They Won’t Have Anything To Write About: The Dangers Of Believing Pupils Are ‘Culturally Deprived’.

No teacher ever comes out and actually says it. They skirt around the issue. They bring up the ghost – the myth – of the so called ‘deprived child’. This is usually some stereotyped view of a ‘pupil-premium’ child’s life that has no basis in reality (Dyson, 2003, Grainger, 2013). We often hear things like: they only ever sit at home and play on the computer or they won’t be able to think of anything. The worst we have heard is that supposedly some children don’t have a single positive thing which they could write about because their lives are seen as so arid.

These are the sorts of excuses that some teachers give when rejecting the idea of allowing children (regardless of background or circumstance) to choose their own writing topics. There is the assumption that these pupils are impoverished, lazy or come from solely violent or disturbed homes (Dyson, 2003, Grainger, 2013). I often wonder how these teachers come to know these features of children’s home lives? According o research (Grainger et al 2003, 2005, Fisher, 2006), they actually don’t and in terms of writing they really don’t want to find out either. And, as a result, they believe that only they can and should decide what it good for children and what they should write about. These children don’t deserve a choice in the matter. After all, they are not like us – they are culturally deprived and need saving.

The reality is these children actually have the same basic vocabulary, possess the same capacity for conceptual learning and can use the same logic as anyone else who learns to write (Rosen, 1972). Research also suggests that even pre-schoolers have the ability to choose their own writing topics with ease (Dyson, 2003, Krees, 1997) and only lose it once it has been extinguished by the dominant writing pedagogies used in schools.

They won’t have anything to write about – This kind of suggestion is dangerous. Dangerous because it diverts those teachers away from exploring the real problems with their writing pedagogy and instead focuses them on the imagined defects of ‘culturally neglected’ children (Dyson, 2003, Grainger, 2013). What teachers really mean when they say things like ‘they won’t have anything to write about’ is – they won’t write about things I think are legitimate or relevant. They won’t write about things I can control or they won’t write about things I have a reference to. This of course will be true if you don’t show children how they can ‘mine’ their lives for interesting ideas for which they could write about.

‘Most of my classmates came from low-income families, and many grew up in broken homes, lived with relatives or in foster care. We defined ourselves as a class of writers. I relished our classroom culture and told anyone who would listen [about it].’ – Jacky

(Leung & Hicks, 2014)

The fact is teachers’ perceptions of legitimate writing are the dominant culture in classrooms and are often over-valued while children’s cultures are persistently and systematically undervalued (Grainger et al 2003). This is actually nothing more than the linguistic oppression of school children and, according to research (Cummins, 2011, Dockrell et al, 2015, Edelsky, 2006, Grainger et al 2003, 2005, Grainger 2013, Fisher, 2006, Flint & Fisher, 2014, Samway, 2006) it’s a far more wide-spread notion amongst teachers than we dare to think. You can see it in the way many teachers set up their classrooms.

Because of the nature of the National Curriculum, much, if not all, of the writing opportunities afforded to children are transmitted to them; placed upon them and they are simply subjected to it. It’s artificial writing. For example, the National Curriculum makes no mention of the fact that children should be taught and given opportunity to generate an original idea. This is a whole aspect of the writing process which is completely missing from the curriculum. It comes before even the planning stage of writing (which the curriculum does attend to).

The children are often happy because they know no different, and this enjoyment seems to validate the teacher’s choice of  choosing and controlling the artificial writing stimulus. The use of artificial writing such as: whole-class book topics, writing-exercises, replicating a piece of writing, and the use of pictures and films means that children are not given any say or control in learning how to create a sense of self or how to act out on the world through writing. Instead, they quickly learn the life lesson that writing is to be consumed or imitated at best. They will leave school mystified, intimidated and believing that writing is immutable – certainly by them. Due to this linguistic oppression, children are being brought up to live in a ‘culture of silence’. As teachers, we need to accept and embrace that children acquire all different kinds of cultural identity and have different responses to it (Dyson, 2003, Grainger, 2013). They should be given the opportunity to find the relevance and power in understanding themselves, others and the world in their writing. We discuss this in more detail in this article.

