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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?
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What Teachers Do To Make Every Child Feel Like A Writer

As part of our ongoing work on building a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy, we have been reflecting on the second principle of our Writing For Pleasure manifesto:

High Expectations: Seeing Every Child As A Writer (2)

Effective writing teachers hold high achievement expectations for all writers. They see all children as  writers and, from the first, teach strategies that lead to greater independence. They make the purposes and audiences for writing clear to children for both their class and personal writing projects. They teach what writing can do. They also promote the social aspects of writing and peer support in their classrooms.

What do you need to consider as a teacher to ensure you are creating an inclusive environment where all apprentice writers can flourish?

By reading, amongst others, Gadd’s wonderful work on what is critical in the effective teaching of writing, we are able to offer some questions that might be worth reflecting on below. If you’ve written about children being writers yourself or would like to contribute, you’re welcome to use the comments section below.

Finally, at the end, we have provided references which are great reading if ensuring every child is a writer sounds like something you’d like to learn more about.

How do you make children feel like writers in your classroom?

  • Establish positive relationships with all learners (Burchinal et al 2002; Cornelius-White, 2007).
  • Allow all children an opportunity to share, perform and/or publish their writing products (including class and personal writing projects) with their peers.
  • Employ mixed-ability, interest-based groupings and opportunities for sharing and for the discussion of writing amongst peers.
  • Believe that despite their circumstances, all children have interests, passions and idiosyncrasies which contribute to their funds of knowledge and that these funds of knowledge can be used by children in their writing (Dyson, 2003; Grainger, et al 2013; Leung & Hicks, 2014).
  • Tend to believe more strongly than other teachers that all learners can achieve if they receive appropriate support from the teacher.

How do your class writing projects make every child feel like a writer?

  • Plan writing projects to ensure children have some ownership and agency over their project.
  • Provide opportunities to learn new material.
  • Give all children challenging writing projects to undertake.
  • Set up specific writing process goals that all children in the class can achieve.
  • Monitor the expectations you communicate to learners on a near daily basis.
  • Ensure a supportive and social learning environment in which to write (children who feel emotionally secure and can communicate effectively with their teachers are better able to devote their energies and attention to writing – Burchinal et al 2002).

Do you have any resources or strategies that help children feel like authentic writers?

  • Provide writing strategies and helpful writerly advice through verbal feedback (pupil-conferences) to aid children’s writing.
  • Provide instructional strategies and resources which promote self-regulation, greater independence and adoption of a personal writing process.
  • Give access to high-quality writing examples and a rich classroom library.

How do you model writerly behaviour and how do you talk about writing with your children?

  • Provide: smiles, head nods, positive body language, eye contact, friendliness, clue giving, repetition, rephrasing, more praise and less criticism to all children.
  • Talk as writer to writer.

How could a mastery perspective towards writing make children feel more like real writers? 

  • See writing more as mastery through repeated practice and so give children more time, space and opportunities to develop their writing.

As a result of these types of interactions and expectations of children, Cornelius-White (2007) claims that teachers should see an increase in children’s participation, initiation into the writing community, satisfaction in their learning, motivation to write, higher self-esteem, and better social connections with their fellow writers.

What can people read to find out more about ensuring every child is a writer?

Growth Through English by John Dixon

A summary of a great meet up (before twitter meets existed) at Dartmouth between UK and US teachers in the late 1960s. This Dartmouth meet up looked to reflect on the teaching of apprentice writers and is an absolutely fascinating and thought provoking read in today’s context. 

GrowthEnglish

The Myth Of The Deprived Child by Herbert Ginsburg

A book which holds the highest possible regard and expectations of children regardless of their circumstances

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Writing Voices: Creating Communities of Writers by Teresa Cremin & Debra Myhill

An absolute must read for anyone interested in creating communities and rich environments for writing to take place.

Build a Literate Classroom by Donald Graves 

The gold standard of creating writers and a writers’ classroom! Only £1.17 on Amazon!

In The Middle by Nancie Atwell

A seminal text on creating a climate for writers to flourish – perfect for KS2 and KS3.

No More ‘I’m Done’ Fostering Independent Writers In The Primary Grades by Jennifer Jacobson

A perfect text for creating communities of writers in KS1/LKS2 – really accessible read.

