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Our Most Popular Blog-Posts All In One Place

We appreciate your feedback about the website. Some of you have said it is quite hard to find what you are looking for. Therefore we have placed all our most popular blog posts here. Enjoy!

Reading:

  1. Why Children Should Be Encouraged To Only Ever Use Phonics As A Helpful Friend.
  2. Creating A Community Of Readers: A Reading For Pleasure Article
  3. Creating A Community Of Readers: The Power Of DEAR
  4. Parent & TA Guide To Listening To Reading & Making Comments
  5. The Four Week Reading Programme
  6. The Year 5 ‘Rights Of A Child Reader’ Guide.

Teaching Writing:

  1. Our Real-World Literacy Approach To Writing
  2. Introducing Our Genre Booklets To The Class & Their Impact.
  3. Writing Study: Lessons That Last Forever PACK
  4. #WritingRocks_17
  5. How To Have Children Writing Independent ‘Assessable’ Pieces Everyday
  6. What If Almost Everything We Thought About The Teaching Of Writing Was Wrong?
  7. What Can Cause Poor Writing Outcomes? The Writing Is Primary Research Findings
  8. Meeting Children Where They Are: Using Pupil Conferencing
  9. A Functional Grammar Table: CPD Subject Knowledge With A Difference
  10. Why The Over Use Of Writing Stimuli & Book Planning Could Be Damaging Children’s Writing Potential.
  11. How We Created Self-Regulating Writers & The Improvements We Have Seen
  12. The Sea Of Writing Ideas: 10 Ways We Got Children Choosing Their Own Topics.
  13. If In Doubt, Circle It Out! How To Create A Class Of Independent Spellers
  14. Teaching The Writing Process Is The Best Way To Improve Children’s Writing
  15. Murray Gadd: What Is Critical In The Effective Teaching Of Writing?
  16. What The Research Says: The 13 Most Effective Ways To Improve Children’s Writing
  17. They Won’t Have Anything To Write About: The Dangers Of Believing Pupils Are ‘Culturally Deprived’
  18. Talk-For-Writing Is Excellent But Does It Go Far Enough?
  19. The 29 Rights Of The Child Writer
  20. Is The Trick In The Publishing? Reflecting On Why The Children Are Writing With Such Care & Attention
  21. What The EEF’s ‘Improving Literacy in Key Stage Two’ Report Tells Us About Teaching Writing Effectively.
  22. Time For Reflection: The Major Approaches To Teaching Writing And Their Limitations
  23. What Is Writing? Why Do We Write?

Writing Topics

  1. Give A Class ‘One’ Book To Write Through And You’ve Taught Them For A Day. Teach Them How To Use ‘Any’ Book And You’ve Taught Them For A Lifetime
  2. Children Writing Memoir : A Great Literacy Topic
  3. Bored With Your Pretend Journalism Topic? Have Children Writing Real Advocacy Journalism Instead!

Writer-Teachers

  1. Books That Change Writing-Teachers
  2. In Teaching Writing – How Important Is It That Teachers Be Writers Too?
  3. ‘All Children Can Write’ A Tribute To Donald Graves
  4. Are You A ‘Teacher Writer’ Or A ‘Writer Teacher’ And Why Does It Matter?

Writing Study: Lessons That Last Forever PACK.

This article is based on, and written in relation to, findings of educational research and writings. The tenor of this article and associated resource is to allow the reader to reflect on children’s writing and is in no way a criticism of any school(s) policy or teachers’ practice.

Introduction

This document is produced with the intention of being used alongside our Real-World Literacy approach to teaching writing. To find out more about to teach writing through this approach, go here.

Talking About Writing: Writing Study

Writing Study mini-lessons are a forum for demonstrating writing strategies that can last forever. Research into the teaching of writing (Graham & Perin, 2007, DfE, 2012, Education Endowment Fund, 2017 & Gadd, 2014) consistently places writing-strategy instruction as the single most effective strategy for improving writing outcomes. It is therefore right to spend time helping children deepen their understanding of writing and what is in it for them. Writing strategies are vital because ultimately, they save children time. They allow children to get down to the act of writing quickly and confidently. Children often know what they want to do but not how to do it. This is where Writing Study Lessons like the ones outlined in this document come in.

The sessions outlined below are about teaching the ‘generalities’ of writing. That is why we call them Lessons That Last Forever. They encourage children to be self-regulating when writing – a strategy which research shows is of huge benefit to children’s writing outcomes – we have written about self-regulating writing techniques here. These higher-level objectives all involve imparting to the students the kinds of competence that has previously been reserved for teachers or professional authors from a range of disciplines.