You either learn your way towards writing your own script in life, or you unwittingly become an actor in someone else’s script. – John Taylor Gatto

We don’t believe children are lacking in anything (Rosen, 1972). It is our belief that children should first be taught how to identify their writing urges, passions and interests and then place them successfully into the dominant genres of our day. A significant factor in school genre teaching is that they emphasize a power relationship
between the teacher and the writer, with the teacher:

  • Knowing the conventions of the genre,
  • Often acting as the determiner of the title and content,
  • Being the arbiter of the finished piece of writing.

We believe in making available the conventions of a genre and providing substantial time for children to engage and practice these genre through the use of our use of Genre-Booklets.

By providing the children with the Genre tools, teaching them how they can use their cultural reference points and by giving them extended and regular periods in which to practise the writing of them means that children whose home background hasn’t socioculturally prepared them for production of these written genres are not at a disadvantaged (Myhill, 2005).

It’s about teaching children how they can take their values and their cultural reference points and use them in the typical genres used by society to create changes for themselves and others – for now and for their futures.

Through our Real-Word Literacy approach, it has been amazing to watch children go from writing which is almost zero in terms of social and personal significance to children writing on their own chosen topic and seeing them all of a sudden become highly articulate and motivated to write.

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

Research References

    • Ball, S., (2013) Foucault, Power & Education London: Routledge
    • Bearne, E., Marsh, J., (2007) Literacy & Social Inclusion London: Trentham Books
    • Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity, London, Taylor and Francis.
    • Canagarajah, S. (2004) ‘Subversive identities, pedagogical safe houses and critical learning’ in Norton, B. and Toohey, K. (eds) Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
    • Cummins, J. (2011). Identity matters: From evidence-free to evidence-based policies for promoting achievement among students from marginalized social groups.In Writing & Pedagogy 3(2): 189–216. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/wap. v3i2.189.
    • Cremin, T., (2011) Writing Voices: Creating Communities Of Writers London: Routledge
    • Dockrell, J., Marshell, C., Wyse, D., (2015) Teacher’reported practices for teaching writing in England In Read Write 29:409-434
    • Dyson, A., (2003) Popular Literacies and the ‘all’ children: rethinking literacy development for contemport childhoods Language Arts 81:100-9
    • Edelsky, C. (2006) With Literacy and Justice for All: Rethinking the Social in
      Language and Education (3rd edition). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence
      Erlbaum.
    • Fisher, T., (2006) Whose writing is it anyway? Issues of control in the teaching of writing. Cambridge Journal Of Education 36(2):193-206
    • Flint, A. S., Fisher, T., (2014) Writing Their Worlds: Young English Language Learners Navigate Writing Workshop In Writing & Pedagogy 1756-5839
    • Feiler, L., et al (2007) Improving Primary Literacy: Linking Home & School London: Routledge
    • 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.
    • Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. & Amanti, C. (eds) (2005) Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classroom, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
    • Graham, L., Johnson, A., (2012) Children’s Writing Journals London: UKLA
    • Graham, S., Berninger, V., & Fan, W. (2007). The structural relationship between writing attitude and writing achievement in first and third grade students In Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32(3), 516-536
    • Gregory, E., Arju, T., Jessel, J., Kenner, C. and Ruby, M. (2007) ‘Snow White in different guises: interlingual and intercultural exchanges between grandparents and young children at home in East London’, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, vol. 7, no. 5, pp. 5–25.
    • Grainger, T., Goouch, K., Lambirth, A., (2003) Playing the game called writing: children’s views and voices. English in Education, 37(2):4-15
    • Grainger, T., Goouch, K., Lambirth, A., (2005) Creativity and Writing: developing voice and verse in the classroom London: Routledge.
    • Guerra, J. C. (2008). Cultivating transcultural citizenship: A writing across communities model In Language Arts, 85(4), 296–304.
    • Gutiérrez, K. (2008) ‘Developing a sociocritical literacy in the Third Space’, Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 148–64.
    • Kress, G., (1997) Before Writing: Rethinking the Paths to Literacy London: Routledge
    • Labov, W., (1971) Variation in language in The learning of language Appleton-Century-Crofts
    • Labov, W., (1972) The logic of nonstandard english in Language and social context Penguin
    • Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
    • Leung, C., Hicks, J., (2014) Writer Identity and Writing Workshop A Future Teacher and Teacher Educator Critically Reflect In Writing & Pedagogy Vol. 6 583-605
    • Maybin. J. (2006) Children’s Voices: Talk, Knowledge & Identity London: Palgrave
    • Morpurgo, M., (2016) Such Stuff: A Story-Makers Inspiration London: Walker
    • Myhill, D., (2005) Testing times: the impact of prior knowledge on written genres produced in examination settings In Assessment in Education
      Vol. 12, No. 3, November 2005, pp. 289–300
    • Rosen, H., (1972) Language & Class: A Critical Look At The Theories Of Basil Bernstein London: Falling Wall Press
    • Rosen, M., (2016) What is poetry? The essential guide to reading and writing poetry. London: Walker Books
    • Smith, Clint. (2016) The danger of silence Available Online: [http://www.ted.com/talks/clint_smith_the_danger_of_silence#t-242155]