Joining the Literacy Club: Further Essays into Education by Frank Smith

This text is a bit more heavy going but is infinitely fascinating and thought provoking

References:

  • Burchinal, M., Peisner-Feinberg, E., Pianta R., Howes., C (2002) Development of Academic Skills from Preschool Through Second Grade: Family and Classroom Predictors of Developmental Trajectories In Journal of School Psychology, Vol. 40, No. 5, pp. 415 – 436
  • Cornelius-White, J., (2007) Learner-Centered Teacher-Student Relationships Are Effective: A Meta-Analysis In Review of Educational Research, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 113–143
  • Dyson, A., (2003) Popular Literacies and the ‘all’ children: rethinking literacy development for contemport childhoods Language Arts 81:100-9
  • Grainger, T., Goouch, K., Lambirth, A., (2003) Playing the game called writing: children’s views and voices. English in Education, 37(2):4-15
  • Gadd, M., (2014) ‘What is critical in the effective teaching of writing?‘ The University Of Auckland
  • Leung, C., Hicks, J., (2014) Writer Identity and Writing Workshop A Future Teacher and Teacher Educator Critically Reflect In Writing & Pedagogy Vol. 6 583-60
  • Rubie-Davies, C. M. (2010). Teacher expectations and perceptions of student attributes: Is there a relationship? British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(1), 121–135.

 

A Cautionary Blog Post About Using Structure Strips

Please note that this blog-post is not anti structure-strip. As this post and the research that informs it will explain, they can be a highly-effective self-regulatory resource that children can certainly learn and build from!

When reading about writing, you are often faced with one of two extremes. At one end of a continuum is the belief that ‘language,’ including writing, cannot be effectively taught unless it is solely acquired through experiences and by being presented with a situation which causes an authentic reason to write.

At the other end is the idea that language is best learned through tutelage, rote-learning and explicit instruction in its structures, forms and conventions.

As is often the case with extremes, academic research and sensible practitioners suggest a moderate middle ground is required. Language is best learned through a combination of authentic experiences and explicit instruction.

Explicit teaching (in this case explicit teaching of particular text structures through structure-strips) can obviously improve composition of those taught structures. However, aside from text-structure research, structure-strips don’t by themselves account for research into providing authentic literacy activity and teaching children the processes of writing.

These genre ‘norms’ that we teach through the use of structure strips (or indeed through our own Genre-Booklets) we must remember are not actually static but change to reflect changing needs and contexts for writing. Written genre function (so the purpose and audience involved) will always drive the way a written genre is formed, manipulated and potentially hybrid by a writer.

The criticism of such approaches (if used too rigidly) is that they can become overly prescriptive and give children a static vision of genres. We must be careful that this doesn’t result in a return to skill and drill. Where we end up teaching empty genres with overly prescriptive structures which, over time, will block children’s writing development.

Please don’t get us wrong here! We too believe in teaching and making available to children the different forms and structures of the most powerful genres. Like we’ve said, we do so through our Genre-Booklets. We do it as a social justice issue; ensuring that all children have choice and are not limited in their knowledge of the different genres in writing and the different situations in which they can be used out in the real-world. But we simply must provide children with opportunity to use these learnt structures for their own reasons too. Once taught, children should be allowed to do two things with this new found genre/structure knowledge:

  1. Input their own writing topics into them; using them for themselves in their personal writing projects.
  2. Have opportunity to experiment with manipulating, deliberately contradicting and potentially hybriding these otherwise static structures.

‘Authentic writing activities are essential to genre learning.’ (Purcell-Gates, Duke & Martineau, 2007, p.12)

Even advocates of explicit teaching of writing agree that having the opportunity to write authentically is critical. Delpit (1988), a staunch advocate of explicit teaching of writing, argues that:

Merely adopting direct instruction is not the answer. Actual writing for real audiences and real purposes is a vital element in helping students to understand that they have an important voice in their own learning processes. (p. 289)

New London Group (1996) also state: ‘if one of our pedagogical goals is mastery of [writing] practice, then immersion in …authentic versions of such practice is necessary. (p. 84)

Children write effectively when they are afforded high levels of autonomy and agency in terms of topic choice alongside explicit teaching of genre features and structures (Purcell-Gates, Duke & Martineau, 2007).

