Printer Friendly

Joint writing in Hebrew of dictated words versus proper names: analysis of low SES mother-kindergartner dyads.


Maternal writing mediation style was explored and compared across two writing activities. Mothers of low socio-economic status were videotaped while joint writing with their kindergartners on a home-like activity (writing a list of names of invitees to an imaginary birthday party) and on a school-like activity (writing dictated words that were selected by the researcher). The video films were assessed in terms of 1) general characteristics of the interaction, such as atmosphere, reinforcement, and criticism; 2) references to specific components of the Hebrew orthography; and 3) maternal strategy of mediating the graphophonemic code and the printing of the letters. Findings indicate that mothers have a general cross-activity strategy of mediating writing. Still, different contexts of writing result in different maternal behaviors. In the home-like activity, the interaction atmosphere is warmer and more cooperative; in the school-like activity, mothers tend to be more intrusive. In light of the result s, both parents and kindergarten teachers are encouraged to utilize everyday opportunities for mediating writing.


Children from low socio-economic status (SES) families generally achieve a lower level of literacy than their peers from middle or high SES families, a discrepancy that is salient already in kindergarten (e.g., Bowey, 1995; Brooks-Gunn, Klebanov, & Duncan, 1996; Smith & Dixon, 1995; Walker, Greenwood, Hart, & Carta, 1994). One possible reason for this gap may be the parental style of interaction with their children, particularly regarding mediation in joint activities.

The current study focuses on low SES mothers' joint writing with their kindergartners, comparing mediation styles on a home-like activity--writing a list of names of invitees to an imaginary birthday party--with a school-like activity--writing dictated words that were selected by the researcher. Joint writing is a significant context for the development of emergent literacy. Aram and Levin (2002) compared two literacy contexts--joint writing and joint reading--among low SES kindergartners and found that joint writing has a unique contribution to specific aspects of emergent literacy related to reading and writing acquisition (word writing, word recognition, and phonological awareness) beyond the contribution of home environment measures and joint reading. The present paper explores whether mothers have a writing mediation style across tasks, as well as which writing activities lead to a higher level of maternal mediation.

The essential role of maternal mediation in child development is well-established (e.g., Holden, 1997; Meadows, 1996; Rogoff, 1990). Mothers interact daily with their young children, and these interactions contain elements of teaching that may provide a basis for later outcomes, including school success and failure (e.g., Kelly, Morisset, Barnard, & Hammond, 1996; Pratt, Kerig, Cowan, & Cowan, 1992).

Kermani and Brenner (2000) point out major integrated functions that characterize effective mother-child interactions: The mother is sensitive to her child's level of competence and provides guidance accordingly, and she gradually withdraws her support and lets the child perform more independently. These characteristics are found frequently within middle-class mother-child interactions (e.g., Harris, Krupinski, & Johnson, 1999), and are usually accompanied by a verbal, supportive, open, and less directive mediation style on part of the mother.

Low SES cohorts are not homogeneous (Jalongo, 1996). However, when low SES mothers are compared to middle SES mothers, it is often reported that while interacting with their children, they are less verbal, yet more controlling and directive (Diaz, Neal, & Vachio, 1991; Laosa, 1980; Moreno, 1991).

Researchers find parental directiveness to be intrusive and, by implication, less sensitive to children's competence (e.g., Murray & Hornbaker, 1997; Pine, 1992; Pratt et al., 1992). Still, there is a need to distinguish between directiveness and intrusion, as argued by Girolametto (1995):

Directiveness is a complex interactive phenomenon reflecting [mothers] behaviors that are, on one hand, an adaptive strategy used to facilitate the child's involvement in interaction and, on the other hand, a diffuse stress reaction resulting from the inability of the dyad to be mutually reinforcing and responsive. (p. 104)

Different contexts may affect the nature of the interaction and the parent mediation style. Parents modify their level of directiveness in accordance with the nature of the activity. When the tasks are more difficult, more constructed, require specific outcomes, and are less familiar to the child, parents tend to be more directive (e. g., Baker, Sonnenschein, & Gilat, 1996; Gonzalez, 1996; Haden & Fivush, 1996; Kermani & Brenner, 2000; Klein, 1988; McNaughton & Leyland, 1990; Moreno, 1997; Rogoff, Ellis, & Gardner, 1984; Sonnenschein, Baker, & Freund, 1993).

Kermani and Janes (1999) contrasted maternal scaffolding of low SES mothers to their preschool children in a school-like activity (joint reading of an opposites book) and home-like activity (creative play with homemade dough). They found that in the home-like activity, mothers were more sensitive to their children; they adjusted their scaffolding to variation in the task and demonstrated a greater range and variety of scaffolding strategies. The researchers concluded that the specificity of the tasks plays an important role in how parents and children interact.

Studies that investigated the role of different activities in determining parental mediation strategies examined activities that differ considerably in their demands, usually in terms of their being goal-oriented versus free play, such as building a figure versus playing with household objects (Gonzalez, 1996), or pattern construction versus playing with dough (Kermani & Brenner, 2000). Sensitive differences between activities and their meaning to parental mediation are yet to be studied.

Moreover, in the domain of emergent literacy, parental mediation in different contexts has been scarcely studied; the work usually has been limited to joint book reading and to verbal exchange (Scarborough & Dobrich, 1994). Few studies compared joint reading to other activities, such as more goal-oriented ones like problem solving or copying a block model (Conner, Knight, & Cross, 1997; Gonzalez, 1996; Pratt et al., 1992). In the domain of language, Haden and Fivush (1996) compared mother-child conversation style during free play with a toy versus a memory conversation session.

The two activities that are compared in the present study involve joint writing. A few case studies described young children's naturalistic writing with others at home. The described writing activities were functional in their nature (e.g., writing a list of friends' names, a note to remember, signs for games, stories, letters, or pretend homework) (Bissex, 1980; Gundlach, McLane, Stott, & McNamee, 1985). The main findings of these case studies were that children are engaged in writing activities in their everyday lives, both on their own and with their parents, and that there is systematic growth in their knowledge with age.

