UNH Researcher Changed How Young Children Are Taught to Write

Donald Graves, UNH professor of early childhood education and founder of the UNH Writing Process Laboratory. Credit: Lisa Nugent/UNH Photographic Services

Donald Graves, UNH professor of early childhood education and founder of the UNH Writing Process Laboratory.
Credit: Lisa Nugent/UNH Photographic Services

Excerpted from story by Lori Wright, UNH Media Relations:

Up until Donald Graves’ pioneering work on literacy, the idea that young children should think of themselves as writers, much less even be able to write, was unheard of. That changed in 1983 when the University of New Hampshire professor changed the way writing is taught across the United States and the English-speaking world with the publication of “Writing: Teachers & Children at Work.”

Graves’ book was based on a two-year study of elementary school children at Atkinson Academy in Atkinson, N.H. His research revealed writing as a natural human need for self-expression and a way to develop and hone critical thinking skills.

“Children will continually surprise us if we let them. This is what happens when we slow down, listen, and let the children lead. That is the joy of both research and teaching,” Graves said.

In their new book Children Want to Write, Thomas Newkirk, professor of English at UNH, and co-editor Penny Kittle, an English teacher at Kennett High School in North Conway and teacher educator at the summer UNH Literacy Institutes, present a collection of Donald Graves’ most significant writings paired with a disk of recovered videos that illuminate his research and his inspiring work with teachers.

“This collection allows you to see this revolutionary shift in writing instruction, with its emphasis on observation, reflection, and approaching children as writers,” Newkirk says. “It was breathtaking even to be on the fringes of this research, to be an observer, to be one of the more than 1,000 visitors to Atkinson Academy, a rural New Hampshire elementary school that was the site of his work, and to hear Don present this work to teachers across the country. I recall vividly watching the tapes made of children at work.”

“We now assume young children can write, even that they want to write. The new Common Core State Standards have high expectations for writing in the early grades – expectations that would be inconceivable without Donald Graves’ work,” he says.

Read full story.

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