What’s most important here though is Purcell-Gates, Duke & Martineau’s (2007) statement that learning structures and genres in a decontextualized and ‘school-only’ manner is not helpful. In fact, under these conditions, children develop the least.

When you look at research into effective writing instruction, instruction of genre function and structures should be combined with teaching writing process strategies.

In conclusion, explicit explanation of genre purpose and structures combined with teaching children the different processes involved in writing married with plenty of opportunity for children to authentic write in those genres constitutes the most effective writing instruction.

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 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.

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

References:

  • Purcell-Gates, V.,  Duke, N., & Martineau, J., (2007) Learning to read and write genre-specific text: Roles of authentic experience and explicit teaching In Reading Research Quarterly Vol. 42, No. 1
  • Delpit, L., (1988). The silenced dialogue: Power and pedagogy in educating other people’s children. Harvard Educational Review, 58, 280–298.
  • New London Group,. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66, 60–92.

Teaching Writing: What Actually Is Authentic Writing?

It is often stressed that authentic writing experiences can improve children’s pleasure and academic outcomes in writing. Indeed, calls for authenticity can be found throughout literature and research (Dyson, 2003, Leung & Hicks, 2014, Flint & Fisher, 2014, Flint & Laman, 2012, Gadd, 2014, Grainger (Cremin), Goouch & Lambirth, 2003, New London Group, 2000). Perhaps the best example though is Hillocks (2011), concluding in his review of 100 years of writing research that:

we now know from a very wide variety of studies in English and out of it, that students who are authentically engaged with the tasks of their learning are likely to learn much more than those who are not. (p.189)

But what do we mean when we say or hear that children should be writing authentically and can all writing projects really be inherently authentic for all children all of the time?

Well, Behizadeh, (2014) in her wonderful work, does try to offer a definition of authentic writing as:

‘a child’s judgement of the connection between a writing project and their life.’

However, according to Behizadeh (2014), writing too often resides within a task or text chosen by the teacher, rather than residing with the student themselves. Behizadeh even shows that teachers can perceive their assessment tasks as being authentic writing projects (not knowing that their students think quite differently)! So whether a writing project is authentic clearly depends on who is being asked…

  • Splitter (2009) argues that authenticity is actually subjective and that children deserve to be persuaded and not just told why they are undertaking a class writing project. Their learning in writing should also be linked to their world (p. 143).
  • Purcell-Gates, Duke, and Martineau (2007) claim that it is the purpose and genre of writing that determines its authenticity. Specifically, a project is authentic if the genre exists in the world outside of school and the purpose for writing is the same as it would be if the child was writing it outside of school.
  • Gambrell, Hughes, Calvert, Malloy, and Igo (2011) claim that authentic writing projects are ones similar to those encountered in the day-to-day lives of people. This is opposed to school like activities such as completing worksheets and answering teacher-posed questions.

What Can You Do In Terms Of Your Classroom Practice?

  1. Discuss with children what they believe to be authentic reasons for writing?
  2. Begin to see writing projects as being on an ‘authenticity continuum’ rather than either/or. This might help you consider how you could make a writing project more authentic. You could also give more ‘leeway’ to the children when planning your class writing projects.
  3. When introducing a class writing project, understand that children need to be persuaded of its authenticity and not simply told.
  4. Teach class writing projects with a view to allowing children time to use them at a later date for personal writing projects. These personal projects can be undertaken at school, home or both.
  5. Provide children with personal writing project time.
  6. Allow children to use their ‘funds of knowledge’ from outside of school in their class writing projects instead of always providing the ‘funds of knowledge’ yourself.
  7. Create a community of writers where writing ideas can be generated collaboratively and made available for all children to use if they wish to.
  8. Understand that children will need to be taught the skills of generating ideas for themselves, particularly if they have been brought up on a diet of ‘back to basics’ writing instruction (Ketter & Pool, 2001).
  9. The best authentic writing experiences, according to Behizadeh (2014), are ones which merge both writing as a pleasurable experience for the writer with writing for the pleasure. This involves the writing having an impact on others.
  10. Therefore, allow children to regularly publish to their class/school library and beyond.
  11. Begin to reflect on the erroneous assumption that although children may enjoy authentic writing more, they won’t learn and demonstrate the skills required in the curriculum. The reality is children’s need for authentic writing can be honoured and they can succeed in a high-stakes writing assessments. Research demonstrates that authentic writing instruction is effective writing instruction (Dombey/UKLA, 2013, EEF, 2017, Gadd, 2014, Goouch, Cremin & Lambirth, 2009, Graham & Perin, 2007, Morizawa, 2014). Indeed, The National Literacy Trust (2017) states that ‘seven times as many children and young people who enjoy writing write above the expected level for their age compared with those who don’t enjoy writing.’