Two designed studies analyzed the writing of a letter among dyads of young children and their middle-class parents (Burns & Casbergue, 1992; DeBaryshe, Buell, & Binder, 1996). Burns and Casbergue examined the relations between parental mediation style when writing a letter and the characteristics of the resulting letter. Parents who demonstrated higher levels of control produced, with their children, letters of a more conventional nature. The authors concluded that a less directive mediation style is beneficial to children's literacy development, as it encourages pre-conventional writing. DeBaryshe, Buell, and Binder (1996) studied high SES kindergartners' attempts to write a letter, alone and with their mothers' assistance. They analyzed the relationship between independent level of writing and maternal mediation. Almost all mothers, irrespective of their children's independent level of writing, directed their children to use conventional spelling. Nevertheless, qualitative evidence emerged that mothers attu ned their mediation to their children's independent ability.

Joint writing, beyond its cultural communicational nature (writing letters, notes, etc.), has in its nature the potential to encourage reference to the basic skills of letter knowledge and grapheme-phoneme mapping, skills that are significant for the acquisition of reading and writing (e.g., Adams, 1991; Berninger et al., 1992; Muter, Hulme, Snowling, & Taylor, 1997; Naslund & Schneider, 1996; Shatil, Share, & Levin, 2000). Nevertheless, parent-child joint writing has received very little attention in the emergent literacy literature (Senechal, LeFevre, Thomas, & Daley, 1998). The few studies on joint writing have focused on home-like activities. More constructed activities, such as when parents try to teach their children skills related to the acquisition of reading and writing, and which involve letter knowledge or Phonological awareness, were neglected.

The first aim of the current study was to explore whether mothers have a general writing mediation style beyond different writing contexts. The second aim was to compare their mediation style when they help their kindergartners write a list of guests' names for a birthday party (homelike activity) to their style when they help their children write words dictated and selected by the researcher (school-like activity). Both activities are goal-oriented and demand maternal mediation, since the kindergartners cannot accomplish either task on their own. Nonetheless, the activities differ in their nature, given that the "writing names" activity is more functional, more likely to appear in everyday life, and offers flexibility in choosing how many names and which names to write. Comparatively, the "writing dictated words" activity is more structured, and includes words that can encourage mothers to refer to specific features of Hebrew language and orthography (the suffix-marking gender, rhymes, etc.).

The expectations of the study were that mothers would exhibit a general style of mediation across the writing activities, since the two activities are from the same domain. On the home-like activity a warmer, less pressured atmosphere was expected, enabling higher levels of sensitivity to the children and less intrusion. On the school-like activity, mothers were expected to refer more to the Hebrew orthography.



The participants were 41 children (19 boys and 22 girls) and their mothers in a development town. The term "development town" in Israel refers to relatively poor settlements, most of them in the periphery of the country. In comparison to the general population of Israel, the SES of families in these areas can be characterized as low, on the basis of education, occupation, and standard of living (National Center for Statistics, 2000). The population of this township was 19,500. About 25% of the population received welfare services.

The children were recruited from seven kindergartens in seven neighborhoods; they were selected by the head of the municipal welfare department and the superintendent of education as being representative of the SES range in this town. All kindergartens followed the same curriculum, were supervised by the same inspector, and were advised by the same literacy counselor.

Most of the families were intact. The parents of 38 children were married, two children's parents were separated, and one child's mother was single. The average number of children per family was 3.32 (SD = 1.42). This average is higher than the national average, M = 2.20 (National Center for Statistics, 1996).

All of the parents were schooled in Israel. The level of parental education was lower than the national average of their cohort. About 27% of the mothers and 51% of the fathers did not complete high school (i.e., 12 years of schooling). For mothers and fathers, respectively, 24% and 12% completed vocational high school, 27% and 10% completed regular high school, 10% and 20% completed vocational courses above high school, and 12% and 2% completed teachers colleges. No mother and only two fathers graduated from a university. In comparison, 23% of their cohort (in Israel) are university graduates.

As to occupation, among the mothers, 39% were unskilled and 34% were housewives. Among the fathers, 10% were unskilled and 12% were unemployed. This level of vocation and employment is lower than that of their cohort (in Israel).

The focus in the present study is on maternal mediation rather than on other family members' mediation, since mothers are still the main mediators for their young children. Pellegrini, Galda, Shokley, and Shtall (1994) studied the nexus of social literacy experiences at home and found that 60% of literacy events of kindergartners at home occurred with their mothers, 1% with their fathers, and 2.4% with both parents. In 32% of the events, the children acted on their own; siblings shared 1.5% of the events and grandparents, only 1%.

To validate the decision to spotlight maternal mediation in the present study, the working hours of fathers and of mothers who worked outside their homes were calculated. Among working fathers, the average number of working hours per week was M = 56.73, SD = 7.95. This is higher than the national average, M = 40.10. Among the working mothers, the average number of working hours per week was M = 33.50, SD = 11.20. Note that 34% of the mothers were housewives. Attest revealed that the working fathers in the sample spent significantly more hours at work per week than working mothers did (t = 8.50, p < 0.001).

To control for possible effects of the child's age on mother-child interactions, age differences were restricted, so that children were sampled if born between January and June. The average age of the children was 5 years and 8 months (M = 69.59 months, SD = 2.14).

Only children whose mother tongue was Hebrew were sampled. No child diagnosed as having special education needs was included. Forty-six children were found suitable by all presented criteria. The parents of these children received a letter asking them to participate in a research study that examines emergent literacy, and parents of 41 of the children agreed to participate.


Mothers were videotaped while guiding their children in two writing activities, which took place on two days at the participants' homes. The videotapes served as the basis for analyzing maternal mediation characteristics.

For the home-like writing activity, the child was asked to imagine an upcoming birthday party, and to write a list of the guests to invite. The mother was asked to help her child perform the task. No additional instructions were given in reference to the mother's strategy of mediation, or to the identity or the number of the guests to be included on the list. The number of names written ranged between 4 and 15, with mean and standard deviation, M = 9.29, SD = 2.79. When more than 10 names were written, the analysis was limited to the first 10 names.