Children developing their writing in such ways is a major intellectual achievement. It is an achievement which requires more than just a rich diet of relatively unrestricted writing experiences. Research also suggests the following as additional elements that must be present for writing instruction to be successful:

  • Children must be made aware of the full extent of the writing process and this why we have attached the common writing process in our pack.
  • By having this process explicitly taught to them and by having it on display in all classrooms, children can work towards independence in managing this whole process.
  • The thinking that is involved in generating an idea, drafting, revising, editing and publishing need to be modelled by the teacher – ideally a writing-teacher, who can thereby show the problem-solving and planning processes that children are often unaware of as apprentice writers.

Please note that what we suggest in our document are only suggestions. When thinking of what your pupils need, teachers should ask questions like: what are my children trying to do in their drafts? What is their image of good writing? What can I tell them in a minilesson that might help and be long-lasting? We hope you find the following lessons useful not only for your pupils but maybe for your own writing too!

As part of this pack, we give many strategies for generating original writing ideas – just the sorts of strategies real authors use. As teachers, it’s important that we remind ourselves that mature writers are able to make writing tasks meaningful for themselves and that this is part of their competence. What we (as teachers) have to do is consider how do authors do it and how can we bring these sorts of practices into the classroom? A child making a writing task meaningful is a matter of creating a learning goal which can take account of external requirements which the teacher needs to see done but it also has a far more powerful goal of bringing personal significance to the writing too.

Finally, we would like to ask that if you have any lessons that you think would complement our pack please leave a comment below. Alternatively, you can email us at literacyforpleasure@gmail.com

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

To find out more about our approach to teaching writing, called Real-World Literacy, you can follow this link.

DOWNLOAD OUR PACK HERE- Writing Study Lessons That Last Forever

writing study lessons that last forever

 

Murray Gadd: What Is Critical In The Effective Teaching Of Writing?

This article is based on, and written in relation to, findings of educational research (see article). The tenor of this article is to allow the reader to reflect on the teaching of writing and is in no way a criticism of any school(s) policy or teachers’ practice.

At a recent UKLA conference, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr Murray Gadd, a writing teacher and educational researcher from New Zealand. A few years ago, he published What is critical in the effective teaching of writing? This is a fantastic addition to the growing picture of what is considered in research as effective teaching of writing. There is now a core of consistency to be found across a variety of studies in several different countries. So from critically reading this research literature on effective writing instruction, including Murray’s (Graham et al, 2014, Graham & Perin, 2007, DfE, 2012, Ofsted, 2009, 2011, Writing Is Primary, 2009, Gadd, 2014, Education Endowment Fund, 2014, 2017), I have devised eight dimensions of effective practice and instructional strategies.

  • Learning Tasks
    • Select or construct writing topics that students can identify as purposeful.
    • Involve students in selecting and/or constructing their own writing topics.
    • Devise open-ended learning tasks that can be undertaken over an extended time period.
    • Promote the purposefulness of the writing topic at the beginning of lessons.
  • Lesson Learning Goals
    • Involve students in the development of future lesson learning goals.
    • Set a clear learning goal for the lesson that is generally related to a stage of the writing process.
  • Expectations

Have a clear vision of what most students can reasonably be expected to achieve within the lesson. Communicate expectations clearly through displays and resources.

  • Direct Instruction
    • Demonstrate clearly what students are expected to do. Either through ‘active demonstrating’ (constructing an exemplar or part of an example live) or ‘receptive demonstration’ (provided a pre-written exemplar). Active demonstration is said to be far more effective however.
    •  Build on what the students have practised already.
    • Look out for and take advantage of ‘teachable moments’ during the lesson to provide instruction that is clearly linked to the learning goal.
  • Responding to Learners
    • Ask high-level, meta-cognitive and text-related questions of the children whilst they write.
    • Indicate ‘next steps’ to students when commenting (verbally or written-feedback) on their writing.
    • Get children to address any verbal feedback there and then.
    • Use a range of ways to respond to students’ efforts.
  • Engagement and Challenge

Attend to learning needs through individualised or small group instruction. Ensure students understand how their current lesson links to the future lesson(s).

  • Organisation and Management
    • Break writing into easily identifiable stages.
    • Set manageable time allocations during lessons.
    • Provide sufficient opportunities for students to practise writing during lessons (on average 2.5 hours a week).
    • Make contact with as many children as possible during the lesson.
    • Ensure that the classroom operates to regularly repeated routines and clear behavioural expectations.
  • Self-regulation
    • Encourage students to use resources to plan, write, revise, edit and present texts independently.
    • Give time and opportunities for students to write on self-selected topics.
    • Encourage students to write outside writing time (through a home/school writing notebook).
    • Provide opportunities for students to look at their writing collaboratively.
    • Students to set personal learning goals after each piece they complete.

