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Sharing the Pen Helps First-Graders Learn to Write, Study Says

On the heels of last week's post about the importance of developing handwriting skills in preschool comes news about a study promoting an interactive approach to teaching young kids how to write.

Interactive Writing, designed specifically for young kids, involves students collaborating on producing a piece of writing for as little as about 10 minutes during the school day, according to the study by Kate Roth of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Kathleen Guinee of Northeastern University.

The study found that first-graders who participated in Interactive Writing improved their independent writing, including such skills as organization, word choice, sentence fluency, spelling of high-frequency words, capitalization, punctuation, and handwriting, according to an online abstract in Journal of Early Childhood Literacy.

The authors tracked the progress of 101 mostly low-income first-graders in five Boston public schools who were assigned to teachers already using Writing Workshop, another instructional approach to teaching independent writing.

Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation, who wrote about the study, noted that teachers can employ Interactive Writing by gathering children around them and prompting them to think about a topic. "The teacher calls children up to the easel and hands them the pen. They do the writing themselves, one or two words - and even one space - at a time," she wrote.

Children might be assigned different tasks, with one checking capitalization and another making sure there are spaces between words. Roth says it's the concept of a "shared pen" that makes the approach unique, Guernsey wrote.

But Guernsey noted that the study followed teachers who had volunteered to learn how to use Interactive Writing. Roth advises that using the approach effectively would require teachers who know their students well and are well-trained in teaching kids how to write.

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