
highly motivating and the focus of most of the writing
and graphic linguistic awareness that took place.
This activity lasted approximately 60 minutes and
ended with the researcher saying time was short and the
children had to finish up. The time these children
willingly spent interacting with the materials and with
each other was impressive. Also impressive was the time
spent smiling and verbalizing about the composing
activities. The children expressed a real desire to
communicate and a confidence in their ability to do so.
Episode 5--Individual Stories
The activity proposed in this session differed from
the previous 2. As seen in the last 2 episodes, the
children were clearly aware of the purpose of written
communication when it was in the form of a greeting card
or placecard. The children maintained the concept of an
immediate audience throughout this type of activity and
the composition was appropriate and meaningful. Also the
graphic linguistic awareness generated was plentiful and
Therefore, the children were given an opportunity
to participate in an activity more typically found in a
preschool situation. The only guidance the children were
given was to draw and/or write something that told a story.
They were told that after they finished, the stories they
composed would be shared. No dictating or writing by the
researcher began the episode.
The materials available on the table were large white
drawing paper, pencils, small felt tip markers, and crayons.
From the beginning, the session was strikingly different
both in the nature of the composing activities and in the
evidence of graphic linguistic awareness.
No purpose was given to the children for the com-
position and no audience was named. The children spent
longer periods of time than before silently working. This
was perhaps due to the nature of the activity or because
the researcher was not at the writing table as much as she
had been previously. The equipment was malfunctioning and
occupying the attention of the researcher. The distractions
were numerous (perhaps as they would be in a preschool
situation), but the children appeared not to be concerned.
They remained on task for the entire session of 40 minutes.
Much more drawing than writing was evident in the
compositions. The researcher had not introduced the
activity with writing nor modeled any writing behavior.
Still the children were interested in each other's papers
and felt free to comment on what they saw.
T: (leaning over and looking at A's paper)
You make interesting things.
It was clear, however, that the children were not
writing or drawing a story purposefully.
N: Terry, can you tell us the story that goes
with that picture?
T: (quietly) I'm not thinking. I'm drawing it.
Their drawing was a means of communication. It was not a
story, but it was a means of communicating their ideas
and of interacting with each other and the researcher.
Prodding the children to talk about their story and
what they were drawing was unproductive.
N: (to A) What is it you're making?
A: You'll see.
N: Pardon me?
A: You'll see.
N: I'll see. Okay.
T: Mom, let me write what I'm making.
The children finished their drawing and then made up
a story, probably to please the researcher. They seemed
to know the concept of a story and included elements of
their composing into the story.
T: I'm all finished to tell the story.
T: Once upon a time there was a N . .
(there's an N in his picture)
N: A letter N?
T: Yes. Who got a cold from the wind
and the sun . (there's a sun in
the picture, too)
N: From the wind and the sun.
T: He has a cough.
The stories were clearly not preplanned. The concept
that an oral story could be written was in evidence, how-
L: Know . know what? I have a story
to this. Want me to write it?
N: Yes, I do.
L: But I'll tell it to you in just a .
(begins to write letters at the top of
N: Look at you writing a story. Isn't that
The children appeared to enjoy this activity and once
again had to be asked to stop at the end of the allotted
time. However, the verbalization of graphic linguistic
awareness was much less than previously noted and the
compositions were not as filled with writing-like symbols.
It appears that when the audience is immediate and the
communication is purposeful, more writing appears in addi-
tion to drawing. When those two conditions do not exist,
drawing predominates and verbal interaction concerning the
compositions decreases. Future sessions were formulated
with these differences in mind with an eye toward curricu-
lar implications that might arise out of the study.
Episode 6--Christmas Placemats
This was the last session held before Christmas.
The children composed a message for a family member. The
message was then placed inside a clear plastic envelope
and used as a placemat. The researcher brought wrapping
paper, ribbon, and gift tags as well.
The children were filled with the spirit of Christmas
and were very anxious to participate in this activity.