Our Real World Literacy Approach

Perhaps then our Real-World Literacy approach is a balanced approach. Using our Genre-Booklets and structure-strips, we set class writing projects which allow children to learn about typical purposes and genres used in the outside world. Once taught, the children are given regular time in which to undertake personal writing projects, using the resources and skills taught in these class projects – this is where they can use these learnt writing purposes and genres in even more authentic ways.

References

  • Behizadeh, N., (2014) Xavier’s Take on Authentic Writing: Structuring Choices For Expression And  Impact In Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(4) pp. 289–298
  • Dombey/UKLA, (2013) Teaching Writing: What the evidence says UKLA argues for an evidence-informed approach to teaching and testing young children’s writing UKLA: London
  • Dyson, A., (2003) Popular Literacies and the “All” Children: Rethinking Literacy Development for Contemporary Childhoods In Language Arts Vol.81, No.2
  • Flint, A. S., & Laman, T. T. (2012). Where Poems Hide: Finding Reflective, Critical Spaces Inside Writing Workshop In Theory Into Practice, 51(1), 12-19.
  • Gambrell , L. B. , Hughes , E. M. , Calvert , L. , Malloy , J. A. , & Igo , B. (2011). Authentic reading, writing and discussion: An exploratory study of a pen pal project. The Elementary School Journal , 112 ( 2 ), 23 – 258 .
  • Goouch, K., Cremin, T., Lambirth, A., (2009) Writing Is Primary: Final research report.London: Esmee Fairbairn Foundation
  • Hillocks, G., (2011). Commentary on “Research in Secondary English, 1912–2011: Historical continuities and discontinuities in the NCTE imprint” . Research in the Teaching of English , 46 ( 2 ), 187 – 192
  • Ketter , J. , & Pool , J. (2001). Exploring the impact of a high- stakes direct writing assessment in two high school classrooms . Research in the Teaching of English , 35 ( 3 ), 344 – 393.
  • Leung, C., Hicks, J., (2014) Writer Identity and Writing Workshop A Future Teacher and Teacher Educator Critically Reflect In Writing & Pedagogy 1756–5839
  • Morizawa, G., (2014) Nesting the Neglected “R” A Design Study: Writing Instruction within a Prescriptive Literacy Program Unpublished: University of California, Berkeley
  • National Literacy Trust, The, (2017) Children’s and young people’s writing in 2016 London: National Literacy Trust
  • New London Group (2000) A pedagogy of multiliteracies: designing social futures In Harvard Education Review, vol.66, pp. 60–92.
  • Purcell-Gates , V. , Duke , N. K. , & Martineau , J. A. (2007). Learning to read and write genre- specific text: Roles of authentic experience and explicit teaching . Reading Research Quarterly , 42 ( 1 ), 8 – 45 .
  • Splitter , L. J. (2009). Authenticity and constructivism in education. Studies in Philosophy and Education , 28 , 135 – 151 .

The Writing Framework: How It Is Possible To Assess Writers And Not Just The Writing.

There has been a lot of talk around assessing children’s writing for a long time now.

Anxiety has been caused as a result of what constitutes independent writing. People are talking about the merits and disadvantages of comparative judgement but I think we are missing the point here. My instinct is that, in all likelihood, we shouldn’t be marking individual writing at all. We should be assessing the development of the writer over time. I trialled this in my class last year.