Analysis suggests that effective teachers of writing employ all dimensions in strategic combination with each other. The effectiveness of each dimension is contingent on its inter-connectedness to other dimensions within the same pedagogical context (Writing Is Primary, 2009, Gadd, 2014, Garham & Perin, 2007, DfE, 2012).

Research particularly suggests that instructional writing actions and activities are effective if regarded as purposeful by learners and if they include meaningful opportunities for learner involvedness (Behizadeh, 2014, Cremin, 2011, Grainger et al, 2005, Myhill, 2005).

Through research, it is evident that what is suggested here as effective pedagogy for all learners is a particularly effective pedagogy for low-achievers. What is good for some is good for all (Gadd, 2014).

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

*This article is based on research; may not represent our employer*

References:

  • Behizadeh, N. (2014). Adolescent perspectives on authentic writing instruction. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 10(1), 27-44
  • Cremin, T., (2011) Writing Voices: Creating Communities Of Writers London: Routledge
  • DfE (2012) What is the research evidence on writing? Education Standards Research Team, Department for Education: London
  • Education Endowment Fund (2014) Using Self-Regulation To Improve Writing EEF: London
  • Education Endowment Fund (2017) Improving Literacy In Key Stage Two EEF: London
  • Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). What We Know, What We Still Need to Know: Teaching Adolescents to Write In Scientific Studies of Reading, 11(4), 313-335.
  • Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007) Writing Next: Effective Strategies To Improve Writing Of Adolescents In Middle School & High Schools Alliance For Excellent Education
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Mason, L., (2014) Improving the writing performance, knowledge, and self-efficacy of struggling young writers: The effects of self-regulated strategy development Contemporary Educational Psychology Volume 30, Issue 2, p. 207–241
  • Grainger, T., Goouch, K., Lambirth, A., (2005) Creativity and Writing: developing voice and verse in the classroom London: Routledge.
  • Ings, R., (2009) Writing Is Primary Esmee Fairbairm: London
  • Ofsted (2011) Removing barriers to literacy (reference no: 090237).
  • Myhill, D., (2005) Testing times: the impact of prior knowledge on written genres produced in examination settings, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 12:3, 289-300

 

What Can Cause Poor Writing Outcomes? The ‘Writing Is Primary’ Research Findings

This article is based on, and written in relation to, the findings of the Writing Is Primary  (2009) action research project. The tenor of this article is to allow the reader to reflect on children’s writing and is in no way a criticism of any school(s) policy or teachers’ practice.

  • Teachers not being clear about what they want from their students.
  • Teachers not demonstrating what they want by writing with or for their pupils.
  • Failure to convince pupils that the writing they are undertaking will be authentic and serve a legitimate purpose.
  • Failure to bring genres of schooling closer to the genres of the wider social world.
  • There is a stronger need for teachers to do their own writing.
  • Too many genres being taught.
  • Not enough time spent on each genre.
  • Not enough time spent on extended writing.
  • Not enough ‘writing study’ lessons. Lessons that ‘put things together’.
  • Children not seeing their teachers enacting in the same activities as them.
  • Pupil’s work will improve when their teachers regard themselves as writers.
  • Modelling is too often through a pre-prepared text.

Schools that focused on developing teacher’s own writing skills identified increased numbers of children who:

  1. Perceived themselves as ‘being good at writing’ (up by over 10%)
  2. Have parents claiming their children ‘write for pleasure outside school’ (up by 24%)
  3. Say that they enjoy writing (up by 22%) – especially when they are given choice in what they write and/or which genre they can write in.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are informed by educational research and writings but may not represent our employer.**

 

 

Time For Reflection: The Major Approaches Teachers Take To Teaching Writing & Their Limitations.

This article is written with the intention to inform and provide interested parties with the opportunity for reflection. All approaches to the teaching of writing come with their own advantages and disadvantages. It should also be said that these advantages and disadvantages depend on what it is that is being measured.

In his book Growth Through English, John Dixon (1967) discusses the three common ‘types’ of writing teaching: skills, book planning/novel study and personal and community growth. 

1.Skills

A skills approach to teaching writing focuses on the learning of:

  • correct spelling,
  • cursive handwriting,
  • vocabulary,
  • correct grammar usage,
  • comprehending the use of longer and more complex sentence structures.

What Britton found in his research (1975) was that this type of writing made up 63% of the total writing undertaken by children in schools. We may recognise this as matching the current requirements of the National Curriculum – where there is a huge emphasis on transcription. You may of course find this ironic when you consider the argument for more skills is usually so that children can communicate better for unimpeded sharing. The teacher will give out writing assignments and tasks, ‘correct’ the class’ work and organise recurrent skills tests for grammar and spelling. The class will be disciplined in carrying out the exact task set by the teacher, and to work on whatever aspects they have ‘failed’ in the last time.

