Bilingual Students’ Writing Development

For this blog post I want to focus on the stages of development in writing as well as strategies that would be helpful to use for bilingual students' writing development. I found it helpful to identify students in my classes that were at the different stages and based on their stage think of strategies that would be helpful to them specifically.


The first developmental stage of writing is emergent writing. At this stage, writers use primarily use pictures to communicate. The picture may have some basic phonetic spelling, such as CVC words. As a teacher, if you have a student at this writing stage, you could begin to introduce them to mentor text that consists of writing as a central mode of communication. Additionally, introducing the student to a word bank, so they have a repertoire of words to use as they develop their expressive language.


After emergent writing comes developing writing. Developing writing consists mainly of words, pictures may be a part of the drawing, but the focus is on the writer's words. A student at this level can form basic sentences, but struggles with correct punctuation. The text is readable, but it takes work for the reader to understand what the writer is communicating. Strategies to help this writer would include working with them to develop more detailed sentences so they can expand on their limited basic sentences and working on sentence structure explicitly. A strategy I have used to help this type of writer is verbally brainstorming before they start writing. As the writer brainstorms, I ask probing questions to get more details from them to include in their writing. As they brainstorm I make sentence stems to have them complete before they write.


The third stage is beginning writers. Characteristics of beginning writers include having simple organization (usually a list), too much detail or repetition, and simple sentence structure (subject-verb). For students at this level of development, have them practice expanding or explaining details instead of just listing them. Have students practice various types of sentence structure. As a teacher, you could utilize colored sentence stem paper to create different types of sentences for students to put together (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex). At this stage, the writer would be ready to consider the audience they are writing for and the purpose.


In the fourth developmental stage of writing students are considered novice writers. Novice writers are aware of their audience, use limited transitions between ideas, have correct punctuation, and their writing is easy for an adult to read and understand. For this writer, they are ready for some higher-level writing - thinking about how ideas and details connect. They are also ready to expand their sentence structure to more complex possibilities. During this stage of writing it is time to help bilingual writers with weaving their ideas and details together. Strengthening their transitions between ideas is key. Using a mentor text to model how this is done and pointing out the strategy would be helpful to writers at this stage.


After novice writers comes bridging writers. Bridging writers can address a topic with details from more than one aspect, pays attention to their word choice (making sure it is appropriate for the audience), and has their mechanics mostly under control with some errors that are easy to spot. For this writer, teachers should be assisting them to craft more complex sentences and expand their organizational skills and patterns. This can be done through modeling and providing feedback to writers.


The sixth stage of writing development is expanding writers. Common characteristics include: exploring the topic with focus, going more in-depth with ideas, and building effective sentences. This writer needs assistance addressing issues beyond the obvious as it relates to expanding ideas. This writer may benefit from a graphic organizer - they could compare and contrast an issue instead of only looking at it from one perspective.


The last stage of writing development is independent writers. Independent writers are able to explore topics with depth, uses a variety of sentence structure, and has a "voice" in their writing. Even though this stage is the last stage of development, there are always ways to improve your writing. For example, experimenting with organization and structure. Perhaps going outside of the typical 5 paragraph paper structure etc.


As a special education teacher who teaches students in k-3, I primarily see students in the first and second stage of writing development. Knowing the stages and how to help bilingual students' writing has helped me envision some interventions for my students and ways to take their writing to the next level.

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