To ensure children could produce writing topics independently, over the course of the year, I taught the children the following self-regulatory strategies:

  • How to generate ideas for writing independently,
  • How to plan independently,
  • Once they had written a draft, how to revise their pieces independently (including looking for opportunities to insert certain linguistic features required by the writing framework – if they saw an appropriate opportunity to do so).
  • How to proof-read and edit their work.
  • How to publish their work, focusing on their handwriting.

By teaching these things, when children had finished working on their class-writing project for the day, they were given opportunity to undertake personal projects. This was writing undertaken largely independently (apart from pupil-conferences) using the self-regulating strategies taught above.

I would use these personal writing projects alongside their class projects to make a judgement on how they were developing as an independent writer. To do this, I adapted the CLPE’s wonderful, fantastic Writing Scales.

My scales do differ from the CLPE’s as I also included:

  • The typical writerly behaviours you’d expect to see of a child applying at different stages of the writing process.

 

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  • The grammatical, handwriting, spelling and punctuation features the framework asks to see from writers at a certain age.

 

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  • I also included more compositional and ‘writer behaviour’ aspects too. (These proved particularly useful when reporting to parents during parents evening and when writing school reports).

 

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As you can see, they encourage you to look at the child as a writer and at a body of their work when making a judgement on their current development. From this, I was able to state whether I thought a child was emerging, met or exceeding the framework’s expectations.

If you’d like to view the writing scales, you are welcome, just send an email to literacyforpleasure@gmail.com

If you’d like to find out more about how to set your children up to write independently you can view our blog post here.

If you’d like to read about our approach to teaching writing called ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can go here.

Please note: the views expressed on this blog are my own and may not represent my employer. The tenor of this article is to allow the reader to reflect on the assessment of children’s writing but is in no way a criticism of any school(s) policy or teachers’ practice.

Building Communities Of Writers: Creating Rich Writing Environments

As part of our ongoing work on building a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy, we have been reflecting on the first principle of our Writing For Pleasure manifesto:

Creating A Community Of Writers (1)

When writers see their teachers as positive, caring and interested in pupils’ lives, they are more likely to engage in writing at a high level of achievement. The aim is to create a community of writers, in which teachers write alongside children and share their own writing practices, and children are shown how to talk about their own and their peers’ writing in a positive and constructive way.

What needs attention when trying to build a community of writers in your class or school? This obviously means creating an environment where writers can flourish.

Below, we have offered some questions that might be worth reflecting on. If you’ve written about writing environments yourself or would like to contribute, you’re welcome to use the comments section below.

Finally, at the end, we have provided a small list of books which are great reading if building a community of writers sounds like something you’d like to learn more about.

What do you do, teach, or provide to create a rich writing environment?

  • Do children have sufficient time to write?
  • Are they encouraged to write at home and use this in class?
  • Do they have access to rich literature and other modalities of writing?
  • Do the children get time to learn from and share their writing with each other?
  • Does your discourse sound like writers talking to each other?
  • Does the environment encourage publication?

How do high-quality writing environments help children’s learning and your teaching?

  • Children become engaged writers
  • Children become self-sufficient and self-regulating
  • Children see links between reading and writing
  • Children see links between writing and the outside world

How would you like to develop your community/family of writers further?

  • Access to high quality school/home writing notebooks.
  • Invite parents and the wider-community into our writing environment more often.
  • Have some parent helpers – publish some of the children’s pieces of their behalf for the class book-stock.
  • Create greater opportunities for children to publish to a wider audience.

What can people read to find out more about creating rich writing environments?

Writing Voices: Creating Communities of Writers by Teresa Cremin & Debra Myhill

An absolute must read for anyone interested in creating communities and rich environments for writing to take place.

Build a Literate Classroom by Donald Graves 

The gold standard of creating writers and writers’ classroom! Only £1.17 on Amazon!

In The Middle by Nancie Atwell

A seminal text on creating a climate for writers to flourish – perfect for KS2 and KS3.

No More ‘I’m Done’ Fostering Independent Writers In The Primary Grades by Jennifer Jacobson

A perfect text for creating communities of writers in KS1/LKS2 – really accessible read.