Limitations Of Such An Approach

  • The main limitation of the skills approach is not so much what it focuses on but rather the vast amount is chooses to ignore.
  • Whenever the so-called skill elements of language are divorced from the rest of writing learning (like composition, purpose, audience, agency, writing voice, identity-building), the means simply become the ends.
  • It invites teachers to make children produce writing along the lines of ‘drill’ exercises.

2. Book Planning / Novel Study

According to Dixon, this approach is some people’s response to the skills agenda and again Britton (1975) found that 18% of the total writing undertaken by students was in keeping with this type of writing. It looks to fill the vacuum left by the skills model. The concept is that teachers can be the gatekeepers of what is best in terms of literature and hand this down to a generation. They see that these ‘supposed’ great writers or great books for ‘topic’ offer a variety of models on which pupils’ writing could be hung. However, Dixon argues that this turns language into a one-way process: pupils are readers, receivers of the ‘master’s voice’. He asked how does such activity like novel study relate to the stream of public interaction through writing in which we are all involved every day? Can we agree then that this has in the past (and present) misled practitioners into focusing on the teaching of ‘the body of knowledge’ (the stimuli itself) at the expense of teaching the actual generalities of writing? This misconception has had very far-reaching consequences. By concentrating on the stimuli (the book), the teacher can either assume the relevance of what they are handing over – or more honestly, the question of relevance (for the children) never enters their head. Instead the tradition is accepted.

Limitations Of Such An Approach

  • The main limitation of course concerns ‘culture’. This model stresses culture as a given and one that is chosen by the teacher(s). Therefore, there is the constant and systematic ignoring of ‘culture’ as the pupils in the class may know it. A network of attitudes, experiences and personal reflections that children bring to the classroom are therefore largely ignored.
  • It perpetuates the concept that literature itself is a given, a ready made structure which children are simply asked to imitate and a content chosen as noble and rich enough by the teacher as being worthy of attention. Writing is a product handed over by the teacher.
  • This approach denies children exposure to compositional processes which are used throughout life. For example: generating and publishing original thoughts, ideas and concepts, reflecting on lived experiences, reactions to one’s own reading material, wanting to share something we know a lot about and wanting to make changes to the world. In other words, strategies which could show children how writing can and will relate to their own life and experiences are largely underdeveloped.
  • It therefore neglects the most fundamental aim of writing teaching – to promote interaction with one’s self (through reflection) or between people.
  • As a result, writing has been interpreted as the study of texts and ‘imitating’ them out. It deals largely in pre-formatted activities and writing-tasks.

3. Personal & Community Growth

The third type, personal and community growth, argues that teaching writing should be based on language ‘in operation’. Children who learn how to use language for their own purposes and on the behalf of other people. Learning through writing and learning that they have something worth sharing. Britton’s study (1975) found that this only made up 6% of the writing undertaken by children. According to Dixon, writing is about being in operation, not writing dummy runs chosen by the teacher. It is the teacher’s responsibility to prepare and allow opportunity for children to have such opportunities. Therefore, it is argued by Dixon that, the teacher needs to create an environment where differing voices, literature and experiences are stored. Each pupil can then take from the store what they can and what they need. It provides a liberation for pupils from the limits of their teachers’ vision.

Limitations Of Such An Approach

Though the personal and community growth model sounds reasonable it isn’t without its limitations. Limitations which need careful reflection:

  • If conventions and systems of written language aren’t central – where do they come? We simply can’t ignore them.
  • Children might remove themselves from classroom interactions (like sharing and publishing) because they feel they have ‘no friends’ there and their writing voice isn’t legitimate when compared to their peers.
  • Children choose writing subjects which may cause tensions or offence within the class ‘community’.
  • The tension between children expressing themselves and teachers being required to critique content.

In conclusion, being aware of certain limitations in some pedagogies is not to dismiss certain practices in schools nor those employed by teachers. Rather, this article is only looking to seek a clearer definition of the circumstances in which learning to write is likely to arise in classrooms.

In his book Research On Composition (1983), Hillocks describes what he considers the three dominant writing approaches used within the USA.

  1. Presentational

The presentational approach to writing concerns the teachers with imparting knowledge prior to writing. Topics are assigned by the teacher and the particular teaching strategies employed are the setting of tasks and marking outcomes.

The Limitations Of Such An Approach

It involves telling pupils what is strong and weak in writing performance, but it does not provide opportunities for pupils to learn procedures for putting this knowledge to work, e.g. showing pupils an information text and fastidiously marking pupil errors, but not teaching procedures to help pupils write information texts.

2. Natural Process

This involves engaging children in writing and fostering positive dispositions. Writing topics are chosen by the pupils and the key teaching strategies include providing general procedures e.g. revision of drafts and peer comments.