The episode began with the children deciding for whom
the message was intended and then dictating to the
Once again the purposeful aspect of the communica-
tion and the awareness of audience was in evidence.
N: (to T) What should I say? Dear . .
N: (writes) Dear . Mommy . .
T: And . say to Mommy . Christmas is
coming and I hope you have a very nice
More graphic linguistic awareness was generated than
had been in the previous session, though not as much as in
the greeting cards or placecard sessions. The size and
orientation of the paper used might have been a factor.
Paper used by adults for personal communication is most
often small and folded.
Coloring in of the letters was once again an activity
in which the children engaged.
L: I'm coloring in.
N: Coloring in. What are you coloring in?
N: Coloring in O's.
L: All the marks that you see--you color them
in and it will be a beautiful picture.
The children may have used mock words to facilitate
the transition from their ability to make isolated letters
into their ability to spell. Again it seemed that using
verbal communication made this transition more within
A: (has written a border of letters on her page;
reads and points to letter, one word per
letter) That says "I wish that," I mean,
where's the I . I don't know . .
there's an I . two I's . (reading)
I . I . I . .
L: (prompting) I wish that . .
A: (reading and pointing) I . I . I .
wish . wish . that . Megan . .
would . not . get . into . my
. e . mark . der . der.
All the children were quite interested in pursuing
this new behavior and wanted to experiment with it. It
was revealing to the researcher in the amount of graphic
linguistic awareness expressed.
N: Terry, what were you going to tell me?
T: First let me write it. (reading) Okay . .
I . wish Mommy wouldn't die because
I will cry and Daddy will . and Daddy
was on a trip.
N: And that's what it says?
T: Un huh.
N: I see. And what are these right here?
L: That's . .
T: Those are the words.
N: Those are the words you wrote.
N: What is this word?
T: It's a T.
L: I can make a T.
The children focused a good deal of their attention
on the making of alphabet letters. It was interesting to
note that alphabet letters were used in a kind of graphic
play. They were discussed, interpreted, and their function
or role changed at will.
T: Mom, look at my colored B.
N: (laughs) A big colored B. Very good.
L: It's a bow. It's a bow.
N: A boat.
A&L: A bow!
N: A bow. Oh, you think Terry's B looks like a bow.
N: You were looking at it sideways . .
T: B starts with bow.
N: He's right, isn't he?
N: B starts the word bow. Pretty good. So it's
a bow and a B at the same time.
L: B for bat.
T: It's not a bow.
N: It's not a bow anymore, Terry?
T: Huh uh.
This play with graphic symbols seems a particularly
meaningful experience in the child's acquisition of graphic
linguistic awareness and of composing skills. The children
are able to, through interaction with print and with each
other, adopt the posture of a writer. Verbal interaction
allows them to define, explain and defend their play with
graphic representation and reaffirm the communication that
is its function. The children were very accepting of the
graphic play of each other and were sincerely interested
in the efforts the others displayed. Each child was seen
as a credible composer and what each child wrote/drew/
dictated was meaningful. The children really cared.
Episode 7--Valentine Cards
After a break of about a month due to scheduling
problems, the sessions resumed in early February. Despite
efforts to get all 3 children together once again, Amy was
unavailable for this session due to minor surgery. Taping
the two children was continued to note the differences
(if any) between composing sessions with 2 and with 3
Valentine's Day was the focus of the children's activity.
Terry and Laurel were glad to see each other once again and,
upon entering the room, went immediately to the writing
area and asked to begin. Materials used for this session
were thin felt tip markers and white 8-1/2 by 11 paper that
had been glued onto red construction paper.
A short discussion of Valentine's Day and greeting
cards began the episode, which really needed no introduction.
The researcher began by taking dictation from each child.
The children elected to make their Valentines for each other.
This session was characterized by a great deal of
smiling, humor, and obvious good feelings. Once again the
children were very interested in watching the researcher
write the message.