Joining the Literacy Club: Further Essays into Education by Frank Smith

This text is a bit more heavy going but is infinitely fascinating and thought provoking

The Things That Matter: Writing Memoir

The Things That Matter: Writing Memoir

A few Saturdays ago,we were lucky enough to attend the Oxford Writing Spree, a day conference organised by teacher Ed Finch (@MrEFinch) in his own primary school, Larkrise, on the outskirts of the town. We were in the company of some excellent speakers and a large group of teachers, all interested in thinking and talking about children writing at home and in school.

We were there to run a workshop in which we would ask teachers to write a short memoir of an experience from their own lives. We had found in our Year 5 class that personal memoir was a much enjoyed and successful writing project, and we had decided to give participants the same kind of teaching and resources we had used with our pupils. We described techniques for the generation of an idea and how to find the ‘pebble moment’ (the one metaphorical pebble on the whole beach which would be the specific intense focus for the piece), talked about planning and drafting, and offered support in the form of conferencing as the teachers wrote. At the outset we expressed the hope that everyone would gain a little, both personally and professionally, from the writing experience. It has to be said that there was a little noticeable consternation at the prospect of putting something on the blank page, but most of the writers were happy to work in pairs talking over possible ideas and obviously gained confidence this way. During conferencing, one pair said rather plaintively that they both led very boring lives and so could think of no subject for writing. A little later, however, one of them had settled on a memory which she described as ‘banal’ – but had realised, as she said, that ‘banal is fine!’ In fact, her memoir of a first sleepover at a friend’s was one that reflected on the feelings of a child encountering for the first time an unfamiliar domestic routine, and learning that people do things differently –  an important life-lesson.

One teacher, Gemma (@MissBPrimary), wrote alone and intently for thirty minutes. She was persuaded at the end of the session to share her writing, and with her permission we include her piece here:

Four words.
Who knew that four words could prompt an existential crisis in a 7-year old? Who knew that a 7-year old could even have an existential crisis?
I do.
I did.
“You’re a gypsy Gemma”
Reflecting now, it is almost impossible not to draw parallels with a similar set of 4 words which have changed the lives and journeys of countless children around the world.
“You’re a wizard Harry.”
Just as those words prompted a journey into the magical unknown for Harry himself, and for the endless army of children whose lives have been transformed by the words of J.K.Rowling; mine was transformed, reshaped and turned upside down by those very similar set of words, spoken by my dad.
If he had been able to read, one could be forgiven for believing that he had been inspired by Rowling’s words too, but in this instance, it appears only to be a happy accident.
From the moment I walked into a classroom for the first time, I knew that things in my life were about to change. Brought up outside with no walls to confine me, this room, full of garlands and banners and words and numbers and people and furniture was far from what I was used to and the apple tree painted clumsily on the wall looked very different from the ones in the orchard where I had spent my summer. Those trees had been covered in hundreds of leaves, each one a slightly different shade of green and all of them hiding what seemed like hundreds of apples that would thud down onto the rooves of the caravans below if only you shook the branches hard enough. This tree was too straight, the apples too round and the leaves one big cloud-like mass of a single tone of green. But that is not to say that I did not like that classroom. I did.
In fact, I loved it: the things to discover, the stories to hear and the children to play with, children who spoke a language which sounded strange to me – somehow familiar yet somehow so different to the words I heard at home. I could not wait to enter that room each morning and keep on discovering this strange, new world of walls and windows and words and colours.
Friends. I had friends. Friends from outside of the orchard walls and from beyond the country lane on which we were staying. As time wore on, their cadence felt less strange and their language less foreign. I began to share their ideas, understand their questions and use their words.
“Rain” was my favourite word. I would mumble it under my breath over and over again as I watched water droplets race down the caravan windows. I loved the way it sounded in my mouth, its shortness and the way it ended with an ‘n’ sound, not an ‘ee’ sound like the word I had always used to describe the water which fell from the sky – ‘parni.’
“Ark at that parni, God’s a drumming,” my grandmother would remark as she stoked the fire, whilst in my head, I was repeating the new ditty I had learnt at school. ‘Rain, rain, go away, come again another day…’ silent to the world outside and almost feeling mischievous for using a word that was not our own. But ‘rain’ sounded more definite, more final, like the water itself as it dropped from the bottom of the window and was swallowed by the earth below.
I loved their words; strange and dissonant sounding and much less lilting than the cadence I was used to.
It wasn’t long before I learnt another one.
“Gypsy.”
I didn’t quite know what it meant but it knew it was a bad thing to be. If someone took your crayon you called them a gypsy. If they pushed in front in the line. If they were mean or if you really wanted them to know you did not like them, then this was the word to use. I certainly did not want to be one. It meant you were horrible, dirty and mean; someone to keep away from. I never really had any enemies in class but I stored up the word in my arsenal just in case I ever did.
“Defend yourself if you need t’,” my Dad had always said, “don’t let no one mess ya round.”
So, when my older brother, only a few weeks later, gave me much more than a light nudge that ended with me face down in the mud, my dungarees torn and my knee cut open by a stone, I had the perfect insult up my, now ringing wet, sleeve.
“You stupid gypsy,” I sneered, “what’cha do that for?”
At that very second, my dad, who had been bent over the open bonnet of his latest project, stood up straight and looked me straight in the eye, with a strange look I had never seen from him before; somewhere between shock, confusion and disgust. It was during the following conversation, with him lent on the bonnet of the car and me sat on the steps to our caravan, in which he uttered those four words which would change my life and make me question everything. Maybe I was not like the other children in my class after all. Maybe I would never be like them. I was the thing they were so afraid of, so hateful towards, so cruel about and I never even knew. Did they know? What if they found out?
I was a gypsy.
But I still had no clue what that really meant.
It does seems important to note here, that whilst working that out would completely change my life and the way I view the world, it never did lead me to Hogwarts…

