When planning for this blog, I wrote down the following bullet points:
- Do and should teachers write and share their own exemplars of texts they expect children to go on and write?
- Do teachers take part in the writing process when they write; if so, do they share their process with their children? For example do they show children pages from their notebook? Their plans, their drafts, their revisions, their edits and their final publications?
- Do teachers share hints and tips from their own writing process with children?
‘The main requirements are easily stated. We, as teachers, must provide an environment in which a child will want to write and in which a child can learn about writing. The environment in which a child will want to write is an environment of demonstrations, not just of ‘this is the way we do things’ but also ‘there are things that can be done.’ (Frank Smith, 1982, p.201)
I think it is important that teachers try to write in certain genres for themselves; particularly the ones they are asking children to write in. Children – like adults – read stories, poems, information differently when they see these texts as things they themselves could produce. This not only helps the teacher understand the writing they are asking the children to do (and so provide them with real advice) but it also helps children view their teacher as a real author, with real experience. So:
- Show children finished writing in the genre you are asking them to write in.
- Sometimes also share your plans and drafts.
- Share with them how you followed the typical features in a genre or indeed deliberately went against it or played with it.
- Show them some of your writing tricks.
- Share with children some texts that aren’t quite working out for you – seek their advice.
- Regularly and systematically provide opportunity for children to talk to you about their writing in pupil-conferencing. Talk about their writing in real-time as opposed to leaving it to ‘after-the-event’ written feedback – which often comes too late for children to act on the advice given.
- When giving writing conferences to children – talk to them and advise them like a real writer – because you will have been there yourself when you wrote your piece.
For children to see themselves as writers, they need to collaborate with someone who is more experienced than them to learn from.
Children tend not to write well if they are not interested or see themselves as writers. That is why it is our responsibility, as teachers, to demonstrate to children that writing is interesting, possible, achieves something and is worthwhile. There is no way of helping children if the teacher themselves is a fraud – who doesn’t believe writing is interesting, possible, achieves something or worthwhile.
As Frank Smith (1988) puts it: ‘Teachers who are not themselves members of the club cannot admit children to it’.
Teachers must read like writers, they must collaborate with their children who are willingly engaged in the enterprise of writing. For most teachers this should be easy – write with their own students and offer them writing conferences whilst they are writing. Share your own expertise. When I write poetry with children, I begin to read poetry differently. I’m reading like a member of the club of poets. And if we can make children feel like they are members of the club too, they can learn this too.