N: (to L) Who's your Valentine going to be
L: It'll be for Terry. (T smiles)
N: (writes) Dear . Terry . (T & L
watch; L looks at T, both smile) . .
and what would you like me to say?
L: I hope you have a nice day. (T smiles)
N: I hope . you . have . .
a . nice . day. (both T & L lean
over to watch)
L: (dictating) When we're finished with the
markers, put the tops on (looks at N and
N: (writes) When . (N & L laugh; T smiles)
silly goose! When . we're . finished
. with . the . markers . .
comma . put . the . tops . .
on. (T & L are watching) . Love . .
Laurel (both lean way over, presumably to
see name written).
The children obviously possessed the concept that they
were communicating and their awareness of an immediate
audience was expressed throughout. This was apparent in
their use of the sign concept in composing their message.
N: (to L) What are those?
L: (looks up, has written XXXX 0000) Hugs 'n
kisses for Terry. (smiles)
N: Oh, Terry. X's and O's are hugs and kisses
from Laurel. (T looks, smiles) That's a
nice thing to send on a Valentine's card.
L: (pointing) See, these are hugs; see these
are hugs . .
N: Those are hugs . .
L: Yes, and these are kisses.
T: (smiling, leaning over) Are the X's are
T: (drawing circles) These are hugs and
tickles! (N,T,L laugh)
The children repeated their previous inclination to
trace over and color in the letters of the written message.
Terry traced the words in the message, out of order, but
always completed each word left to right. Coloring in
behavior had continued for quite some time and had endured
even though the tone of the composing behaviors had changed.
This pattern may continue as a pleasurable and consistent
reaffirmation of print awareness. Or it may have been simply
the children's desire to make print more like the pictures
they were more familiar with.
The children also continued showing and sharing their
cards with each other and the researcher. In this session,
however, it seemed as though the focal point of this
sharing shifted somewhat from the researcher to the other
T: Laurel. Laurel.
T: These are bees.
N: Bees on the back of your Valentine card,
L: And some up front.
T: No bees on front.
L: Where? I mean these (points).
T: Those are . those are just spots.
L: Oh. (T & L laugh)
This session marked two changes in Terry's process
of composing. First, he held his pen correctly. Laurel
and Amy had been holding their utensils appropriately from
the beginning, but Terry had held his like a paint brush.
Secondly, Terry worked the entire session on one
product just as Laurel did. Whether this was just a change
in his composing behavior or whether he was modeling some
of Laurel's behavior was unknown. The possibility for this
modeling to occur, if indeed that is what it was, may have
been more likely in a group of two than in the group of three.
This session was shorter than previous ones (35 minutes)
and was not as filled with verbalization of graphic linguis-
tic awareness. It was postulated that more desirable ver-
bal interaction occurs in a group of three and that the
compositions are more diverse and complex. However, the
session was a very productive one in viewing the obvious
affective component of the generation of purposeful communi-
cation for an immediate audience.
Episode 8--Valentine Cards
The three children came to this session displaying
the enthusiasm the researcher had come to expect at holi-
day time. This episode was taped on Valentine's Day and
the children were happy and eager to compose. Naturally,
the activity of the day was making Valentine cards. The
children decided to make their cards for mommy and daddy.
The materials offered for use in the session were
thin markers, pencils, Valentine stickers, and white paper
inside a red or pink folder. The children spent a great
deal of time during the course of the activity paying
attention to alphabel letters and word construction. They
asked more questions about the elements of the written
message than they had previously.
N: (writes for A) Dear . Mommy . .
and . Daddy . .
A: How come there's two D's?
N: Pardon me?
A: How come there's two D's?
N: Two D's in Daddy.
N: D-a-d-d-y. Two little d's and a capital D.
A: I mean, these two D's. (points; T leans
over to see)
N: Dear starts with a D. And Daddy, too.
Very definite attention was given to initial consonants
and their sounds.
L: This says God. God. (has written God)
N: Look what Laurel wrote. She wrote a word
(T looks) and it says God. (A looks) That's
very nice, honey.
