Study on Emergent Writing
In a one-year study of 123 kindergartners, Sulzby, Barnhart, and Hieshima (1989) examined the children's emergent writing. They found that "kindergarten children tend to use conventional or invented spelling to write short familiar words, and to branch out to less mature-appearing forms when asked to write sentences, and to branch out to even less mature-appearing forms when asked to write stories or other pieces of connected discourse" (p. 3).
At the beginning of the school year, the kindergarten children tended to use scribbling and other low-level writing forms (such as drawing, random letter strings, and writing-like scribble). Surprisingly, the researchers found that as the year progressed, the children continued to use low-level writing forms. Few children were actually using invented spelling by the year's end.
Yet the appearance of the writing itself was found to be deceiving. Although the children continued to use scribble throughout the year for many writing tasks, the way they reread their stories showed literacy growth. As the year progressed, the complexity of children's rereadings from their writing increased. Sulzby, Barnhart, and Hieshima (1989) note, "The forms of rereading from emergent forms of writing were found to parallel the emergent ways that children read from favorite storybooks (Sulzby, 1985a) to a greater degree than we had expected" (p. 17).
Sulzby, Barnhart, and Hieshima (1989) also note that children's first use of invented spelling is not a clear indicator that a "shift to alphabetic reasoning and conventional reading" has occurred (p. 17). They point out that children who used invented spelling did not begin rereading their writing according to the letter patterns used in invented spellings until a later point in time.
Based on their findings, Sulzby, Barnhart, and Hieshima (1989) make some suggestions for classroom teachers. First, teachers should not expect that most of their kindergarten children will use invented spelling in connected discourse, especially early in the year. Second, the appearance of invented spelling is not necessarily the turning point in a child's writing development. Third, teachers should not expect that children who use invented spelling will be able to read from it in a conventional way immediately. Finally, children who write using low-level writing forms may actually be quite advanced in their literacy development.
Although invented spelling is not necessarily a turning point in a child's writing development, it nevertheless is a very powerful accomplishment. It helps develop children's phonemic awareness and enables them to write freely (Richgels, 1995).
For further information on emergent writing, refer to Dyson (1984, 1985, 1991).