Children Writing Memoir : A Great Literacy Topic.

As you may have read here, this half term we focused on the teaching of memoir.

In our first week we discussed the genre using our genre-booklets and this created a buzz for the rest of the project. Focusing on the genre and why people write memoir allowed the generating of ideas to happen fairly quickly.

We used around three techniques for generating memoir ideas. These included:

  1. Questions for memoirists – Children answer questions to jog their memories for potential memoir ideas (see our article about memoir writing).
  2. Using the ‘Michael Rosen’ effect. This is where children can take an otherwise ordinary moment and make it extraordinary. This can be an alternative to memoir writing for children who would much rather not write about anything overly heartfelt or emotive – which we can occasionally come across.
  3. Creating an Ideas Heart and allow children to add to it throughout the year.This includes: What makes me happy, angry, scared or upsetlists.

The children are well aware of these techniques which published authors often use to generate original writing ideas.

Here are some of the topics the children chose to write about:

  • Meeting a new pet for the first time,
  • Moments from holidays,
  • The birth of siblings,
  • Learning to do something new for the first time,
  • The death of a loved one – including pets,
  • Family separations,
  • Meeting distant relatives for the first time,
  • Special times spent with family,
  • Meeting a hero,
  • Taking part in sporting competitions,
  • Injuries!

Because we asked children to focus on just a small moment in time – what we call a ‘pebble moment’ (taken from Nancie Atwell’s book In The Middle) the drafting of these pieces came very quickly for the children. We suspect that this was also due to the fact that the children were writing on a topic in which they felt an expert. 

Our writing-study lessons were a real success. We focused on how the children can use narrative devices to improve their memoirs. During the revision stage, we again used the genre-booklets and the children looked for opportunities to explore in more detail the following:

  • Strong openings,
  • Setting description,
  • Character development,
  • Poetic and figurative language to describe,
  • Interesting endings which carry a message for the reader.

Again, we believe the children were able to take on this kind of linguistic burden due to the fact they were writing about a topic they were sure of. They could see where, when and how to use these devices in their pieces to good effect.

Our functional-grammar study was based on the use of time-openers and paragraphing as a means to move time forward and expanded-noun phrases to provide additional details for the reader.

Below, we are pleased to share a variety of different memoirs from across the year group. These were produce by children in year 5 (9-10 years old).

If you have liked what you have read here and would like to read more about our approach to writing which we call ‘Real-Word Literacy’, you can follow the link here. If you’d like to view our Genre-Booklets, you can follow this link.

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

As always, thank you for reading and we hope you enjoy the memoirs:

***

Long Time, No See

As I sat in my car, I leant my head back and closed my eyes as tight as I could. I let my mixed feelings wash over me. Scared, excited, shy but most of all happiness. All these feelings pointed to my half-brother Edward, who I was going to see today for the first time in three years.