T: Guh . guh . guh . .
The children also became involved in copying from
each other's papers. It was as though they were taking
their newly realized skills and, through the interaction
available in the composing situation, revealing and re-
N: What did Amy write? Oh, you wrote God,
too, just like Laurel. (all look at A's
card; A smiles) And what's that?
A: (smiling) Love.
N: And you wrote "love." Isn't that good
writing. My goodness!
L: Now, I should copy hers. (writes L . .
o . v . e)
T: v . (watches closely)
L: e . I did too! (smiles)
T: Now I'm copying hers.
Spelling was demonstrated to be an emergent topic of
great interest. Oral spelling often preceded written
spelling and seemed to facilitate composing. The children
often planned, experimented, and rehearsed verbally, then
began to write.
A: I made Maureen.
N: You wrote your sister's name.
A: I don't know how to write Kathleen
N: That's a big name, isn't it?
A: I know. K-a-t . (looks at N)
A: Yeah . h . .
Even when spelling skill was lacking, mock words were
appropriately created. These mock words were accepted as
T: Mom, look.
N: What is it, Terry?
T: It's a word. (smiles)
N: Can you tell me what word it is?
T: (has written AOUD) Hmmm . whale.
N: Those are good letters, Terry. (A, L look)
L: Now I'm going to write whale. (laughs)
T: Copy mine!
L: (copies Terry's word) A . 0 . U . D.
It was hypothesized that once again the interaction
among the children made possible a smooth transition into
a new area of skill acquisition. The children were
accepting and facilitating each other as composers.
Although new behaviors of initial consonant recogni-
tion, awareness of word construction, copying, and spelling
real and mock words were displayed throughout the session,
it was noted that these behaviors did not replace operations
previously observed. The children still colored in the
written message and traced the letters. They also displayed
the type of mock writing seen sessions before.
A: They're waves.
N: Waves. Oh, pretty.
A: But they're big waves (smiles).
T: Mine are bigger waves (starts to make
w<- c- .lines; L is watching).
L: Well, you know that I usually like to
color inside of the words.
The contrast in graphic representation seen in this
episode led the researcher to support Clay's (1975) con-
tention that children's writing development is not linear.
The children utilized a wide range of composing skills,
some evidenced for the first time and some which were
employed session after session.
The children worked steadily throughout the session
and were asked to draw their activities to a close after
40 minutes. They clearly took pride in their efforts,
realizing that they had worked hard and experimented with
some new skills. This session signaled a turning point
in the series of observations. The graphic communication
of the children acquired a sophistication not seen before
and the change in their behavior was dramatic.
Nowhere in the entire process had anyone criticized
or rejected their efforts at composing. Their audiences
were accepting, not critical; and their role of composer
was taking on new dimensions. All seemed to share Amy's
final evaluation of the day's activities.
A: (holding up her card) This looks cool!
Episode 9--Group Book
A few days after the videotaping of the last session,
Amy brought the researcher a book she had made at home.
She was very excited about it and took great pride in her
work. Amy's book was brought to the next composing episode
and used as an introduction to the activity.
Terry and Laurel expressed interest in the book as
Amy carefully shared it page by page. The researcher then
suggested that the children make a group book using as the
theme Terry's birthday party which they had all attended.
This session was observed with great interest in the
light of the changes in composing behaviors and graphic
linguistic awareness that had taken place in episode 8
(Valentine cards). The children were pleased to be writing
again and sat down at once, ready to proceed. They agreed
that making a book would be fine, but the tone of their
verbalization throughout the session was remarkably dif-
ferent from the preceding episode.
The children were reluctant in dictating their messages.
When they did come up with a sentence, they were very
T: I had some clowns at my birthday party.
L: There were some clowns at Terry's party.
(urged to go on) The clowns did tricks.
A: They do lots of tricks.