The Limitations Of Such An Approach

It prompts ideas and plans for incorporation in particular pieces of writing, but it does not ensure that pupils develop their own ideas and plans autonomously. This is especially so in the organisation of different kinds of writing. E.g. encouraging pupils to draft, discuss and receive feedback on information texts, but not procedures for correcting or avoiding problems – particularly conventions and transcription.

3. Environmental Approach

Involves inducing and supporting active learning of complex strategies that pupils are not capable of using on their own. Writing topics are negotiated between the teacher and children. The particular teaching strategies employed are the developing of materials and procedures to engage children in writing processes.

Hillock’s report on the meta-analysis of 73 studies was that the environmental approach was two to three times more effective than natural process and over four times more effective than the presentational approach. The environmental approach presents new forms, models and criteria and facilitates their use in all writing tasks. Problems are tackled in a spirit of inquiry and problem-solving e.g. drawing pupils’ attention to information texts, helping them to identify the features of such texts and provide writing opportunities in which they can apply this knowledge in their own writing.

If you’d like to read more about how the children writing independently in our class, you can go here.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are informed by educational research and writings but may not represent our employer.*

  • Britton, J., et al (1975) The Development Of Writing Abilities (11-18) Basingstoke: Macmillan
  • Dixon, J., (1967) Growth In English Oxford University Press: London

How We Created Self-Regulating Writers & The Improvements We Have Seen.

This article is written with the intention to inform and provide interested parties with the opportunity for reflection. All approaches to the teaching of writing come with their own advantages and disadvantages. Being aware of certain limitations in some pedagogies is not to dismiss certain practices in schools nor those employed by teachers. Rather, this article is only looking to seek a clearer definition of the circumstances in which learning to write is likely to arise in classrooms.

The Self-Regulated Strategy Development model can help teachers incorporate self-regulatory training into their writing pedagogy.

Many children struggle to coordinate the multiple cognitive and self-regulatory demands of the writing process. Here we describe how the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model of instruction, which combines the explicit teaching of writing strategies with instruction in self-regulatory skills has aided the children in our class.

The first thing to know is that self-regulation can be learned:

  • directly through instruction,
  • indirectly through sheer experience and practice.

What Has Been Given ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction’ In Our Writing Classroom:

We teach children how to generate their own ideas for writing because if we didn’t we may inadvertently train the children in our class to be dependent rather than independent writers. Writing prompts, story starters and stimuli are just a few ways we may communicate to children that they are not capable of writing and thinking on their own. It could be argued that they are also incredibly inefficient ways of getting children to write. According to Jacobson (2000), they can waste valuable writing time.

How The ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction’ Is Delivered

  • Discuss It (explain why authors use these techniques)
  • Model It (show them how it is done)
  • Support It (through Pupil-Conferencing)
  • Independent Performance (give children the resources to carry it out on their own for the whole year)
  • ‘Held’ understanding – adapt these resources in future year groups to make children’s transitions even easier. E.g. have ‘Boxing-Ups’, ‘The Vomit Draft Rules’, ‘Revision Tips Sheets’, ‘Editing Checklists’ ‘Writing Tricks Books’ and ‘Cursive Script Exemplars’ for every year group.

If you consider Malcolm Gladwell’s (2009) 10,000 hours rule, you can see how important it is that children get to repeatedly practise the acts of the writing process. Because, as Ron Berger (2003) has shown, when children have multiple opportunities to revisit the same area of learning, they do so at a more advanced, developed level – until they are at mastery.

Chamberlain (2016) makes it quite clear, the less time children are afforded to write ‘properly’, the less developed or finished their writing will be. This must therefore have some implications. Chamberlain (2016) may argue that one draft and one polishing session are sufficient may get some children to write, but where is the pursuit of excellence in this model? For mastery?

A great example is the story of Austin’s butterfly:

According to Jacobson (2000), the following can cause dependency in writing:

Creates Dependence

  • Teacher selects writing prompt.
  • Teacher is ‘keeper of supplies’
  • Teacher provides the spelling of words
  • Because writing is assigned, students brainstorm their ‘funds of knowledge’ – whatever comes to mind in the time allowed for planning and will just re-write whatever came to mind at the moment. They will then exclaim ‘I’ve finished‘.
  • Writing lasts as long as the sessions lasts.
  • The children are often minimally engaged in the writing task and therefore resist revision and editing.
  • All students ‘finish’ their work at the same time – regardless of whether they have finished or not.

Jacobson (2000) claims the following can promote independence in writing:

Fosters Independence

  • Children select the writing topic, genre or both.
  • Materials are freely available.
  • Students that they can attend to any ‘unsure’ spellings after they have finished drafting.
  • Children can work on a piece over more than one writing session.
  • In anticipation of sharing and publishing, children willingly and carefully revise and edit.
  • Students publish only when they feel they have written something worth sharing.

Therefore there is no such thing as ‘being done’.