For the school-like writing activity, the mother and the child were presented with four cards (23 x 17 cm), each of which displayed identifying drawings of two nouns (9 x 9 cm). The card presentation was in random sequence. Four blank cards (17 x 10 cm) were given to the child, who was then asked to write the name of each object pair pictured on a separate card. The mother was asked to help her child and no further instructions were given. One card showed the two words "gezer" and "melafefon" (1) ("carrot" and "cucumber"), which differ in phonological length but do not differ distinctly in the size of their referents. These words were chosen to encourage the mother's reference to the orthographic rule indicating that longer sounding words are written with more letters. Another card contained the two words "yad" and "tsiporen" ("hand" and "fingernail"). On this card, the longer sounding word in the pair denoted the smaller referent. This card's purpose was to encourage the mother's reference to the above-menti oned orthographic rule indicating that longer sounding words are written with more letters, even if they represent smaller referents.

These words were included since young children, prior to becoming aware of the alphabetic principle, tend to use a referential strategy whereby more letters are written, often randomly, for bigger referents (Levin & Korat, 1993). On the third card, the two words differed in gender: "zaken" and "zkena" ("old man" and "old woman"). Here, the aim was to support the mother's reference to the prevalent orthographic Hebrew rule in which masculine and feminine nouns are spelled the same, but an H (hei), indicating the feminine, is suffixed to the latter. The final card presented the words "sapa" and "mapa" ("sofa" and "table cloth"), both indicating feminine nouns and spelled with an H (hei) as a suffix, but their femininity is only grammatical, however, and does not represent gender differences. This card gave the mother an opportunity to refer to the latter orthographic rule; moreover, the fact that the words rhymed enabled the mother to draw her child's attention to the fact that these two written rhyming words d iffered only in their initial letter.

In both activities, if a mother asked the experimenter for instructions or clarifications, such as "Can I do it this way?," the reply was: "You can do whatever you think is right, in whatever way you feel is appropriate." On the first day, the home-like writing activity was administered; on the second day, it was the school-like activity. Writing names was the activity chosen to be the first since low SES mothers seem to feel more comfortable when interacting with their children on home-like activities (Gonzalez, 1996). The assumption was that if mothers felt at ease on the first writing task, this would facilitate their participation in the second activity. The aim of the present study was to obtain the optimal amount of maternal writing mediation.

Data Analysis

Maternal mediation assessment started from the first word mediated by the mother on both activities. In the school-like activity, no child was able to write any of the words independently. At the beginning of the home-like activity, 10 children wrote some names independently: one child wrote five names, one child wrote four, three children wrote three, and five wrote one name. The writing of these names was excluded from analysis, because the object of this research was maternal writing mediation.

The videotapes of the mothers guiding their children in the two writing activities were analyzed in several ways. First, maternal mediation was assessed in terms of such general characteristics as atmosphere, reinforcements, and criticisms. Second, maternal references to specific language components of Hebrew orthography were assessed. Third, maternal strategy of mediating the grapho-phonemic code and of the printing of the letters was assessed. All the scales for measuring maternal mediation were constructed for the purpose of the present study.

General Mediation Characteristics

Dyadic behaviors in the two writing activities (home-like and school-like) were scored, using a 3-point scale, for atmosphere during the interaction, level of child's cooperation, maternal demand of accuracy in shaping letters, and physical contact between mother and child per each written pair of words. In addition, duration of the interaction was scored, and the number of maternal reinforcements, criticisms, and comments on discipline was counted.

Atmosphere between the dyad while writing the words was scored as follows: (1) negative vibes between the mother and the child; (2) neutral ambiance, where the observer received the impression that mother and child felt that there is a task to be done, and it will be done; and (3) a warm, contented atmosphere, in which the mother and child obviously were enjoying their dyadic activity.

Cooperation of the child was scored as follows: (1) child shows anger and discontentment; (2) child is obedient; and (3) child is enthusiastic and loves to write with his/her mother.

Maternal demand of accuracy in shaping letters was as follows: (1) low demand, when the mother hardly refers to the outcome and, instead, lets the child write freely and accepts the product even if it is unconventional; (2) medium demand, when the mother tries to make the child produce the proper letter in the proper position, compromises and accepts a less conventional product if the child has difficulties but will not accept a letter that is absolutely unconventional; and (3) high demand, when the mother insists that the letters and the words be written accurately, and will require corrections until the letter or the word is written conventionally.

Physical contact between the mother and the child was scored: (0) no physical contact is observed; (1) occasionally the mother and the child touch each other; and (2) the mother and the child touch each other constantly.

The duration of each interaction was measured in minutes, from the moment the experimenter finished giving the instructions until the moment the dyad completed the task. The meantime, in minutes, per each written pair of words, serves as the measure for duration.

Maternal general reinforcements like "Good" and "Very nice," as well as specific reinforcements like "You wrote this letter beautifully," were counted. Specific disapprovals of the mother related to the child's performance, such as "You wrote it wrong. This line is too short" or "No, the direction of this line has to be different--from here to here" were counted. The number of maternal discipline remarks was counted (e.g., "Sit still," "Stop it," "Listen to me," "Do it properly"). The inter-judge reliability of two independent judges on mediation scores of four randomly selected children was high, Kappa = .94

References to Orthography

Maternal references to three aspects of orthography (phonological-orthographic length, morphology, and medial/final letters) were coded along the two writing interactions.

Phonological-orthographic length: A basic orthographic regularity indicates that longer sounding words are typically written with more letters. Two pairs in the school-like activity ("yad" and "tsiporen" ["hand" and "fingernail"], "gezer" and "melafefon" ["carrot" and "cucumber"]) and many names in the home-like activity (e.g., Dan, Margalit) allowed reference to this orthographic regularity.

Morphology. In the Hebrew gender-number system, nouns are suffixed with the bound morpheme /a/ (spelled with the letter H) to mark singular-female. In the school-like activity, the pair of words "old-man" and "old woman," which differ by this morpheme ("zaken" and "zkena," spelled ZKN and ZKNH), and "sofa" and "tablecloth" ("sapa" and "mapa," spelled SPH and MPH), allowed the mother to refer to this morpho-phonological rule of spelling. This morpheme was quite frequent on female names on the list of guests in the homelike activity (e.g., "Dana" spelled DNH, "Naama" spelled NAMH).