This form of imitation had been accepted in previous
sessions as appropriate messages for greeting cards. It
was even seen by the children as a form of flattery to
have their messages copied. But in this episode, the
researcher asked each child to tell about something
different at the party, the games, refreshments, etc.
After some urging, the children did produce a unique
message, but were detached and disinterested in doing so.
The children observed carefully as the researcher wrote,
and leaned over to pay particular attention as the author's
name was written on each page. There was much more
drawing than writing in this activity, though the pictures
bore little relation to the words on the page. Some mock
writing and reading did emerge as the session progressed.
T: Mom, I write a word. (has written ol ol ol 1o)
L: (leaning over to look) He!
T: Mom, I made . .
N: What is it, Terry?
T: A word.
N: What word did you make, Terry?
T: (sounding out) Ummm . 111 . umm
Names continued to be of interest as they had been
in the past.
N: (to L) I see you wrote your name. (T looks
over) Very nice.
A: (spelling and writing) M . A . .
T: Now which one will I . I'm going to
A: (after a time) There's Kathleen's and
Maureen's! (has written their names)
N: Oh, you're writing names. (T looks) Isn't
The children began to do some reading of the words
in their messages. They displayed more interest in this
type of activity than they had previously.
T: Mom, a j in mine, a j in mine.
A: A j right there in juice.
T: Yes. Juice. (reading)
The verbalization of their reading was an important
component of the composing process. It seemed to verify
and reinforce their ability to read print. The concept of
syllabication emerged in this try at oral reading.
N: (reading cover) Terry's birthday . .
N: Party. By .
T: (pointing) Ter . ry.
N: No. Terry, . .
T: Chil . (the first syllable of his
N: Laurel, . .
T: Laurel . .
N: And . .
N: That's right.
This session, which lasted 45 minutes, was a success
as far as the children were concerned. They eagerly shared
their efforts with Laurel's mother at the end of the com-
posing episodes. Although many of the elements of pre-
vious sessions were displayed, they were not as abundant
or as intricate.
Although the activity of making a book did have an
orientation that had meaning for the children, the audience
was not immediate nor even apparent. The children did not
make a commitment to this activity as they had in the
past. The book was a group project, not a personal message,
which may have made a difference as well. This contrast
was to be the theme of the next session.
Episode 10--Individual Books
In the previous session, the children all made a book
together. The children were pleased with this effort and
all subsequently made books at home. In order to investi-
gate the effect of a group vs. individual project on the
composing process and graphic linguistic awareness, this
session was devoted to having each child make his/her own
Laurel wanted to write a book telling someone about
the weekly composing sessions. Terry wanted to make a
book about colors. Amy was absent due to a special event
at her school.
Materials available were thin felt tip markers,
pencils, 8-1/2 by 11 white paper, and construction paper
for book covers. The tape malfunctioned shortly after
the session began, so field notes were taken.
For the first time in the series of composing episodes,
the researcher was asked to relinquish some of her duties
N: Okay, Laurel, how about if I write yours
first. What would you like to say?
L: A book about Terry and Amy drawing. Can
I write it, please?
N: You're going to write it?
L: Uh huh.
Both Terry and Laurel began by writing letters at the
top left hand corner of their pages and wrote left to
T: (looking at L) I want to write my own. (N
hands him pen; T smiles, works)
N: Terry, can you tell me what it is you're
writing? (L leans over to look) My, my.
Look at that.
T: (reads) O-U-O-I-O-P-O-O-I-C
N: You wrote all those letters.
T: Yes, I wrote a lot of O's.
N: A lot of O's.
T: Yes. (smiling)
N: This is your page about purple for your
T: Uh huh.
L: (looks at T's page) O-B-O-B-0-B-O-B.
The children were pleased with their efforts and
continued composing in this mode.
L: (writing and singing letters) P-E-O-E-H. And
that's all I can think of in my story.
T: (wrote P-O-P-O-V-O-I-O) Mom, I writed a long
The children spent nearly the entire session of 40
minutes writing letters and mock words. The orientation
of the activity was clearly more toward writing than
L: (tracing and coloring in letters she had
previously made) This is a curious A.