***

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are informed by educational research and writings but may not represent our employer.**

Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction For Writing Development

  • Berger, R., (2003) An Ethic Of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. London: Heinemann
  • Chamberlain, L., (2016) Inspiring Writing in Primary School London: SAGE
  • Gladwell, M., (2009) The Outliers: A Story of Success
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Mason, L., (2011) Self-Regulated Strategy Development for Students With Writing Difficulties.Theory Into Practice. Vol. 50 Issue 1, p20-27
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Mason, L., (2014) Improving the writing performance, knowledge, and self-efficacy of struggling young writers: The effects of self-regulated strategy development Contemporary Educational Psychology Volume 30, Issue 2, p. 207–241
  • Johnson, E., Hancock, C., Carter, D, Pool, J., (2012) Self-Regulated Strategy Development as a Tier 2 Writing Intervention Intervention in School and Clinic Vol 48, Issue 4, pp. 218 – 222
  • Lane, K., Graham, S., Harris, K., Little, M., Sandmel, K., Brindle, M., (2010) The Effects of Self-Regulated Strategy Development for Second-Grade Students With Writing and Behavioral Difficulties The Journal of Special Education Vol 44, Issue 2, pp. 107 – 128
  • Zumbrunn, S,Bruning, R., (2013) Improving the Writing and Knowledge of Emergent Writers: The Effects of Self-Regulated Strategy Development Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, Vol.26(1), p.91-110

 

Give A Class ‘One’ Book To Write Through And You’ve Taught Them For A Day. Teach Them How To Use ‘Any’ Book And You’ve Taught Them For A Lifetime.

This article is written with the intention to inform and provide reflection. With the Book Trust’s ‘The Write Book‘ research summary coming out in March – we were excited to see what it concluded.

We have entitled our article after the saying that: you give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day – teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. That is what we have tried to achieve through our own approach to the idea of traditional ‘Book Planning’ or ‘Novel Study’.

Ever since reading The Reader In The Writer, we have always advocated for children using books of their choice to inform their writing. There is no greater joy than showing children that through literature we can take signs from life within us – that this is exactly what our favourite books draw on and what we, as the reader, may be able to bring to them too. Perhaps, what we as teachers cannot and shouldn’t do is do this important work on behalf of our pupils. To feel those kind of relationships with books means to be deeply and personally involved in a text you have struck a connection with. This is different from being asked to recognise them at a cool distance away; about a text your teacher has decided they have a connection with. This year we have taught all the children in our class how a writer goes about generating an original idea; this has included teaching them how real authors (themselves included) use their favourite texts to produce something new for their own short-stories and flash-fictions. This is opposed to the use of a single book on which all children must hang their writing.

We accept that this is slightly different to the traditional way of teaching children to write through a ‘class text’ also known as ‘novel study,’ which is often chosen by either the teacher or by some kind of working majority amongst the children.

The benefit of our approach, we believe, is that it is enabling – it takes children off what Donald Graves articulates perfectly as ‘writers’ welfare.‘ They, for once (in a long time), have been shown and then encouraged to develop their own writing voice on a book or theme of their own choosing (the benefits of which can be seen in the research references below) and is a strategy they can use forever.

Remember too that when children are younger they are actively encouraged to write/mark make about any book that may have inspired them – however once they enter infant and primary school this privilege is largely taken away.

In the research project ‘Teachers As Readers: Building Communities Of Readers,’ it talks about teachers who undertake ‘novel study’ literacy units with their classes. It talks about how read aloud sessions are usually followed by literacy work focused on developing word, sentence or text level skills linked to the reading. It states that this type of teaching of writing has serious potential consequences. The children in the study explain that whilst their teacher read aloud – often they didn’t like it. This is because it, in part, it involved subsequent written work. Teachers are inadvertently tethering writing tasks onto reading aloud and children don’t like it.

‘This process of novel-study can sap central enjoyment and satisfaction away from the act of reading and responding. There is widespread and self-defeating refusal to see that literature cannot be taught by a direct approach, and that the teacher who weighs in with talk or lecture [on a text of their choice] is more likely to kill a personal response then to support and develop it. We are all tempted into doing so, of course.’ (Dixon, 1967) But then it becomes all too easy for children to feel that their own responses to the book they would have chosen as study to be unacceptable and instead learn to only profess the opinions of the respected critic (their teacher). Research is clear. If children don’t like the act of writing, they won’t progress nearly as well as children that do. Again, see references below for more details.

Some may of course recognise this as sounding incredibly similar to the failed Literacy Strategy and the dreaded ‘Literacy Hour’. Something that was never able to achieve the longevity and respect of its Numeracy counterpart. The dryness of schematic and systematic analysis of imagery, symbols, linguistic and grammatical features as well as structural relations. There it is likely that this should be avoided passionately at school. It is literature, not literacy criticism which we should be looking to promote in writing lessons. However, it is vividly plain that it is much easier to teach literary criticism than to teach literature, just as it is much easier to teach children to write according to writing-tasks than it is to teach them to use their own voice (Dixon, 1967).

