ERIC Identifier: ED303046 Publication Date: 1988-12-00
Author: Hudelson, Sarah Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Children's Writing in ESL. ERIC Digest.
This "Digest" is based on the ERIC/CLL "Language in Education" series
monograph entitled "WRITE ON: Children Writing in ESL," written by Sarah
Hudelson. The monograph describes how children develop as writers in English as
a second language. It will be available in early 1989 from Prentice Hall
Regents, Mail Order Processing, 200 Old Tappan Road, Old Tappan, NJ 07675, or by
Children whose native language is not English are present in ever increasing
numbers in elementary schools in the United States. Educators, therefore, must
provide opportunities for these learners to develop English-as-a-second-language
(ESL) skills and to learn school content-area material. In elementary schools,
particular emphasis has recently been placed on helping ESL learners become more
proficient writers of English to ensure their academic success in English
language classrooms (Allen, 1986; Rigg and Enright, 1986; Urzua, 1987).
WHAT DO WE MEAN BY "WRITING"?
For the purpose of this
discussion, writing is defined as the creation of original text using the
individual's intellectual and linguistic resources, rather than copying someone
else's text, using a prepared list of words to create sentences or stories,
filling in the blanks, or practicing handwriting.
WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT HOW ESL CHILDREN DEVELOP AS
In the last fifteen to twenty years, elementary education
researchers and educators have learned a tremendous amount about children's
native language writing development. Examinations have revealed that, from early
childhood, children work to make sense of written language. Children make
predictions about how written language works and create texts based on these
predictions. As the child's understanding of and predictions about written
language change, so do the child's texts (Bissex, 1980; Harste, Woodward, and
Burke, 1984). The perception of the child as creator has been confirmed in
studies of classrooms in which writing has been taught as a process of drafting
and revising (Calkins, 1986; Graves, 1983).
Studies of the writing development of native speakers influenced other
researchers to investigate the writing development of second language learners.
The most general conclusion these examinations have reached is that the process
of writing is similar for first and second language learners. More specifically,
the following conclusions may be made about ESL children's writing development
(Edelsky, 1986; Hudelson, 1986, 1987; Samway, 1987; Urzua, 1987): (1) ESL
learners, while they are still learning English, can write; they can create
their own meaning. (2) ESL learners can respond to the works of others and can
use another learner's responses to their work to make substantive revisions in
their creations. (3) Texts produced by ESL writers look very much like those
produced by young native speakers. These texts demonstrate that the writers are
making predictions about how the written language works. As the writers'
predictions change, the texts change. (4) Children approach writing and develop
as writers differently from one another. (5) The classroom environment has a
significant impact on ESL children's development as writers. (6) Culture may
affect the writers' view of writing, of the functions or purposes for writing,
and of themselves as writers. (7) The ability to write in the native language
facilitates the child's ESL writing in several different ways. Native language
writing provides learners with information about the purposes of writing.
Writing ability in the native language provides second language learners with
both linguistic and nonlinguistic resources that they can use as they approach
second language writing. In addition, second language learners apply the
knowledge about writing gained in first language settings to second language
WHAT SHOULD SCHOOLS DO TO PROMOTE ESL CHILDREN'S
Children develop as writers when they use writing to carry out
activities that are meaningful to them. Teachers need to provide time for
writing on a regular basis; they need to encourage ESL children to write; they
need to promote writing by responding to the content of the text rather than to
the form; and they need to provide multiple opportunities for writers to engage
in writing for reasons that are real and important to the individual writer.
Suggestions for specific classroom activities include the following:
- Use diaries or journals to promote fluency in writing and to help students
see writing as one means of self-expression (Kreeft et al., 1984).
- Utilize personal narratives and writing workshop techniques to help
learners become comfortable with the craft of drafting, sharing, and revising
their pieces (Samway, 1987; Urzua, 1987).
- Make the reading-writing connection by exposing ESL learners to a wide
variety of literary forms in reading and then provide opportunities for learners
to construct their own forms to share with others (Allen, 1986; Flores et al.,
- Incorporate various writing activities into content-area units so that ESL
learners will experience the kinds of writing that will be expected in
disciplines across the curriculum.
HOW SHOULD ESL CHILDREN'S WRITING BE ASSESSED?
are important to the learners themselves, to their parents, to teachers, and to
educators beyond the classroom or building level. Therefore, it seems important
to advocate and promote assessment based, as much as possible, on daily
classroom activity, that is, based on the observation and documentation of what
children are doing in authentic writing situations in their own classrooms
(Genishi & Dyson, 1984; Graves, 1983).
Classroom-based assessment may take many forms. Learners' progress may be
documented through a systematic collection of children's work in writing
folders, and checklists and anecdotal records may be used to note and analyze
changes in writing over time. Teachers may carry out periodic observations of
individual children, recording the individual child's writing behaviors and
strategies within the context of the classroom. Children themselves may be asked
to compare samples of their writing so that they may comment on their own
At the school or district level, writing competence should be evaluated using
holistic assessments of writing samples rather than standardized tests (Myers,
1980). Such assessments of actual writing come closer to reflecting the changes
in teaching practices that are being advocated for both native speakers and ESL
TESOL, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other
Languages, has an Interest Section (IS) devoted to ESOL in the elementary
schools (ESOL in Elementary Education). Members of TESOL may elect to receive
the IS newsletter that provides many practical tips about ESL children's
The National Clearinghouse on Bilingual Education provides computerized
searches on topics such as ESL literacy development, and a Teacher Resource
Guide Series that includes titles on second language literacy.
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics provides computerized
searches on topics related to this Digest and is publishing a monograph by Sarah
Hudelson on ESL children's writing development. The title of the monograph is
WRITE ON: Children Writing in ESL; it will be released in early 1989.
Allen, V. (1986). Developing contexts to support
second language acquisition. "Language Arts," 63, 61-66.
Bissex, G. (1980). "GNYS AT WRK: A child learns to write and read."
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Calkins, L. (1986). "The art of teaching writing." Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Edelsky, C. (1986). "Writing in a bilingual program: Habia una vez." Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Company.
Genishi, C., and Dyson, A. (1984). "Language assessment in the early years." Language and learning for human service professions monograph series. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Company.
Graves, D. (1983). "Writing: Teachers and children at work." Exeter, NH: Heinemann.
Harste, J., Woodward, V., and Burke, C. (1984). "Language stories and
literacy lessons." Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hudelson, S. (1986). Children's writing in ESL: What we've learned, what
we're learning. In P. Rigg and D.S. Enright (Eds.), "Children and ESL: Integrating perspectives." Washington, DC: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Hudelson, S. (1987). The role of native language literacy in the education of language minority children. "Language Arts," 64, 827-841.
Kreeft, J., et al. (Eds.) (1984). "Dialogue journal writing: Analysis of student-teacher interactive writing in the learning of English as a second language." National Institute of Education (NIE-G-83-0030). Washington, DC: Center for Applied Linguistics. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 252 097).
Myers, M. (1980). "A procedure for writing assessment." Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 193 676).
Rigg, P., and Enright, D.S. (Eds.) (1986) "Children and ESL: Integrating perspectives." Washington, DC: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.
Samway, K. (1987). "The writing processes of non-native English-speaking children in the elementary grades." Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Rochester, NY.
Urzua, C. (1987). "You stopped too soon": Second language children composing and revising. "TESOL Quarterly," 21, 279-304.
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