The car halted so fast my stomach almost flew out of my mouth. I was shocked out of my thoughts and back to real life.

I was tingling all over when I stepped out of the car. From one look up I noticed the day had turned around – just like my feelings. The day had changed from dark and gloomy with clouds of worry fogging up my mind to bright, blue skies with and hint of sunshine. But still (even with a hopeful feeling in my heart) a small cloud was just not shifting from mind. I jumped down into the mud. My shoes splatted but I was only concentrating on keeping my head down for as long as I could (without being noticed). My cheeks felt like they were at melting point and my legs were shaking like jelly.

When I couldn’t keep my head down any longer, I slowly but surely tilted it up. My younger brother (Joe) had rushed up to Edward and was confidently babbling away and squeezing him to death.  I could not quite hear what he was saying but I was sure that I would not be able to speak to Edward that easily. Joe has always been care-free and confident like that.

Edward was taller than I had ever imagined and he cast a long shadow over the front garden. He had a small but noticeable beard and a sleeve of tattoos down one arm.

He lifted his gaze over Joe and caught my eye. I wanted to rush back into the car and hide there forever but there was something drawing me towards him. Joe finally let go and went to talk to my dad – who was standing in the doorway behind Edward.

Suddenly, I did something very unexpected. I rushed up to Edward and squeezed him till I was sure he would burst. I felt comfortable in his arms like all I had had to do was hug him and it was possible everything would have been ok. I looked into his eyes and smiled “Hello Edward,” I said shyly. He stared straight back into mine and grinned till his face almost split. “Hello Emma,” he replied. I released him and grabbed his hand, dragging him inside for many more adventures together.

I’ve learnt that you have to grab the moments while they last and make the most of them. I hope you do too.

 By Emma London (9-Years Old)

***

The Day My Life Changed!

I have been waiting for months for this to come.

My baby brothers were finally born. When I woke up, I was at my nan’s house. I asked my granddad why I was here? At 7oclock in the morning, my nan got home to pick me and my sister up, to get us to the hospital. I was thrilled and rushed out of the house. I was the first to get in the car. I was buzzing with excitement!

When we got there, I unplugged my seatbelt,   got out of the car and ZOOMED through the hospital doors. My nan shouted “Calm down!”

I shouted back at her “I can’t! I feel like I’m going to EXPLODE!” – even though I couldn’t.  After that, we got into the lift and went to floor 4 where my mum was. I heard babies crying; nurses and doctors talking loudly. My mum looked so tied. I hugged her like no one else could. My dad asked us if we wanted to go and see our new baby  brothers. They were in separate rooms because my brother Leo was born dead but 7 minutes later he started to breathe again. He was the same size as my shoulder to my elbow. He had a little bit of golden hair as if it was popcorn .He had long eye lashes like spider legs. I couldn’t really see that much of him because he had tubes and face masks on him everywhere. Next, we went to see Lee Junior. He was a bit bigger than Leo. He had soft silky skin and bright blue eyes that sparkled when I glared at him. I leant over and smelt him because I love that baby type of smell. They both were so adorable and very precious.  I  really wanted to hold them but we weren’t allowed. I carefully stroked their tiny little faces. I wanted to take them home today but they were born a month early and were really poorly.

You see, this is a story of how  Lee Junior was a hero .When they were in my mum’s tummy, Leo’s cord was in a tight knot and stopped him breathing. However, Lee Junior, incredibly saw what was happening  and broke my mum’s water and now Leo and Lee Junior are in safe hands with the doctors and the nurses. Two weeks later, I went to Matilda’s house and when I came home, there they were, laying there asleep, on the sofa!

And now we are a proper family.

By Tina Westley (9 years old)

***

Superglue

I was desperately sitting in front of the incubator watching the duck eggs. Although I knew they weren’t ready to hatch, I still sat there waiting.