Of course you also have the additional consideration that this is yet another way in which reading instruction can bleed into writing lessons and writing time. This often happens because, as Cremin (2014) points out, the vast majority of teachers come to teaching with a love for reading not writing and this of course must have significant epistemological effects on their writing pedagogies. This is something perhaps to reflect on. You can read more about it here.

Incidentally, we too have spoken on the subject of the over use of writing-stimuli having negative effects on children’s writing potentials here and how it is dangerous to believe children are too ‘culturally deprived’ to choose an appropriate book topic of their own here.

Bodies of knowledge – about life, about books, about words – are among the products of their work. It is possible to regard these bodies of knowledge as the ‘content’ for a writing lesson – though not everyone would be happy with this view (John Dixon, p.74)

Incidentally, you may find the following, taken from our article here, interesting:

Book Planning / Novel Study

This approach is some people’s response to the skills approach. It looks to fill the vacuum left by the skills model. The concept is that teachers can be the gate-keepers of what is best in terms of literature and hand this down to a generation. In a happy way, they see it that the great writers can offer a variety of models on which pupils’ writing could be hung. However, this turns language into a one-way process: pupils are readers, receivers of the master’s voice. How does activity like novel study relate to the stream of public interaction through writing in which we are all involved every day? Can we agree then that this has in the past (and present) misled many teachers into focusing on the teaching of ‘the body of knowledge’ (the stimuli itself) at the expense of teaching the actual generalities of writing? This misconception has had very far-reaching consequences. By concentrating on the stimuli (the book), the teacher can either assume the relevance of what they are handing over – or more honestly, the question of relevance (for the children) never enters their head. Instead the tradition is accepted.

Limitations Of Such An Approach

  • The main limitation of course concerns ‘culture’. This model stresses culture as a given and one that is chosen by the teacher(s). Therefore, there is the constant and systematic ignoring of ‘culture’ as the pupils in the class may know it. A network of attitudes, experiences and personal reflections that children bring to the classroom are therefore largely ignored.
  • It perpetuates the concept that literature itself is a given, a ready made structure which children are simply asked to imitate and a content chosen as noble and rich enough by the teacher as being worthy of attention. Writing is a product handed over by the teacher.
  • This approach denies children exposure to compositional processes which are used throughout life. For example: generating and publishing original thoughts, ideas and concepts, reflecting on lived experiences, reactions to one’s own reading material, wanting to share something we know a lot about and wanting to make changes to the world. In other words, strategies which could show children how writing can and will relate to their own life and experiences are largely underdeveloped.
  • It therefore neglects the most fundamental aim of writing teaching – to promote interaction with one’s self (through reflection) or between people.
  • As a result, writing has been interpreted as the study of texts and ‘imitating’ them out. It deals largely in pre-formatted activities and writing-tasks.

This year, we have taught the children in our class how they can successfully use any book in their writing that has had an impact on them. We have done this in a number of ways:

  • Provided the children with a class library full of high-quality texts including poetry.
  • Shown them how they can write ‘inspired by poems‘ and created regular time for them to engage in that kind of writing.
  • Shown them how to appreciate certain character development, setting descriptions or beautifully crafted sentences in their reading, how to make a note of it in their ‘Writing Tricks Books’ and then use those jottings to inform their own story, flash-fiction or poetry writing.
  • Shown them how to ‘hybrid’ two or more of their favourite books to look for themes that they could exploit for their own writing.
  • Shown them how to ‘hybrid’ genres in new and unexpected ways using themes from their reading.
  • Shared many exemplar texts written by children and ourselves that model how this has been done successfully and made these available to read in the class library.
  • Shown how to write ‘fan-fiction’.
  • Having a book that is read as a ‘class-read’ for which the children can be inspired by and write around but are also not obligated to do so.

We have done this because the research on effective writing teaching points this way. Create a class of producers instead of consumers (or at best imitators) and writing outcomes and attitudes will improve dramatically. We are in the fortunate position that we can see the research and theory come together in practice and succeed.

The goal of education in general, and any writing program in particular, is to help students gain independence. (Ted DeMille, p.145)

Guy Pinnell (1989) reports on a successful program with ‘at risk’ children. It showed how children were encouraged to make connections between their reading and writing as a means of boosting their academic standing. The tasks were not a matter of imitating a book extract or to complete a writing task – but instead the children were immersed in rich texts. As a result, they wrote with an eye on what they read, speaking about it, being admiration of it, in response to having read something great, they had an eye on how they could write and learnt how to write better.

