Kindergarten Teachers' Use of Writing Scaffolds to Support Children's Developing Orthographic Knowledge

Copp, Stefanie, Curriculum and Instruction - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Invernizzi, Marcia, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Cabell, Sonia, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

Orthographic knowledge is the component of writing that allows a child to spell out his message. Boosting orthographic knowledge during writing instruction could impact children’s overall literacy skills (Rodgers, 2004). However, very little research has focused on the ways teachers can actively support the development of orthographic knowledge during writing. The purpose of this qualitative study was to examine: (1) the ways in which kindergarten teachers use verbal scaffolds to support children’s orthographic development during writing instruction, and (2) how these verbal scaffolds differ according to teachers’ perception of children’s existing orthographic knowledge.


This study was structured as a case study of four kindergarten teachers in a single rural school district in a mid-Atlantic state. Data was collected over a 4-week period in the fall of the academic year and included surveys, semi-structured interviews, observations, and the collection of artifacts. Data was analyzed in an iterative fashion involving data condensation, data display, and drawing and verifying conclusions. There was an intentional focus on ensuring trustworthiness through measures that ensured credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability.


Findings indicated that all four teachers regularly used a wide range of scaffolding strategies during writing instruction; however, teachers tended to use more high-support scaffolds than low-support scaffolds. High-support scaffolds were ones in which the teachers provided a high level of support and the demand on the child was minimal (e.g., “Listen to the word /ppp/pot. I hear a /p/ so I will write a p.”). Teachers tended to employ these scaffolds more often when children were writing independently than when children were in small or whole group settings. Moreover, they utilized scaffolds consistently across contexts with the exception of modeling. Although teachers recognized that adjustments in scaffolds are needed to support children at different levels of orthographic knowledge, they did not always accurately match their scaffolds to children’s needs. They provided scaffolds more closely aligned to children’s orthographic needs when students were beginning to use invented spelling; however, they were less successful with accurately matching scaffolds for the highest and lowest achieving groups in their class.

Implications and Recommendations

This study represents a first step in closely observing the verbal scaffolds kindergarten teachers use to build children’s orthographic knowledge during writing instruction. Further research is needed to more fully understand how to help teachers build their knowledge and ability to scaffold writing in a way that boosts literacy skills. Based on the findings, I provided four recommendations for the four teachers in this study: (1) Teachers should participate in a professional development workshop focused on the range of scaffolds that are useful for kindergarten writers. (2) Teachers should explore the use of procedures and strategies that will teach children to be independent in using available supports. They should also use strategies to encourage children to work together to provide support to classmates. (3) To build teachers’ self-efficacy and improve teachers’ knowledge of children’s orthographic development, teachers should participate in training regarding the development of reading and spelling. (4) Teachers should receive on-going support regarding their efforts to provide appropriate scaffolds.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
kindergarten writing, scaffolds, orthographic knowledge, kindergarten literacy
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