N: (laughs) A curious A. (T leans over to look)
L: (to T) Curious A, right? (all laugh)
The children, at their own initiation, were performing
the function that the researcher had previously done.
Before they had traced, colored, and copied the message
that the researcher had written. In this session, they
wrote the primary message.
The original topics of their books were not mentioned
after the initial discussion. The children did a great
deal of playing with letters on paper. They saw this
graphic play as legitimate composing and engaged in it
for an extended period of time.
The session was very productive but, again, somewhat
lacking in the stimulation that is present when the three
children compose together. Making a book was once more not
as facilitative of the notion of composing as communicating
through a personal letter or greeting card.
Episode 11--Easter Cards
Since the previous two sessions were devoted to making
books, this session centered around a more personal mode
of communication. Easter was some distance in the future
but the children were already talking about it, so Easter
cards became the topic for the day. The children were
encouraged to compose a card for the person of their choice.
Materials available were construction paper, thin markers,
The episode began with the children dictating and the
researcher writing. The children waited their turn
patiently, as the researcher wrote for the others. They
all paced their dictation and watched as the researcher
wrote the message.
The children practiced their reading skills again,
picking up details in word construction.
L: (dictating) Dear Mom . .
N: (writes and spells) M . o . m.
A: (looks over) Oh, I'm talking about M-o-m-m-y.
This activity had an obvious, immediate audience
that was mentioned throughout.
A: Can we do three?
N: As many as we have time for.
A: 'Cause I just thought about Mommy,
T: Mom, I'm going to do a lot of Easters
for my brothers.
The children made a personal commitment to their composing.
The children's growing awareness of the conventions
of print was evident in their spelling of words, reading,
and self-correction in writing that had not been observed
before. Children spelled words aloud as they wrote them.
N: What did you write, Amy?
A: M-o-m-m-yI (smiles)
(points with pencil) Wait. M-o-m-y!
Wait. Forgot something. (A erases
and writes again; L & T watch closely).
L: Are you going to do another m and then y?
A: Now. M-o-m-m-y.
L: (to N) She spelled Mom-my.
N: Yes,she did. You're right.
L: I spelled, I wanted Mom.
The children watched each other's efforts closely and
were not hesitant to challenge when they thought a mistake
A: (to N--big smile) I wrote Daddy!
N: You did, didn't you! (all look closely)
A: No . (points) a-d-d-y.
T: (points to letter a) That's not a D, that's
A: (spells and points) D-a-d-d-y.
T: You said a.
A: No, I said D-a-d-d-y.
T: No, you said D . D . (A lifts paper
out of reach).
The children seemed to engage in this behavior as a
reaffirmation of their own graphic linguistic awareness.
They did not get angry with each other, but challenged and
Once again, the researcher was relieved of some of
A: (to N) Write Amy. Wait. You just have to
write Amy, okay? I'll write love. L-o-v-e.
N: Goodness me. Okay.
A: (spells and writes) L . o . .
L: Amy wrote!
A: (writes v) Will you help . how do you
make a v? I forget.
N: How do you make a v? You made one.
A: Oh, yeah. (writes e. Now has L-v-e on
paper) L-o-v-e (touching letters; scratches
out v-e, writes L-v-o-e) Now, L-o-v-e. Wait,
no. (laughs) I got mixed up. (scratches out,
writes correctly) L-o-v-e. Ho!
The children were very interested in each other's new
spelling behavior and gave positive feedback to the child
initiating the act. The children did not seem frustrated
by their mistakes, but worked hard until their message
was accurate. This process again pointed out the in-
adequacy of an evaluation of the finished product in
working with young children. A look at Amy's card would
have provided the observer with a card with a great deal
of illegible markings and the word love. No indication
of the complex process Amy went through could have been
The children verbalized a great deal in this session.