Imitating the masters is universal in all art and is often the first stage in any creative process. This is why our Genre-Booklets are proving to be so popular. They share with children: the patterns, the approach writers take and the linguistic features that can be deployed in story writing. Some people have recently asked, how do you get children to write their own unique stories without using a whole-class mentor text or any other kind of writing stimulus? We’ll look to explain how below.

No one should be in any doubt that it’s important to show children how other accomplished authors do what they do. It’s also important that children have time to enjoy, appreciate, discuss, understand and try imitating aspects of the books they are reading. And most importantly – we need to show children how they can do this for themselves.

Our Flash-Fiction Genre-Booklet is essentially a writing unit designed to help children identify story patterns, use ‘author voice’ and create stories independently. The stories that are exemplars within the Genre-Booklet are deliberately short and show children that this type of writing is well within their grasp.

The exemplar texts showcase how a short-story can be constructed using only 250/300 words. We try to keep this limit in the children’s minds as they write too, so as to avoid the inevitable ‘and then…‘ syndrome. Educator Nancie Atwell makes the point that even the children in her middle-school (12+) can find anything longer than 300 words difficult to handle and in our experience, working with children from 5-11, this can often be said about them too.

Our exemplar texts are not there for the children to imitate – not even the ideas. They are there to showcase how the linguistic features of story telling can be used effectively. These include:

  • Length,
  • How they can use typical themes of literature,
  • A clear and memorable telling of an event (including different types of openings and endings),
  • Using inviting language,
  • Thought provoking descriptions of character or setting.

Once these features have been made explicit to the children, we encourage them to generate their very own writing ideas. This includes strategies like:

  • Using the books they have read during DEAR time.

At this point, we should say that for this approach to story-writing to most effective in your class, you would have to adopt an approach to reading very similar to ours. To read about how our children are reading during DEAR time, follow this link. Essentially though, you need to be reading high-quality literature aloud, encouraging children read independently and giving them plenty of time to do so.

  • Using their ‘linguistic collections’ from their Writing-Tricks Books.

Again, these collections come from the children’s reading during DEAR time. To read about ‘Writing-Tricks Books’ click here. Essentially though, this is a book, which lives in their trays, encourages children to write down things they notice their favourite authors doing and the sentences and themes they like the most. Children are encouraged to then dip into these collections when they are generating ideas for a flash-fiction.

  • Our 10 strategies for idea-generating, which can be found here.

These are strategies that encourage children to write stories from personal interests, recounts, loves, hates, idiosyncrasies, hobbies and obsessions. These 10 strategies unearth a whole beach full of potential topics for stories.

If a child is using a book or a ‘linguistic collection’ as a means for a story idea – we ask them to try and integrate into that a real experience. We do this is because children often find the writing experience easier as a result. In our class, we call these types of stories ‘Inspired by…‘ stories, after the poem ‘My Yellow Dog’. We’ve noticed that what begins as imitation or impersonation soon moves beyond that by the time the children have finished their writing.

Each student creates a final draft in the voice of an author and their own in usually two or three days. Soon after, the children revise these texts and edit them for punctuation and spelling. They are then published into the class book stock for everyone to read or entered into local or national writing competitions.

And so we were pleased to read in the Book Trust’s ‘The Write Book‘ research summary that we are indeed on the right lines:

  • Children enjoy writing more, and write better, when they’re inspired by a high quality book they’ve loved.
  • Book choice is key in encouraging children’s creative response. (and who better to choose than the child themselves).
  • Using high quality books to inspire and emulate writing encourages children to think of themselves as writers (even more so if you have taught them an idea generating strategy that is genuinely used by published authors).
  •  Improved the technical elements of their writing such as vocabulary, descriptive writing skills and sentence structure.
  • Developed more interest in and enthusiasm for books and writing.
  • Wrote voluntarily at home and in free time at school, often when they had never done so before.

And so, in many ways, we are inviting you to combine the best of educational research. Use what ‘The Write Book,’ The Reader & The Writer and what the meta-analysis (here) says to create a truly effective, memorable and life-long writing curriculum.

If you’d like to read more about how the children writing independently in our class, you can go here.

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**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are informed by educational research but may not represent our employer.**

Research References

  • Barrs, M., and V. Cork. (2001) The reader in the writer: The links between the study of literature and writing development at Key Stage 2. London: CLPE
  • BookTrust (2015) The Write Book [Available Online: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/programmes/primary/the-write-book/] London: BookTrust
  • Cremin, T., (2014) Building Communities Of Engaged Readers: Reading For Pleasure London: Routledge
  • Dixon, J., (1967) Growth In English Oxford University Press: London
  • Pinnell, S., (1989) Success of at-risk children in a program that combines writing and reading In Reading and writing connections Boston: Allyn & Bacon

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