One afternoon, when I came back from school, my dad told me one of the duck eggs had started hatching. I was so excited until… I found out it was about two or three weeks early.  My parents had to superglue it together. We all thought it wouldn’t hatch but we were wrong. We all knew that if it hatched the duck lurking inside would be called superglue.

Soon, the ducks started poking their tiny, orange beaks out of their little turquoise house. First to hatch was an adorable little male duck, who we called Gamima (at the time we thought he was a female). The second one to hatch was small compared to Gamima. We called her Daffy. Over the course of the next few days, the other eggs started to hatch – all of them except Superglue.

Finally, his egg started to form a lightning bolt across the top and a small beak pecked its way through the shell. As soon as I laid my eyes on him I knew he was my favourite. In some way he was the most special. He was a small pile of adorable, yellow fluff and I loved him dearly.

Soon, I and the rest of my family were allowed to hold the ducks. It was the most amazing experience I had ever had. They had the beautiful shape and were too soft to describe! They closed their eyes when you stroked them and leant their head to my body. As I stroked their head, I felt their soft skull beneath their warm feathery skin. They were so light they could fall over if a light breeze hit them. Their tiny webbed feet griped to my relaxed fingers.

That weekend it was time for the ducks to have their first adventure outside. It was a beautiful, hot summer’s day and the blazing sun shone over our garden. Daisies had started sprouting from the grass and apples were hanging from our small apple tree. The ducks were all so happy. After an hour outside, it was time for the ducks to go back into the house. My dad scooped up six of the ducks and took them inside. The only one left was superglue who was wandering around in the garden. Me, my mum and my brother were watching him. The minute we turned our backs away, there was the sound of a faint quacking and a fox running. A fox had superglue in his mouth. When my dad tried to catch the fox, it ran out of the garden and disappeared.

Superglue was gone forever.

 By Emma Goodheart (10 years old)

***

The Best Match Ever!

This was it. Me and my dad were walking up Wembley Way, to see the FA Cup Final. Man United vs Crystal Palace.

I could smell pork being cooked in the back of a van. It was about 3:00 PM and the sun was shining bright over the unmistakable arch of Wembley Stadium. Me and my dad always like to make score predictions before matches we see. My dad thought 3-0 Crystal Palace and I thought 1-0 United. People were chanting their team’s songs and were drinking a lot of beer. I could see a few people fighting which was not very good. But we’d finally got passed security and were now walking up the steps.

Me and my Dad support United so we were both buzzing with excitement. When we got to the final step, we could see the green pitch popping out at us. We walked to our seats and sat down. I was ready.

After 70 minutes of very boring football, Crystal Palace scored. The other side of the stadium roared with excitement. It was as if the flood lights were shining on the Crystal Palace fans and players. On our side it was as quiet as a pin dropping on a big, fluffy rug. “Oh no,” I quietly said to my dad (who had his head in his hands).

It was now the 80th minute and the United fans were losing hope. Just as people started to leave, United scored! All of us screamed with joy and jumped into the air. “Cooomme onnn!” shouted my Dad (who didn’t have his head in his hands anymore). My head was filled with thoughts such as: we’ve brought it back and can we win the cup?

Ten minutes later, the ref blew the final whistle and the score was 1-1. Every single person in Wembley knew that there was another 30 minutes for a winning goal. I was extremely excited and extremely scared because I knew that the next half hour would decide whether today was the best day of my life – or the worst…

It was now the 20th minute of extra time and there were still no more goals but United were on an attack! Wayne Rooney was running down the left wing with the whole United team in the penalty area. Rooney got to the bi-line and crossed the ball into the area, the ball spun in the air and immediately bounced off Delany’s knee. The attack had stopped. Or had it? The ball was flying in the air and fell to Jesse Lingard. He took an ambitious first-time volley. The ball, which was going as fast as a falcon swooping down at its prey, went right into the top left-hand corner of the net! It was the winning goal!

Me and my Dad jumped up in the air and were hugging each other. Even a man, who was in the stand above, was hugging us both!