Medial/final letters. Five Hebrew letters--M (mem), N (nun), Ts (tsadik), P (pei), and K (kaf)--have two written forms, medial and final. Final letters are written at the end of words, whereas medial letters are written in all other positions. Kindergartners learn to name and print medial letters before final letters (Levin, Patel, Margalit, & Barad, 2002) and sometimes use medial letters when finals are required (Levin, Korat, & Amsterdamer, 1996). The words selected for the school-like activity allowed the mother to refer to this orthographic feature, since they contained three final letters and eight medial letters (e.g., "zkena," ["old woman"] has the medial Nun in the middle, and "zaken" ["old man"] has a final Nun at its end). On the list of guests (home-like activity), many names included medial and final letters (e.g., "Dafna" includes a medial Nun in the middle and "Dan" has a final Nun at its end).

Maternal reference to these orthographic rules was assessed for each word that deserved reference. Maternal mediation was scored on a 3-point scale: (0) no reference, (1) reference without explanation, and (2) reference with explanation.

The inter-judge reliability of two independent judges on the mediation scores of four randomly selected children was high, Kappa = .91

Maternal Strategies of Mediation

Grapho-phonemic mediation. Maternal grapho-phonemic mediation reflected the degree to which the mother explicitly communicated the steps in the process of encoding, encouraged the child to carry out those steps, and provided scaffolding. It also exhibited the child's participation in going through the steps. Maternal strategy was assessed on a 6-point scale; the production of each letter (n = 30) on the school-like activity, and M = 22 on the homelike activity, was scored according to this scale. The scale was constructed as follows (2).

1. Mother writes down the word. She utters the word to herself, as a whole, without segmentation; alternatively, she does not pronounce it at all. Example: The boy sat on his mother's lap holding a pencil. She held his hand, murmured the words to her-self, and led his hand in Writing the words.

2. Mother writes down the word as a model for copying. She utters the word without segmentation or writes silently. Example: The mother wrote the word "jad" ("hand") (JD) silently. The child copied the word, and then pointed at J, saying "kaf" ("palm") and at D saying "jad" ("hand"). The child misunderstood the written product to mean "palm" (of) "hand" and mapped a word per letter. Her mother ignored it.

3. Mother dictates the letters. Example of writing N in "zaken" ("old man"):

Mother: Now, write Nun (last letter name).

Child: (writes a different letter).

M: See, that's Nun (writes N on another sheet of paper).

C: (copies N).

4. Mother retrieves a phonological unit (syllable, sub-syllable, or phoneme) and immediately dictates the required letter name. Example of writing R in "gezer" ("carrot"): Mother: "ge-ze-r," /rrr/, like at the end of """axar" (name) (stressing the last phoneme). It's "Rei""" (final letter name). (The child writes it down.)

5. Mother retrieves a phonological unit (syllable, sub-syllable, or phoneme) and encourages/helps the child to link this unit with a letter name. Example of writing P in "melafefon" ("cucumber"):

Mother: /me-la-fe/ /fe/ /fe/. What is it?

Child: Bet? (letter name).

M: No. Bet sounds as /be/ and /ve/ (letter that stands for /b/ or /v/).

C: Pei? (letter name).

M: Right. pei is for /pe/ and /fe/.

6. Mother encourages/helps the child to retrieve a phonological unit (syllable, subsyllable, or phoneme) and to link it with a letter name. Example of writing Z in "gezer":

M: What do you hear next? Listen carefully to the sound.

C: Ze.

M: How do we write it?

C: Zayin? (letter name)

M: Great!

Inter-judge reliability of two independent judges was computed on the scoring of grapho-phonemic mediation in eight protocols (in four school-like and four home-like activities) produced by 20% of the sample--four boys and four girls randomly selected-- resulting in a highly significant Kappa of .91.

Printing mediation. This factor captured maternal mediation and child's autonomy in retrieving letter shapes and in printing the letters. This factor was dependent on the autonomy allowed or encouraged by the mother and accepted or assumed by the child. The production of each letter (n = 30) on the school-like activity (writing dictated words) and M = 22 on the home-like activity (writing a list of guests) was assessed. A 4-point scale was used to score the printing of each letter: (0) mother wrote the letter on her own; (1) mother wrote and child copied the letter; (2) mother scaffolded the child in writing the letter; and (3) child wrote the letter on his/her own, usually encouraged by the mother.

Inter-judge reliability of two independent judges was computed on the scoring of letters' mediation in eight protocols (in four structured and four unstructured activities) produced by 20% of the sample--four boys and four girls randomly selected--resulting in a highly significant Kappa of .91.


The results section relates to general mediation characteristics, maternal references to orthography, maternal strategy of mediating the grapho-phonemic code, and the printing of the letters. For each, the descriptive statistics in the home-like activity (writing a guest list) and the school-like activity (writing dictated words) is offered first. Then a series of t-tests comparing the two activities will be presented. Finally, in order to assess whether mothers have a consistent writing mediation style across activities, the correlations between homelike and school-like activities on each mediation measure are displayed.

Table 1 refers to maternal general mediation characteristics. The descriptive statistics indicate that our sample exhibited sufficient variance on these measures on the two activities. The high mean scores on atmosphere (M 2.74, M =2.42) and cooperation (M = 2.42, M =2.25) in homelike and school-like writing activities, respectively, indicate the typically positive tone and mood between the mothers and the children throughout the interactions. Along with these results, a low mean score of discipline was observed, especially in the home-like writing activity (M = 0.39), showing that the mothers did not tend to enforce discipline during the interactions. The low mean scores on physical contact between mother and child (M = 0.20, M =0.38) reveal that, typically, the parties did not touch each other. Note that writing interactions are less characterized by physical closeness, in contrast with other literacy related mother-child interactions, like storybook reading (McNaughton, 1998).

