Reviewed by the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
What does it take to develop writing talent in a gifted child? According to teacher educator and author of Encouraging Your Child’s Writing Talent, Nancy Peterson Ed.D., there are a few key elements that make a world of difference for emergent authors. To nurture the fulfillment of writing potential you will first need to recognize a prodigious writer in the making and then provide her with a supportive, enriched, “writer friendly” school and home environment. It sounds simple, yet the actualization of writing potential is frequently described as a uniquely daunting task for educators and parents alike. Anyone involved in educating a young child has the capacity to compel the production of writing and bear witness to the resulting products, but the processes between the starting gate and the finish line are cloaked in the shadows of the private mind. Peterson helps illuminate this essentially concealed process by examining distinguishing traits of gifted young authors, rather than just the products that are indicative of talent. As a former educator, I have read many books on how to release the hidden writer and how to motivate the reluctant ones. This book differs, in that Peterson offers a straightforward account of how to responsively facilitate the propensity for advanced writing ability when such a capacity already exists within a given child.
The book consists of five chapters, which respectively explain: how to recognize writing ability in children, the basic needs of a young writer, working at home and with the school to encourage your child as a writer and an array of enrichment resources for young writers. The text is focused upon preschool and elementary students, and offers some particularly insightful information about how to discern very early potential for writing ability, which can be disguised by a host of developmental obstacles. Four to six-year-olds do not generally dash off Pulitzer Prize winning novels in the midst of struggling with fine motor control, mastering the basic rules of syntax and building a primary word horde. However, very young children may exhibit a number of distinct “writerly” behaviors and dispositions, if only we know where and how to discover them. The written artifacts produced by very young children provide some information about their capabilities but much more is usually needed to form a clear picture. The appraisal of writing samples is thoughtfully exemplified in the text, but more importantly, Peterson clarifies cognitive tendencies and affective characteristics of gifted writers. When the proverbial writing on the wall is upside down and in crayon it can be difficult to draw meaningful conclusions about the potential ability of the author. Peterson’s text supplements the messages we may receive from writing samples by describing things like the story telling mannerisms, preoccupation with words and linguistic playfulness “that have been notably present early in the memories of numerous published authors." (p. 12)
In addition to helping readers distinguish advanced writing potential in young children, she also provides a number of practical tips about how to nurture this potential at home and how to successfully advocate for a young writer at school. Her account of what young writers need is clear, concise and realistic for a teacher or parent audience. While no words are wasted, there is also no lack of detail. Educational jargon is kept to a bare minimum, but her primary claims reflect the same base of solid research that one finds in a current handbook of research on composition pedagogy and they are richly informed by her own experience as well as that of the numerous teachers she has trained. The final chapter is comprised of an inspired resource list with everything from information about summer writing programs to researching writing ideas and getting published.
Everything a parent or elementary teacher needs to set up a comprehensive writing workshop is included within these one hundred and sixty one pages and the entire text is born upon a delightful current of anecdotes and insights from notable adult authors and their wee counterparts. Parents electing to home school gifted young writers could easily use this text as the centerpiece for composition instruction. Elementary teachers who wish to differentiate instruction for gifted writers will also find everything they need to serve these students. Overall, this book is a pleasurable read; filled with the substantive material which a discerning audience rightfully expects from a bona fide “how to” guide.
This article is provided as a service of the Davidson Institute for Talent Development, a 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to supporting profoundly gifted young people 18 and under. To learn more about the Davidson Institute’s programs, please visit www.DavidsonGifted.org.
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