That is why the 21st of May 2016 was the best day of my life and the best football match I’ve ever been to.

By Freddie Levine (10 years old)

***

The Day I Met My Hero

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meet your hero?

Dad, who was a great rugby player, knew they were in town. My hero in Hastings. For that reason, we went on a hunt, a hunt for Owen Farrell, who was my idol, and the whole England Rugby Team. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my brother’s eye, he saw an England Rugby Tracksuit. In desperation he shouted “They are over there!”

“This would change my life forever” I thought as we walked up the stone steps to the Jurys Inn. I tentatively crept up the stone steps and pushed open the great glass doors.

The Jurys Inn was packed with huge windows and was amongst the seafront. The windows opened up to the wavy, blue sea. The sun was shining in the sky like a shooting star flying in the night sky. The inside was huge with a bar the size of a Porsche, and had multiple rooms around it. There were stairs either side of us and there was lots of bustling people around gossiping. I was shy to the touch. My heart was beating like a buzzard’s wing

I kept looking backwards and forwards waiting. For the special arrival. But would he ever come? I thought. My stomach turning inside me like a washing machine.

Then, out of nowhere, a 6’3 man came in. His hair elevated in the air like a plane trying to thread through clouds. Owen Farrell was wearing an England tracksuit and was with George Ford (another professional rugby player).

“It’s OWEN FARRELL!” I exclaimed to my dad. Before I realised, I was asking him for a picture and signature with my brother. As my Dad took the picture, I thought “I’m not seeing him through tiny pixels.” That moment was precious to me.
Finally, to top the day off, I got him and only him, to sign my new England rugby shirt. Not wanting to go, my Mum and Dad forced me to leave. We went into Donatello’s for dinner that night and well, I was defiantly not taking my jumper off…

By Tom Stock (9 years old)

***

Sprinkles On The Moon

Have you ever wondered how ice-cream tastes at midnight?

Well, one warm night in the summer holidays, me and my family went out for a walk until my dad had an idea that changed the whole day!

There we were at Jojo’s. One step blew our minds. There was a variety of different flavours spread across the room, my mum looking at the melon flavour, me and my brother Luis scanning the room for unusual flavours like Kinder Bueno, water melon and even peanut butter! Finally, we all chose our flavours. I chose strawberry, Luis lemon sorbet, my cousin Kleo Kinder Bueno, my mum finally chose melon and my dad vanilla.

We all stepped out still amazed, and we made our way down to the seafront. On the way there, Kleo randomly said in Albanian. “Do you know why I chose Kinder Bueno?”

“Why?” My dad replied.

“Because in Italy, all the ice-cream shops do it.” He finished. When we got there, my dad went down to the sea and shouted. “The sea has at least risen by a metre!” Me and Luis sharply looked at the sea and we saw that it was slowly overlapping itself like dark baby horses in a race for victory. We both raised our eyebrows amazed. We were staring at the stars –it was like the moon was a spotlight shining down at us-tongues against ice-cream like iron to a magnet. Drunk men frequently shouting at nearby pubs, the cool, relaxing breeze gently touching our faces. Ice-creams’ melting and growing by the minute and frozen flakes refreshing our bodies. All this until my mum suggested that it was getting late and we should start walking to the car that was parked more than a mile from where we were.

Our dad told us that we had to get going until I asked, “Can we get seconds?”…

By Agim Sinani (9 years old)

***

Lost Cat

“Harry has died,” Mum said to me in a mournful voice in the morning. But who is Harry and how had he died? Let’s go back to the night it happened.

It was a cold evening, the moon was bright and cars bustled past each other in a mess of grimy bonnets and gleaming headlights. It seemed a perfectly normal evening and houses squatted low on the street.

I was playing in my room having an enjoyable time when someone shouted “Something is wrong with Harry,” (Harry was our cat and seventeen by now. With fluffy paws and a warm coat, our family loved him). I went downstairs to see what was up.