The comparison between maternal mediation in the home-like versus the school-like activities was done by a series of t-tests. The findings show that atmosphere was significantly better, the cooperation was significantly higher, and the ambiance was significantly warmer on the home-like activity (when the mother helped the child to write the guest list). Other general mediation characteristics were significantly higher on the school-like activity. When helping their children to write dictated words, mothers tended to demand more accuracy in shaping the letters, gave their children more general and specific reinforcements, used more specific criticism, gave more instructions for correction, and used more discipline remarks. Mothers touched their children more often during the school-like activity, and the duration of mediation for each pair of words was longer when writing the dictated words.

In order to find whether mothers exhibit a consistent mediation style across the different activities, correlations were computed between the different maternal mediation measures. Table 1 shows moderate-to-strong significant correlations (r = .40 to r = .71) between maternal mediation in the home-like and school-like activities across most of the general mediation characteristics. The only exception to this trend was discipline, where the correlation did not reach significance (r = .28).

Table 2 deals with maternal reference to orthography on the two writing activities. The low mean scores in all the measures across the two writing activities demonstrate mothers' tendency to either ignore these rules or to mention them without explanation. This is very prominent in reference to phonological-orthographic length (M = 0.01 and M = 0.10 for home-like and school-like activities, respectively). Even when the words were presented in a manner that emphasized the length differences, mothers tended to ignore these phenomena. Even though many female names were written collaboratively on the guest list, mothers hardly referred to the female suffix/a/, spelled in Hebrew with the letter H, when writing names (M = 0.03). The orthographic feature that received relatively more attention is reference to final letters (M = 0.52 and M = 0.73 for home-like and school-like activities, respectively). When helping their children complete the tasks, mothers tended to at least name the letters properly, and so they pr obably named medial and final letters while mediating.

When comparing the two activities, the results in Table 2 show that even though the general rate of reference to orthography is rather Low, on the school-like activity, as expected, the scores are significantly higher in all the comparisons. Mothers referred more often to the length of the written words, to the spelling of the feminine-singular suffix, and to final/medial letters when mediating the writing of dictated words.

As to the consistency of mediation style across the different activities, the results in Table 2 show no significant correlations between maternal reference to phonology and morphology in the two activities (r = -.10 and r = .01, respectively). Perhaps mothers do not generally tend to refer to these orthographic regularities, and to some extent they did refer to these rules on the school-like activity, as the words were selected especially to provoke reference to these rules. Yet, on reference to final letters a significant moderate correlation was found (r = 60). Mothers who referred more to final letters during the home-like activity referred more to final letters during the school-like activity as well.

Table 3 refers to maternal strategies in the two writing activities. The descriptive statistics indicate that our sample exhibited sufficient variance on these measures. The mothers displayed a large diversity of grapho-phonemic strategies, ranging from around the lowest to near the highest on both activities. A similar result was found on scaffolding for printing strategies, where the mothers varied almost along the entire scale, for both activities.

The comparison between the home-like versus the school-like activities reveals no differences in maternal strategy of mediating the grapho-phonemic code. The same results were found regarding printing mediation. Mothers generally used the same strategies when communicating the different steps in the process of encoding, encouraging their children to carry out those steps, and providing scaffolding in going through the process, both when helping their children prepare a guest list and when helping them write the dictated words. Moreover, they gave their children similar levels of autonomy in writing the letters on the two activities. Table 3 shows high correlations between maternal strategies of mediating the grapho-phonemic code and the printing of the letters, in both the home-like and school-like activities (r = .88 and r = .83, respectively).

In sum, the measures of maternal mediation on the two activities indicate that in terms of general maternal mediation characteristics, low SES mothers tend to behave similarly when mediating different writing activities. Nevertheless, on the home-like activity the atmosphere is warmer and the cooperation is greater, while on the school-like activity all the directive indices scored higher. As to references to orthography, mothers generally pay little attention to these linguistic aspects; however, they refer to them more often when writing dictated words. Finally, when mediating writing to their children, low SES mothers use the same strategies of mediating the grapho-phonemic code and the printing of the letters, regardless of the specific nature of the task.

Discussion and Implications

The first aim of the current study was to explore whether mothers have a writing mediation style beyond context. This was confirmed by the stability in participating mothers' ways of mediating the grapho-phonemic code and the printing of the letters in the two writing activities. This consistency across activities can be explained in two alternative, non-mutually exclusive ways. It may be that mothers' main strategy of mediating writing is attuned to their perception of their children's knowledge of the written system, and that the nature of the tasks is less effective in determining maternal strategy. This explanation is in Line with the conclusions of DeBaryshe, Buel, and Binder (1996), who found that despite the fact that all the mothers helped their kindergartners to produce a readable letter irrespective of their children's independent level of writing, mothers were responsive to their children's level of writing.

Alternatively, it may be that the mothers mediate writing according to their pedagogical beliefs about teaching and about themselves as mediators (Feuerstein, 1998; Levine, 1993), and according to their general beliefs about their children's competence (Korat & Levin, in press). In line with this second explanation, a previous study (Aram & Levin, 2001) reported that a mother's style of writing mediation is not consistently related to her child's level of literacy; some mothers mediate within their children's literacy zone of proximal development Vygotsky, 1978), while others do not.

Most of the general characteristics of the interaction, such as atmosphere, child's cooperation, maternal reinforcements, criticism, and demand for accuracy, as well as physical contact between the parties, were found to be correlated between the two activities. These results strengthen the conclusion that maternal style of interaction is consistent beyond context. It would be interesting to inquire whether this style characterizes other teaching interactions, such as problem solving (Gonzalez, 1996). Perhaps this style is part of the mother-child dyad relationship in general (Klein, Wieder, & Greenspan, 1987).

The second aim was to compare maternal mediation style on two writing activities (i.e., home-like vs. school-like activities), while examining which activity leads to a more fruitful interaction in terms of mother-child relationship and of writing mediation. As expected, the home-like activity was characterized by a warmer, less pressured atmosphere, and by a greater level of cooperation from the child. Moreover, all the intrusive maternal behaviors, like demand for accuracy in shaping the letters, criticism, and discipline remarks, were more frequent on the school-like activity. Both reinforcement and physical contact, typically interpreted as supportive behaviors, can also be perceived as intrusive, as they encourage children to be dependent on external support. The results of the present study are in line with studies that found maternal mediation to be more productive with home-like activities, where mothers feel more free and confident (e.g., Gonzalez, 1996; Kermani & Brenner, 2000; Kermani & Janes, 1999 ).

