Caretakers' and Educators' Role in Young Children's Earliest Writing
In a fascinating study by researchers Silvia Bell and Mary Ainsworth (1972), infants were followed for their first year of life to evaluate the impact of response to crying. Bell and Ainsworth's findings were clear and have since been replicated: "Babies whose cries got a response more frequently cried less in the last quarter of the first year of life than those who did not... [This] suggests that trying to interpret babies' signals, even before they are using them intentionally to communicate, has a good effect".
In one follow-up study, not just crying, but a number of other infant behaviors, such as eye contact, gestures such as pointing, and babbles were interpreted in terms of whether or not they were attempts to communicate. The results?
Mothers who imputed intention to their babies' behaviors reported that their babies engaged in intentional behavior sooner than reports of babies whose mothers did not think their baby was using intentional communication. Why? Because if we interpret a behavior as communicative, we will probably respond to it differently. In other words, the attributions that mothers make about their babies' behaviors influence how they respond to those behaviors. Thus, mothers are reinforcing their babies' attempts to communicate with them. (Golinkoff & Hirsh-Pasek, 2000, p. 82)
The implications for early written language communication attempts are clear: attributing meaning to a young child's written language behaviors can have important consequences for a child's written language development. It is vital to assume the children's markings have meaning - and to ask them to tell us those meanings.
As young children progress in their written language, they need what all language learners need: a safe environment in which to take risks, the ability to work through their hypotheses, and the encouragement, appreciation, and respect of the adults who are more experienced written language users.
Finally, young children need the time and space to practice their growing writing prowess. The more practice they have constructing meaning on the written page, the more they will grow in their proficiency.
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