Fred. who was my brother, knelt by Harry who was tottering around as if blind. “What’s wrong?” I asked with curiosity. “Harry doesn’t seem to notice me,” said my brother “Harry, Harry”.

Mum and Dad came down -worried looks on their faces. “He has gone blind,” said Dad and my heart ached as if someone were squeezing its juices out. “It might be diabetes,” said Mum (that sounded bad). “Try feeding him,” suggested someone.

Immediately, Harry turned up his nose at the food placed in front of him. He let out a mournful meow. He needed the vets. Terrified, Harry got into his basket. Dad hauled him into the car. Tears rolled down my cheeks. I stroked Harry one last time. Dad stamped on the pedal and I watched the car pull out into the road and speed into the night. That was my last glimpse of Harry.

In the morning, there was silence. The trees stood high, leaves on their branches. The sun seemed dim as if a life had been lost. I dragged myself downstairs and we are now back at the beginning with mum delivering the terrible news.

Later that day, I saw Harry’s bed, wishing he was still in it. That was when my precious Harry was lost…

By George Newman (10 years old)

***

Saying Goodbye!

I slowly trudged out of my house. The house I would never again laugh in; never again cry in. The house I would never again eat in; never again sleep in. Mum heaved our suitcases out of the house and into the Grandpa`s van. My eyes started watering.

It was a rainy day, as there is always horrible weather in Manchester. We lived on a street with a dead end. Our house was on the right side at the end of the road next to the tall cobble wall. My cousins lived opposite us. I took once last glance at the house I loved, but would never see again.

I didn’t understand why this was happening (as I was only 3 and a half) but I knew what was happening, “Mum, why do we have to leave Dad?” I pleaded, hoping she would change her mind of leaving Dad and stay with him “Because we are.” Mum said sharply. I turned around, Dad was at the front door. I ran across the gravely path and into Dad`s arms.” Do you promise you will write to me?” I asked Dad. “Promise.” He replied

It felt as if my heart broke in two like a piece of paper being torn to shreds. I was trying to hold my sadness in, but it just came all over me. My sadness gushed out of me and I burst into tears. I squeezed Dad tight. Why does it have to be like this? I thought.

“Come on Aleena, get in the van” Mum called. I scooted over to her, and I clambered into the van. I shut the door. I looked out the window and I saw Dad waving. I could faintly hear his voice saying “Goodbye!”. As his voice died away, so did my hope. Would I ever see him again, I thought to myself.

By Aleena Koraishi (9 years old)

The Sea Of Writing Ideas: 10 Ways We Got Children Choosing Their Own Topics.

The Sea Of Writing Ideas

Writing ideas.

When you write, ideas crazily spill from your head, tumble down your arm, into your pen and out along the crisp, white page. To us, the only way to see ideas is scribbling them down – but ideas are more than just words on a page.They are colourful, squirming, squiggly things that slide and slip through the nooks and crannies of your brain. Some of them crash against the walls of your head in roaring waves. Others come more slowly – each droplet of water a letter. 

Once you gain control of the sea – the droplets make out your idea.

– Year 5 Child.

Research clearly shows that if children get to choose their topics, this strongly influences their enjoyment of writing and therefore the progress they make. Children may need initially to generate a whole raft of topics and ideas that they feel they could write about.

So, as part of our writing pedagogy Real-World Literacy, at the beginning of the year we have children filling in an ‘Ideas Heart’. It is also advantageous for a teacher to write down what topics children consider themselves to be an expert in. Get children to collect on paper the people, places, games, hobbies and interests they know well as well as the things they love and care about in their lives.

We believe in this concept because when children write about what they already know, they already have the information at their fingertips. This allows them to think about how to write it instead of having to concentrate on what it is they are being asked to write.

It is often the case that a teacher will use a book studied by the whole class as a stimulus for writing. We believe that such an approach can be restricting, especially if children are not motivated by the content of the book. In our view, surely, it is more logical that children be allowed to draw on their own reading of: picture books, novels and poetry from the class/school library or from home. Always bear in mind that:

what children write reflects the nature and quality of their reading,’ (CLPE, 2012) p.35.