As to the confusion between directiveness and intrusion, the findings suggest that directiveness is necessary in promoting the child while intrusiveness slows him/her down. In a teaching situation when children are unable to complete the mission on their own and parents can help them through the task, directiveness may be essential. Intrusive behaviors may limit the child's initiative and encourage dependency. No differences between the two activities in maternal strategies of mediating the grapho-phonemic code and the printing of the letters were found. Mothers were directive as they scaffolded their children through the writing process and helped them complete the assignments. Such directiveness tends to be correlated with children's emergent literacy (Aram & Levin, 2001) as well as more general learning and performance (Huntsinger & Jose, 1995). Mothers directed their children through the two writing activities to a similar extent, but intrusive behaviors appeared less on the home-like writing activity, gi ving some advantage to more familiar activities in the domain of early writing.

The generally low rate of reference to Hebrew orthography, which was observed across the two activities, may be related to mothers' low SES. There is evidence that middle SES mothers assume more comprehensive teaching roles and perceive them-selves as more competent teachers, compared to low SES mothers (Steward & Steward, 1973), and that middle SES mothers refer to more aspects of the activities while mediating to their children (Diaz, Neal, & Vachio, 1991). Possibly, mothers from middle SES would refer more to orthography as they mediate writing because of their broader perception of the teaching task and of themselves as mediators.

As expected, more maternal reference to orthography was observed in the school-like activity. Reference to orthography appeared less on the home-like activity, due to two possible reasons. First, the homelike activity involves two foci: discussing and deciding whom to invite, and the writing of the names. The attention of the mother-child dyad was split between these activities, and so the reference to orthography received less notice in comparison with the school-like activity, where mother and child focused only on the writing process. Second, on the school-like activity the words were selected and presented in pairs to provoke reference to orthography. It is reasonable to assume that this presentation was fruitful, and mothers referred more to orthography during this activity. Mothers referred very little to the Hebrew orthography in general, but they did so more during the school-like activity. This finding shows the potential of such activities, especially among low SES children who need this extra atten tion to various aspects of the written language. This line of research deserves further investigation.

The educational implications of this study are significant for parents as well as for kindergarten teachers. Emergent literacy skills are important for future literacy development, which is one of the major keys to academic success. A clear-cut continuity is observed in literacy development from early on (Aram & Levin, 2002). Parents have to be aware of the importance of these emergent literacy skills and to take an active role as literacy mediators to their children. Since kindergartners are unable to sufficiently analyze print to discover the alphabetic principle on their own, some adult guidance is necessary. Parents have to scaffold their children through the writing process, be directive, recognize and respect children's level of competence, and provide guidance accordingly. They should try and escort their children through the whole process, from listening to the word, analyzing it, and isolating the phoneme to retrieving the letter name and the letter shape. By doing so, parents will equip their childr en with the proper strategies for acquiring writing and reading skills. However, parents should not be intrusive; rather, they must be aware of the need to gradually withdraw their support and let the children perform more independently. Reinforcements as well as criticisms have to be balanced and measured; many reinforcements may encourage dependency.

Low SES parents tend not to feel capable of taking on the role of literacy mediator, and thus they leave this task to kindergarten teachers. These parents in particular have to be encouraged to share writing situations with their children. They have to be closely escorted and supported by the children's educators. By participating with children in literacy events, adults play an important role in kindling children's interest in reading and writing.

So what should parents and kindergarten teachers write with young children? Kindergartners possess knowledge about a variety of types of texts (Zecker, 1999); thus, they, together with their parents and teachers, should be involved in writing texts of different genres like shopping lists, letters, invitations, diaries, notes, recipes, and signs. Parents should certainly encourage children to participate in functional writing activities at home. Low SES parents should feel free to share any everyday writing activity with their children at home. The present study showed that these activities hold the potential to promote children's understanding of writing in a warm atmosphere. As children engage in writing with adult support, they develop their writing skills and become skillful writers.
Table 1

General Mediation Characteristics: Means, Standard Deviations, Ranges,
Correlations Between the Two Writing Activities and T-test Indices
Comparing Them (N = 41)

 Means SD Min Max t
Measures Activity type

 Home-like 2.74 0.42 1.33 3.00
Atmosphere -3.94 ***
 School-like 2.42 0.57 1.00 3.00

 Home-like 2.42 0.53 1.00 3.00
Cooperation -1.70 *
 School-like 2.25 0.63 1.00 3.00

Letter writing Home-like 1.13 0.25 1.00 2.00
accuracy 2.50 **
 School-like 1.24 0.41 1.00 2.75

Contact with Home-like 0.20 0.44 0.00 2.00
the child 2.10 **
 School-like 0.38 0.51 0.00 2.00

 Home-like 1.43 0.84 0.46 4.33
Duration 4.71***
 School-like 1.98 0.96 0.75 4.38

General Home-like 1.10 0.96 0.00 5.00
reinforcement 2.11 **
 School-like 1.48 1.29 0.00 6.00

Specific Home-like 2.15 1.97 0.00 7.00
reinforcement 2.36 **
 School-like 2.90 2.73 0.00 11.25

Specific Home-like 1.13 1.21 0.00 5.00
criticism 3.68 ***
 School-like 2.37 2.69 0.00 14.75

Discipline Home-like 0.39 0.72 0.00 2.67
 2.88 ***
 School-like 0.98 1.31 0.00 7.25


Atmosphere .49 ***

Cooperation .41 **

Letter writing
accuracy .71 ***

Contact with
the child .40 *

Duration .65 ***

reinforcement .51 ***

reinforcement .67 ***

criticism .62 ***


* p < 0.05

** p < 0.01

*** p < 0.001

Table 2

Reference to Orthography: Means, Standard Deviations, Ranges,
Correlations Between the Two Writing Activities and T-test Scores
Comparing Them