 

This memoir hardly needs any comment. It speaks for itself as a very accomplished piece of writing in which the feelings still seem raw. The audience was silent after the reading, then there was spontaneous applause. Gemma said she didn’t write regularly, but that she would like to and probably would from now on. She wrote to us a few weeks later to say that she had posted her piece on Twitter and had a great response. She also mentioned that her class had started to write memoir and told us about one boy in particular:

‘He came to me at the start of last academic year (start of Y3) as aY1 emerging reader and working towards Early Learning goals in writing. Now he is a fluent reader and writer, secure Y4. He just flew – not even sure what made the change so dramatic.  He chose to write about the time he felt the happiest, which was when he stood in front of the class last Nov.and read ‘In Flanders Fields’ perfectly. None of his friends knew he could now read as we had been working together before school every day and he was too nervous to read aloud. It was the most amazing piece of writing! One of the others has written about a particularly great meal at Wetherspoons, which I also love! The things that matter!’

 

And that’s the point. It’s the things that matter, whatever they may be, that fuel the writing and not just for memoir either but for all kinds of texts…  

A Writing For Pleasure Manifesto

A Writing For Pleasure Manifesto

This weekend we were fortunate enough to attend and talk at The Oxford Writing Spree. It was a meeting of teachers, writers and writer-teachers who are passionate about the potential for a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy.

There was a fantastic range of people who spoke on this subject. These included, amongst others:

  • Nikki Gamble @nikkigamble
  • Teresa Cremin @TeresaCremin
  • Liz Chamberlin @liz_loch
  • CLPE (Louise Johns-Shepherd & Charlotte Hacking) @clpe1 @Loujs @charliehacking
  • Claire Williams @_borntosparkle
  • Martin Galway @GalwayMr
  • Tim Roach @MrTRoach
  • Ed Finch @MrEFinch
  • Avron (Alicia Stubberfield) @arvonfoundation
  • Adam Guillain @aguillain
  • Pie Corbett @PieCorbett

To take this meeting further, we have produced a Writing For Pleasure manifesto. We would like to invite the community to respond to it. To stretch, expand, critique, question and champion the different aspects that have been included. This is so we can start conversations and build on the consensus that was beginning to form at the Spree. 

  • If you’d like to give an informal response to the manifesto, please leave a comment below.
  • Alternatively, please tweet @WritingRocks_17 to begin conversations on Twitter.
  • Finally, if you’d like a formal response to the manifesto to appear on this post please email us at literacyforpleasure@gmail.com This can be in the form of a document or a link to a blog post. We will make this response available here.

Please find the manifesto available to download below:

DOWNLOAD HERE —-> A Writing For Pleasure Manifesto

Happy Writing!