You as teacher-writer should share your own Ideas Heart with the class. How you approach idea-generation should also be discussed during Writing Study sessions. This is discussed in a lot more detail in our Real-World Literacy document. To view this document, please go here.

We must stress at this point that we are in no way advocating the withdrawal of the teacher’s assistance when children are choosing a theme. There are many ways of supporting children to generate their own ideas, in the form of:

  1. Creating an Ideas Heart and allow children to add to it throughout the year.
  2. Asking themselves ‘What if..?’ questions
    • Roald Dahl famously came up with the idea for Charlie And The Chocolate Factory by simply writing this what if… question ‘What if a crazy man ran a chocolate factory?
  3. Generating ‘When I was little…’ or Imagine a day when…’ statements
  4. What makes me happy, angry, scared or upsetlists
  5. Donald Murray said ‘problems make good subjects.’ What itch needs scratching list – a list of issues that need solving, correcting, explaining or exploring. Topics that make you curious, furious or confused.
  6. Questions for memoirists – Children answer questions to jog their memories for potential memoir ideas (see our article about memoir writing).
  7. Using the ‘Michael Rosen’ effect. This is where children can take an otherwise ordinary moment and make it extraordinary. This can be an alternative to memoir writing for children who would much rather not write about anything overly heartfelt or emotive – which we can occasionally come across.
  8. Create a ‘Where Poetry Hides’ list. This is where children run around their house looking for objects they could write about. (see our Poetry genre-booklet).
  9. Deciding to use ideas from the books they have chosen and read. To aid them we teach them to note the theme, setting and characters from two different books they have enjoyed, and look to create something new from that.
    • Writing fan fiction using something from the book they are reading/have read.
    • Writing inspired by poems – taking a poem they like from the class-book-stock and using it to write their own poem.
  10. Deciding for themselves to use the topics from our foundation subjects in any way they wish including creating genre-hybrids.

Use of these strategies facilitates children’s choice of writing topic. No longer do you have to fear that some children will have nothing to write about.

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If you like the sound of this type of teaching, you can read our document Real-World Literacy by click here. 

For research conducted on the theme of ‘topic choice’, please see the references below:

    • Bearne, E., Marsh, J., (2007) Literacy & Social Inclusion London: Trentham Books
    • Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity, London, Taylor and Francis.
    • Canagarajah, S. (2004) ‘Subversive identities, pedagogical safe houses and critical learning’ in Norton, B. and Toohey, K. (eds) Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
    • Cremin, T., (2011) Writing Voices: Creating Communities Of Writers London: Routledge
    • Feiler, L., et al (2007) Improving Primary Literacy: Linking Home & School London: Routledge
    • 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.
    • Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. & Amanti, C. (eds) (2005) Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classroom, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
    • Graham, L., Johnson, A., (2012) Children’s Writing Journals London: UKLA
    • Graham, S., Berninger, V., & Fan, W. (2007). The structural relationship between writing attitude and writing achievement in first and third grade students In Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32(3), 516-536
    • Gregory, E., Arju, T., Jessel, J., Kenner, C. and Ruby, M. (2007) ‘Snow White in different guises: interlingual and intercultural exchanges between grandparents and young children at home in East London’, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, vol. 7, no. 5, pp. 5–25.
    • Guerra, J. C. (2008). Cultivating transcultural citizenship: A writing across communities model In Language Arts, 85(4), 296–304.
    • Gutiérrez, K. (2008) ‘Developing a sociocritical literacy in the Third Space’, Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 148–64.
    • Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
    • Maybin. J. (2006) Children’s Voices: Talk, Knowledge & Identity London: Palgrave
    • Morpurgo, M., (2016) Such Stuff: A Story-Makers Inspiration London: Walker
    • Rosen, M., (2016) What is poetry? The essential guide to reading and writing poetry. London: Walker Books
    • Smith, Clint. (2016) The danger of silence Available Online: [http://www.ted.com/talks/clint_smith_the_danger_of_silence#t-242155]