 Means SD Min Max df t
Measures Activity type

 Home-like 0.01 0.04 0.00 0.20
Phonology (1) 40 -2.43 *
 School-like 0.10 0.62 0.00 2.00

 Home-like 0.03 0.13 0.00 0.50
Morphology 28 -4.22 ***
 School-like 0.55 0.61 0.00 2.00

 Home-like 0.52 0.60 0.00 2.00
Final letters 32 -2.36 ***
 School-like 0.73 0.62 0.00 2.00

 Home-like (2)
 School-like 0.34 0.62 0.00 2.00

 N of pairs r

Phonology (1) 41 -.10

Morphology 29 .01

Final letters 33 .60 ***


* p < 0.05

** p < 0.01

*** p < 0.001

(1)Phonology in this table is short for phonological-orthographic

(2)Rhyming was assessed only for the school-like activity.

Table 3

Maternal Strategies: Means, Standard Deviations, Rangers, Correlations
Between the Two Writing Activities and T-test Scores Comparing Them (N =

 Means SD Min Max t
Measures Activity type

Grapho-phonemic Home-like 3.21 1.04 1.43 5.56
Mediation -1.13
 School-like 3.11 1.20 1.00 5.17

 Home-line 1.64 0.85 0.18 3.00
Printing Mediation -0.30
 School-like 1.61 0.83 0.00 3.00


Mediation .88 ***

Printing Mediation .83 ***

* p < 0.05

** p < 0.01

*** p < 0.001


(1.) Hebrew words are spelled with International Phonetic Alphabet symbols.

(2.) The standard spelling is displayed by capital letters.


Adams, M. J. (1991). Beginning to read: Thinking and learning about print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Aram, D., & Levin, I. (2001). Mother-child joint writing in low SES: Sociocultural factors, maternal mediation, and emergent literacy. Cognitive Development, 16, 831-852.

Aram, D., & Levin, I. (2002). Storybook reading and joint writings-two contexts for promoting early literacy. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 48, 202-224.

Aram, D., & Levin, I. (2002). The role of maternal mediation of writing to kindergartners in promoting literacy achievements in second grade: A longitudinal perspective. Manuscript submitted for publication.

Baker, L., Sonnenschein, S., & Gilat, M. (1996). Mothers' sensitivity to the competencies of their preschoolers on concept-learning task. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 11, 405-424.

Berninger, V, Yates, C., Cartwright, A., Rutberg, J., Remy, E., & Abbot, R. (1992). Lower level developmental skills in beginning writing. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 4, 257-280.

Bissex, G. L. (1980). GNYSAT WRK A child learns to write and read. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Bowey, J. A. (1995). Socioeconomic status differences in preschool phonological sensitivity and first grade reading achievements. Journal of Educational Psychology, 87, 476-487.

Brooks-Gunn, J., Klebanov, P. K., & Duncan, G. J. (1996). Ethnic differences in children's intelligence test scores: Role of economic deprivation, home environment, and maternal characteristics. Child Development, 67, 396-408.

Burns, M. S., & Casbergue, R. (1992). Parent child interaction in a letter writing context. Journal of Reading Behavior, 24, 289-3 12.

Conner, D. R., Knight, D. K., & Cross, D. R. (1997). Mothers' and fathers' scaffolding of their 2-year-olds during problem-solving and literacy interactions. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 15, 323-338.

DeBaryshe, D. B., Buell, M. J., & Binder, J. C. (1996). What a parent brings to the table: Young children writing with and without parental assistance. Journal of Literacy Research, 28, 71-90.

Diaz, R. M., Neal, C. J., & Vachio, A. (1991). Maternal teaching in the zone of proximal development: A comparison of low- and high-risk dyads. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 37, 83-107.

Feuerstein, R. (1998). Haadam keyeshut mishtana: Al torat halmida hametavechet [The theory of mediated learning experience: About the human as a modifiable being]. Tel Aviv, Israel: Ministry of Defense.

Girolametto, L. (1995). Reflections on the origins of directiveness: Implications for intervention. Journal of Early Intervention, 19, 104-106.

Huntsinger, C. S., & Jose, P. E. (1995). Chinese American and Caucasian American family interaction patterns in spatial rotation puzzle solutions. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 41,471-496.

Gonzalez, M. M. (1996). Tasks and activities. A parent-child interaction analysis. Learning and Instruction, 6, 287-306.

Gundlach, R. A., McLane, J. B., Stott, F. M., & McNamee, G. D. (1985). The social foundations of children's early writing development. In M. Farr (Ed.), Advances in writing research: Vol 1: Childrens early writing development (pp. 1-58). Norwood, NJ: Ablex

Haden, C. A., & Fivush, R. (1996). Contextual variation in maternal conversational styles. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 42, 200-227.

Harris, Y. R., Krupinski, K. J., & Johnson, V R. (1999). Maternal strategy use and preschool categorization abilities. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 13, 188-195.

Holden, G. W (1997). Parents and dynamics of child rearing. Boulder, CO: Colorado Westview Press, HarperCollins.

Jalongo, M. (1996). Editorial: On behalf of children: Pervasive myths about poverty and young children. Early Childhood Education Journal, 24, 1-3.

Kelly, H. M., Morisset, C. E., Barnard, K. E., & Hammond, M. A. (1996). The influence of early mother-child interaction on preschool cognitive/linguistic outcomes in a high-social-risk group. Infant Mental Health Journal, 17, 310-321.

Kermani, H., & Brenner, M. E. (2000). Maternal scaffolding in the child's zone of proximal development across tasks: Cross-cultural perspectives. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15, 30-52.

Kermani, H., & Janes, H. A. (1999). Adjustment across task in maternal scaffolding in low-income Latino immigrant families. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 21, 134-153.

Klein, S. P. (1988). Stability and change in interaction of Israeli mothers and infants. Infant Behavior and Development, 11, 55-70.