Their verbalization took the forms of planning, organizing,
spelling, sharing, evaluating, and unrelated chatter,
i.e., taking a break from their work. They also sang as
All the children were composing for the same purpose,
and conveyed almost identical messages. The children were
operating at different levels of skill acquisition, but the
tone of the group was positive and the children interacted
as peers. The children utilized whatever behavior was at
their command and gained recognition and approval for their
efforts. They were accepting of individual learning styles
L: (coloring in letters of message)
I have a long while to go because I
don't do things fast.
N: You take your time.
L: I'll never get this done.
T: (coloring in his letters) I'll never get
this done, too. (all smile)
Socializing was seen as a vital component of both
graphic linguistic awareness and the composing process.
Episode 12--Easter Cards
The children expressed a desire at the end of the
previous session to make more cards for other family
members. Their interest was so great that Easter cards
became the activity for this episode as well. The
materials were the same, folded construction paper, large
felt tip markers, thin markers, and pencils.
Terry and Amy knew what the activity was to be in
advance and went directly to the writing area ready to
begin. Laurel was not present.
The children were clearly in charge of this session.
They approached the situation with an air of confidence
and knew exactly how they wanted it to run. The researcher
did not have to direct the activity, but was handed a pen
and told what to write and for whom. The children were
pleased with their control and authority and did not abuse
The children were very particular about the way their
messages were written. They watched intensely and made
certain it was correct.
N: Okay. It says Dear Kathleen. I like
Kathleen. Now what?
A: (dictating) The . Easter . .
bunny . wears . pink . .
N: (writes; T & A watch) The . Easter .
bunny . .
A: Bunny . wears . pink . .
A: Now write white so it will be pink and
N: Pink and white.
A: Yes (laughs).
N: That bunny!
A: Did you write pink and white . or?
N: (points and reads) The-Easter-bunny-wears-
pink-and-white. Nothing else.
A: Oh. (T & A smile)
Terry and Amy again focused attention on the names of
family members as well as their own. Writing names correctly
was a continuing source of pride. They seemed to drill
themselves on their names over and over.
N: What are you smiling about, Terry?
A: (looks over at T's paper) Ter the Bear!
N: He wrote his name, didn't you? (T looks at
his name, continues smiling)
A: But not little, big.
Tracing and then coloring in the letters of the
written message was evidenced once again. It seemed to
define the concept of space vs. print and was very care-
fully and routinely done. The children included this in
their verbal planning.
T: Know why I have two? (holds up two pens)
T: 'Cause I'm going to color in.
The utensils were considered and utilized for particu-
lar purposes. Terry and Amy used the large markers for
drawing activity inside the card, but used the thin markers
for writing messages on the front of the card. Pencils
were not used at all.
A: Wanna see how little I can write my name?
(T watches closely) Wait . I can't do
it with this pen. I can do it with a
N: What is it you're doing?
A: Writing my name little because I can
write my name little.
Response to the researcher's being occupied with the
other child took a new form. In previous sessions, the
children would wait silently or begin a drawing activity
somewhere on their card other than in the place the re-
searcher wrote dictation. In this episode, Terry and Amy
displayed an attitude of "I can do it myself"--a further
indication of their increased confidence.
A: (to N) Could you spell Megan for me?
N: All right.
A: As soon as you do Terry's? (N is busy
getting Terry a new piece of paper,
helping him get settled)
N: (finally responds to A) Megan is . .
capital M . (T is having trouble
folding his card so N turns her attention
to him again)
A: (after a time) I can just write M. W. for
In a classroom setting, lack of teacher attention might
have led to more invented spellings than were found in
these sessions. With adult help and help from other chil-
dren so readily available, children rarely needed to invent
Even when the children were unable to write standard
messages (or chose not to), mock messages were written.
T: (to N) I want you to write. No, I
will write it. (T writes letters with
great concentration; reads) LLL . .
000 . LLL
The session ended with the children drawing silly
pictures of their Mommies on the inside of their cards.
There was a great deal of laughing and joking.
There was an indication that composing had evolved
into a two-step process. The children wrote very con-
scientiously for an extended period at the beginning of
the 50 minute session. Then they drew for the remainder
of the time with only an occasional mention of writing,
letters, or words.
The children ended the session themselves to eat
their lunches. They requested the same activity for the
Episode 13--Easter Cards
Having made Easter cards for others the two previous
weeks, the children decided that they would make cards for
the other members of the group. Materials available were
folded construction paper, thin markers, and pencils.
Once again, the children approached the task in a
business like manner. They clearly expressed their in-
tentions concerning what they would write and what the
researcher would write.
T: (takes pen from N) I can say Terry.
N: Well, all right.
T: (hands pen back) Love, you have to say.
L: I can say Laurel.
N: (to T) You want me to write love and
you'll write Terry.
A: Love. L-o-v-e.
L: Can I write I love you?
N: Of course.
The children continued their self-imposed drill of
writing names. The words "dear" and "love" were added
to the list of frequently practiced words.
L: What . (reading what T is writing)
Ter . Ter . Ter . .
N: (writing for A) Should I put love?
A: I'll put love.
T: Mom! (holds up card and smiles)
N: You did write your name, right under
love. Congratulations, Terry. That's
wonderful. Super duper. (T still
T: I just write it. Now I have to do it
all over again. (L leans over to watch)
The children took pleasure in spelling their names
while the other children wrote. This was a child initiated
process which gave the child spelling a sense of authority
and the writer immediate feedback.
A: Terry, how do you spell your name?
A: T-e-r? (T nods) r? How do you make
T: You do it . (shows her)
A: Oh. (L is watching closely) Now what?
T: r . r . .
A: What comes after r?
A: y. Terry. Now Amy. I already wrote
love right over here.
The children continued to challenge writing they
thought was incorrect.
N: Laurel, what did you write on the bottom
of your card?
L: I love . and now I have to write
T: (getting up) No. That's not how you spell
T: (to A, pointing at L's card) That's a I.
N: She wrote I love and I think she's going
to write something next.
The primary focus of the session was spelling and
word construction. At the beginning of the session it was
as if the children could talk of nothing else. They took
very few breaks during this intense work with the mechanics
L: (to N) Is this how you spell it?
N: What are you trying to spell?
N: Y . .
L: o . .
L: Just a teeny o. (N laughs)
N: A teeny o. And then u. You've got it.
A: There's a u in Maureen.
N: U is in Maureen. You're right.
A: I know. M starts with Megan, Maureen,
T: And Daddy.(smiles)
A: And Maureen and Daddy. No. D for Daddy.
J for James.
An interest in the arrangement of writing on the
page was a new concept that emerged in this session. The
children expressed concern that the space be utilized
properly and the card be in good form.
T: Mom, now I runned into . I'm having
trouble with this. (smiling, not distressed)
N: You're having trouble because you're running
into other words, aren't you? (T nods, smiles)
Can you go down to the bottom where there's
plenty of space?
T: Yeah, I'm trying to.
The children concentrated on correctness of form as
they wrote. The choice of utensil was a factor in this
A: I'll erase it. Terry, use a pencil so if
you mess up you'll be able to erase.
The children definitely made composing a two-step
process. They spent a long time writing and getting their
messages just the way they wanted them. They then completed
the process by drawing. Their illustrations for the most
part pertained to the holiday with many colorful Easter
eggs and baskets in evidence. The time spent in conversa-
tional breaks from composing increased during this drawing
An examination of the children's cards would have
yielded a hodge-podge of letters and drawings, some
recognizable words and names, and a message that had been
colored in and was barely legible. The richness of the
graphic linguistic awareness and the increasing skills
in composing would have gone undetected. Fifty-five
minutes of complex and varied processes contributed to
the reworked and dogeared products that were delivered
with pride to the persons intended.
Episode 14--Individual Books
The children and the researcher held a discussion on
the way home from the previous episode about the activity
for the coming session. The children decided to make a