Klein, S. P., Wieder, S., & Greenspan, S. I. (1987). A theoretical overview and empirical study of mediated learning experience: Prediction of preschool performance from mother-infant interaction patterns. Infant Mental Health Journal, 8, 110-129.

Korat, O., & Levin, I. (2001). Maternal beliefs, mother-child interaction, and child's literacy: Comparison of independent and collaborative text writing between two social groups. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 22, 397-420.

Laosa, L. M. (1980). Maternal teaching strategies on Chicano and Anglo-American families: The influence of culture and education on maternal behavior. Child Development, 51, 759-765.

Levin, I., & Korat, O. (1993). Sensitivity to phonological, morphological, and semantic cues in early reading and writing in Hebrew. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 39, 213-232.

Levin, I., Patel, S., Margalit, T., & Barad, N. (2002). Letter-names: Effect on letter retrieval, spelling and word recognition in Hebrew. Applied Psycholinguistics, 23,269-300.

Levin, I., Korat, O., & Amsterdamer, P. (1996). Emergent writing among Israeli kindergartners: Cross-linguistic commonalities and Hebrew specific issues. In G. Pijlaarsdam, H. Vanden Bergh, & M. Couzijn (Eds.), Theories, models & methodology in writing (pp. 389419). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.

Levine, H. G. (1993). Context and scaffolding in developmental studies of mother-child problem solving dyads. In S. Chalklin & J. Lave (Eds.), Understanding practice: Perspectives on activity and context (pp. 306-326). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Meadows, S. (1996). Parenting behavior and children's cognitive development. Hove, East Sussex: Psychology Press.

McNaughton, S. (1998). Why there might be several ways to read storybooks to preschoolers in Aotearoa/New Zealand: Models of tutoring and sociocultural diversity in how families read books to preschoolers. In M. Kohl de Oliviera & J. Valsiner (Eds.), Literacy in human development (pp. 123-143). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

McNaughton, S., & Leyland, J. (1990). The shifting focus of maternal tutoring across different difficulty levels on problem-solving task. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 8, 147-155.

Moreno, R. (1991). Maternal teaching of preschool children in minority and low-status families: A critical review. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 6, 395-410.

Moreno, R. (1997). Everyday instruction: A comparison of Mexican American and Anglo mothers and their preschool children. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, 19, 527-539.

Murray, A. D., & Hornbaker, A. V. (1997). Maternal directive and facilitative styles: Associations with language and cognitive development of low risk and high risk toddlers. Developmental and Psychopathology, 9, 507-516.

Muter, V., Hulme, C., Snowling, M., & Taylor, S. (1997). Segmentation, not rhyming, predicts early progress in learning to read. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 65(3), 370-396.

Naslund, J. C., & Schneider, W. (1996). Kindergarten letter knowledge, phonological skills and memory processes: Relative effects on early literacy. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 62(1), 30-59.

The National Center for Statistics. The statistical annual. (1996). Jerusalem: Author.

The National Center for Statistics. The statistical annual. (2000). Jerusalem: Author.

Pellegrini, A. D., Galda, L., Shokley, B., & Shtall, S. (1994). The nexus of social literacy experiences at home and school: Implications for first grade oral language and literacy. Reading Research Report No. 21. Athens, GA: National Reading Research Center.

Pine, J. M. (1992). Maternal style at the early one-word stage: Re-evaluating the stereotype of the directive mother. First Language, 12, 169-186.

Pratt, M. W., Kerig, P. K., Cowan, P.A., & Cowan, C. P. (1992). Family worlds: Couple satisfaction, parenting style, and mothers' and fathers' speech to young children. Merrill Palmer Quarterly, 38, 245-262.

Rogoff, B. (1990). Apprenticeship in thinking: Cognitive development in social context. New York: Oxford University Press.

Rogoff, B., Ellis, S., & Gardner, W. (1984). Adjustment of adult-child instruction according to child's age and task. Developmental Psychology, 20, 193-199.

Scarborough, H. S., & Dobrich, W. (1994). On the efficiency of reading to preschoolers. Developmental Review, 14, 245-302.

Senechal, M., LeFevre, J., Thomas, E. M, & Daley, K. E. (1998). Differential effects of home literacy experiences on development of oral and written language. Reading Research Quarterly, 33, 96-116.

Shatil, E., Share, D. C., & Levin, I. (2000). On the contribution of kindergarten writing to grade one literacy: A longitudinal study in Hebrew. Applied Psycholinguistics, 21, 1-21.

Smith, S. S., & Dixon, R. G. (1995). Literacy concepts of low- and middle-class four-year-olds entering preschool. Journal of Educational Research, 88, 243-253.

Sonnenschein, S., Baker, L., & Freund, L. (1993). Mother-child interaction on spatial concept task mediated by maternal notions about the task and the child. Early Education and Development, 4, 32-44.

Steward, M., & Steward, D. (1973). The observation of Anglo-, Mexican- and Chinese-American mothers teaching their young sons. Child Development, 44, 329-337.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Walker, D., Greenwood, C., Hart, B., & Carta, J. (1994). Prediction of school outcomes based on early language production and socioeconomic factors. Child Development, 65, 606-621.

Zecker, L. B. (1999). Different texts, different writing forms. Language Arts, 76, 483-490.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Association for Childhood Education International
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:socio-economic status
Author:Aram, Dorit
Publication:Journal of Research in Childhood Education
Geographic Code:7ISRA
Date:Sep 22, 2002
Previous Article:Phonemic awareness and beginning reading and writing.
Next Article:The effects of native language books on the pre-literacy skill development of language minority kindergartners.

Related Articles
Developmentally appropriate practice is for everyone.
The role of English as a language of maximum access in Israeli language practices and policies.
Phonemic awareness and beginning reading and writing.
Joint writing in Hebrew of dictated words versus proper names: an analysis of low SES mother-kindergartner dyads. (Connecting Classroom Practice and...
A growing divide.
Ill-prepared for the labour market: health status in a sample of single mothers on welfare.
Medical students show preference for more affluent patients.
Modified monopoly: experiencing social class inequality.
The effects of full-day versus half-day kindergarten on the achievement of students with low/moderate income status.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |