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

I had thought writing was just something that we all had to do in school and a few special people loved doing. How amazing to learn that everyone seems to harbour the wish [to write]. Of course most people have had bad experiences writing. – Peter Elbow (1998)

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.

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

 

 

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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 or indeed reading? 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 is a given culture 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/reading is a product handed over by the teacher for copying.
  • 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/reading can and will relate to their own life and experiences are largely underdeveloped.
  • It therefore neglects the most fundamental aim of writing/reading 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 to be the three dominant writing approaches used within the USA.

  1. Presentational

The presentational approach to writing is concerned with teachers imparting content knowledge prior to writing. Topics are assigned by the teacher and the teaching strategies employed are largely based on the setting of tasks and on 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

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. A Guide To Reading With Children
  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. Teaching Writing: Research Summaries With Easy Access
  7. What If Almost Everything We Thought About The Teaching Of Writing Was Wrong?
  8. What Can Cause Poor Writing Outcomes? The Writing Is Primary Research Findings
  9. Meeting Children Where They Are: Using Pupil Conferencing
  10. A Functional Grammar Table: CPD Subject Knowledge With A Difference
  11. Why The Over Use Of Writing Stimuli & Book Planning Could Be Damaging Children’s Writing Potential.
  12. How We Created Self-Regulating Writers & The Improvements We Have Seen
  13. The Sea Of Writing Ideas: 10 Ways We Got Children Choosing Their Own Topics.
  14. If In Doubt, Circle It Out! How To Create A Class Of Independent Spellers
  15. Teaching The Writing Process Is The Best Way To Improve Children’s Writing
  16. Murray Gadd: What Is Critical In The Effective Teaching Of Writing?
  17. What The Research Says: The 13 Most Effective Ways To Improve Children’s Writing
  18. They Won’t Have Anything To Write About: The Dangers Of Believing Pupils Are ‘Culturally Deprived’
  19. Talk-For-Writing Is Excellent But Does It Go Far Enough?
  20. The 29 Rights Of The Child Writer
  21. Is The Trick In The Publishing? Reflecting On Why The Children Are Writing With Such Care & Attention
  22. What The EEF’s ‘Improving Literacy in Key Stage Two’ Report Tells Us About Teaching Writing Effectively.
  23. Time For Reflection: The Major Approaches To Teaching Writing And Their Limitations
  24. 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?

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.

I think teachers learn to be more useful when it is clearer that they are not [always] necessary – Peter Elbow (1998)

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 and find signs from our own lives – either real or imagined. This is exactly what our favourite books and authors draw on and what we, as the reader, may bring to the text too. Perhaps, what we as teachers 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, flash-fictions, poetry or other ‘faction’ and non-fiction texts. This is opposed to the use of a single book on which all children must hang their writing.

We have taught the children to consider the following when reading:

  • Ask: does this book remind me of anything from my life?
  • Ask: does this book remind me of anything else I’ve seen or read?
  • Ask: what do I have in common with this book?
  • Ask: why did I pick up this book?
  • Collect: plot ideas, characters, favourite lines and put them in their personal writing project books.

Because writing is a social act we model how to do it as a class with the ultimate aim being that children begin to do it individually too.

leon

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 text 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 children 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) If we teach in this way, it could become 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. Therefore, it is likely that this should be avoided passionately in schools. It is literature, not literary 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; how it is dangerous to believe children are too ‘culturally deprived’ to choose an appropriate book topic of their own here  and the importance of providing authentic writing projects in class 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.

It might be worth reflecting on the idea that: when we are planning a novel study unit are we not taking that pleasure away from the children in our class? Not only that, are we also taking the intellectual challenge away from them too? When we as teachers mine our favourite texts for potential sources for writing instruction, we get excited about sharing these teaching points with the children. We also learn a great deal about the book. And if we plan on writing ourselves as teachers, we may also learn a great deal about writing too. Therefore should we be teaching children the strategies we are employing when we plan novel study so they can undertake such strategies on their own texts? Can children be afforded opportunity to feel and learn the things we do when we study texts for writing opportunities?

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 and non-fiction.
  • Afforded children the opportunity to bring books in from home into the class library or bring books in from the local library to share.
  • 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, poetry, ‘faction’ or non-fiction 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.
‘When published authors give advice about becoming writers they invariably tell their audience to read as much as possible. Ofsted’s survey of 12 outstanding schools revealed that visits to libraries, plentiful reading aloud by teachers and the provision of good-quality up-to-date texts stimulated pupils to read more and inspired them with ideas for their own writing (Ofsted, 2011).

Children who read more, write more and write better. Since the 1980s, research evidence has shown that reading and being read to help children to develop models for writing: children who read particular genres, such as stories using metafictive devices, can be inspired to create something of their own in that genre, in which, for example, the narrator directly addresses the reader (Pantaleo, 2007b).

Stories they have read may also suggest events or predicaments for children to include in their own texts. Indeed for children as well as adults, all writing is intertextual.’  (Dombey/UKLA 2013, p.23)

Each new text written reflects, in some measure, the shadows of texts experienced in the past. (Cairney, 1990, p.484)

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

The increased attention placed on response to literature as the singular writing approach has led to the elimination of other forms of student writing and for no good reason. Glenn’s (2007) study argues that, when we allow students to write fiction unrelated to a particular text, their commitment to and resulting understanding of texts may be enhanced and might serve as an additional means to encourage student engagement and skill.

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 within a community of rich texts. As a result, they wrote with an eye on what they read; speaking about it and being in 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 the 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 characters, settings or special objects.

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 is most effective if you adopt an approach to reading that is 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 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 bouquet 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 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’ in the book ‘Love That 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 about the teaching of writing 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.

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 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
  • Book Trust, The (2015) The Write Book [Available Online: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/programmes/primary/the-write-book/] London: The Book Trust
  • Cremin, T., (2014) Building Communities Of Engaged Readers: Reading For Pleasure London: Routledge
  • Dixon, J., (1967) Growth In English Oxford University Press: London
  • 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
  • Galda, L., Cullinan, B., (2003). Literature for literacy: what research says about the benefits of using trade books in the classroom In J. Flood, D. Lapp, J. R. Squire, & J. M. Jensen (Eds.) Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (2nd ed., pp. 641–648). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.
  • Glenn, W., (2007) Real writers as aware readers: Writing creatively as a means to develop reading skills in Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 51(1) pp. 10-20
  • Pinnell, S., (1989) Success of at-risk children in a program that combines writing and reading In Reading and writing connections Boston: Allyn & Bacon

Writing Identify

    • 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.
    • Cremin, T., (2011) Writing Voices: Creating Communities Of Writers London: Routledge
    • 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.
    • Dockrell, J., Marshell, C., Wyse, D., (2015) Teacher’reported practices for teaching writing in England In Read Write 29:409-434
    • Edelsky, C. (2006) With Literacy and Justice for All: Rethinking the Social in Language and Education (3rd edition). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    • Feiler, L., et al (2007) Improving Primary Literacy: Linking Home & School London: Routledge
    • 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
    • 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.
    • Garrett, L., & Moltzen, R., (2011) Writing because I want to, not because I have to: Young gifted writers’ perspectives on the factors that “matter” in developing expertise In English Teaching: Practice and Critique Vol.10(1) p.165-180
    • 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
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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
    • 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
    • Morpurgo, M., (2016) Such Stuff: A Story-Makers Inspiration London: Walker
    • Myhill D., (2005) Writing Creatively In A. Wilson (ed), Creativity in Primary Education: 58-69 Exeter: Learning Matters.
    • 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]

Are You A ‘Teacher Writer’ Or A ‘Writer Teacher’ And Why Does It Matter?

Building A Community Of Writer-Teachers

As some of you may know, we have recently set up a @WritingRocks_17 twitter account. One of its aims is to build of a community of writer-teachers.

  • In our recent poll, only 37% of our readers considered themselves ‘writer teachers’.
  • Over 50% stated they were teachers that happen to teach writing.

The truth is though that actually all teachers are writers – we write often! Some might argue we write too often – about things that don’t really matter – but that’s another blogpost! Perhaps then, as Teresa Cremin (2017) points out, we need to move away from writing being seen as some kind of ‘quasi-romantic’ practice to actually one that many of us can and do excel at!

As studies indicate (Peel, 2000, Yeo, 2007) and Teresa’s article here shows, many teachers who are passionate about the teaching of English come to it through a passion for reading – not writing. This has a considerable impact on classroom practice with reading often profiled over writing.

Our @WritingRocks_17 community is looking to help raise writing up to the same level as reading. Incidentally, @ReadingRocks_17 does a great job of raising the profile of the reading-for-pleasure pedagogy.

Another poll we undertook on Twitter showed that teachers overwhelmingly wanted to become a more effective ‘writer-teachers’ and so this is where we will begin.

Let’s talk about the difference between a ‘writer-teacher’ and a ‘teacher-writer’ because the difference is a profound one.

What Is A ‘Writer-Teacher’?

As Frank Smith (1988) puts it, ‘Teachers who are not themselves members of the club cannot admit children to it’.

Writer-teachers write for and with the children in their class as well as for themselves. They do this for the children’s and for their own benefit. Research has shown, being a writer-teacher is a seriously powerful teaching tool.  If you, and we, can become a community of writer-teachers, our identities and understanding of the writing process will change for our young writers benefit.

Why So Important?

‘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 ‘these are things that can be done.’ (Frank Smith, 1988, p.201)

The most effective way of improving children’s writing outcomes is for them to have teachers who are able to teach about the writing process. Teachers who can give good, honest general advice about how to approach the different aspects of the writing process produce the best writers. Goouch et al (2009) and Cremin & Baker (2010) have also shown the young writers who have writer-teachers as their teachers are able to settle more quickly, remain focused for longer and are as similarly engaged in writing as their teacher. Research has also shown children who have writing-teachers are more motivate to write and heightened levels of intrinsic motivation have been found to characterise exceptional achievers in writing (Garrett & Moltzen, 2011).

It would be unheard of for a piano teacher, a ceramicist, or an artist working with water colours to teach someone their craft without practising it themselves. – Donald Graves

What Is A ‘Teacher-Writer’?

According to our recent poll, over 50% of teachers said they were ‘teacher-writers’. Teachers who happen to teach writing. When these teachers do write, it is often for school-work reasons (often the producing of examplar texts for work). These texts are often products for the system as they will inevitably include certain grammatical and linguistic features that the writer may not have wanted to include – had they been writing the piece for themselves – for pleasure.

(Cremin & Baker, 2010, p.20)

Writer-teachers do this too of course. They will write products for school-work but they also engage in the writing process just for themselves. For inter and intrapersonal reasons. These teachers are the ones who are able to better understand what their pupils are going through when they negotiate the difficult (but hugely rewarding) task that is writing. They can share this ‘writers-life’ advice with their children quickly and regularly. We know that it is this type of teaching of writing that is the most effective in terms of improving children’s writing outcomes too – see here.

Watch this video to meet the master ‘writer-teacher’ Donald Graves talking about his life as a writer-teacher:

What Does A Writer-Teacher Look Like?

To be an authentic model of the ‘writers-life’, teachers need to do much more than model the act of composition. Just as it is with the reading-for-pleasure pedagogy, you need to do much more than just read books yourself to show children how to become life-long readers. Teresa Cremin, in her book Writing Voice: Creating Communities Of Writers, states that writer-teachers are teachers who do the following things:

  • Authentically demonstrate their writing process and their writing products with their class and be open to sharing their strategies,
  • Are engaged readers; always looking to magpie: words, lines, sentences, characters, plots, settings, poetic moments from their reading for their own writing.
  • Are engaged in the world – looking for things to: describe, be critical of, explain, or to debate.
  • Work on class compositions,
  • Give genuine writing advice through Pupil-Conferencing whilst children write,
  • Write alongside the children in the class when they can,
  • Publish their own and children’s work into the class-library,
  • Write in their everyday lives. They try to live the ‘writer-life’,
  • They have their very own Writing Process which they can discuss and share with their pupils.

To live the writer-life, these teachers will often have writing notebooks at school and at home. In them they will scribble down potential writing moments. Over time, they will write down vocabulary or lines from books to use later. They will write inspired by poems, they will write memoirs about their childhood to share with their class – to entertain them or to make them reflect.

What Does My ‘Writer-Teacher’ Process Look Like?

I now have a fairly established writer-life. I tend to generate ideas when I’m out and about. I’ll notice something or have something happen to me that I know will be a good moment to expand on in a written piece. I’ve taught the children that these are what are called ‘pebble moments’.

Pebble moments are when you write about a single thing really well as opposed to writing about a ‘whole beach of ideas’. It’s really about writing specifically rather than generally about a topic. So instead of writing about swimming – write about the swim you took on Brighton beach on Christmas Day. It’s about having that mentality and watching out for little moments that people might relate to and connect with.

I tend to collect these ‘pebble moments’ on my phone. They then get written in the back of my writing journal which is on my writers desk when I get home. I do take my writing-journal into school from time to time to share and to write with the children. I also tend to plan and box-up my writing by hand in my journal. However, I often then transfer to the computer when I want to draft a piece. I’ll then print it out and stick it in my writing journal. Once in my journal, I might still play round with it. If it is any good, I’ll read it to the children or make it an exemplar text for one of our Genre topics.

I’m not a very confident writer and as a result I will often use the tools I’ve created for the children in my class! I don’t know if it is embarrassing to say but I use my own Genre-Booklets that I’ve created for the children and will stick to them quite closely. I’ll use the Boxing Up sheet too to plan my writing. I will then try out some of the Revision Tips the children use to improve their writing. Finally, I’ll proof read it using the Editing Checklist I’ve created for the children in my class. I guess I do this because I find it all a good support but I also get the added benefit of putting the materials ‘under stress’ to see if they work well – and if I can an improvement can be made to the booklets, I’ll make it.

The Writing Processes The Children In My Class Have Identified

  1. The Vomitters

The most popular writing process. These children like to get their ideas down on paper and spend most of their time revising it and getting it ‘reader ready’ through proof reading and publishing.

2. The Paragraph Pilers

The second most popular process. These children like to vomit a paragraph, clean it up by revising it and editing it before they move on to the next part in their writing.

3. Sentence Stackers

The least popular process. These are children who vomit a sentence and attend to the transcription immediately afterwards.

Interestingly, there are also The Planners and The Discoverers. These are children who either plan their writing to the absolute detail before going on to draft or else I have The Discoverers who resist planning as much as possible and like to see where their writing will take them (often with varying success).

The Seven Things Writer-Teachers Do:

  1. Have the self-esteem to believe they have something to say.
  2. Can mine their lives for writing ideas.
  3. Have built or are building a love affair with writing and language.
  4. Reading and writing become interlocked in trying to make sense of the world and to communicate ideas, thoughts, reactions and memories.
  5. Bring their writing and their writing process into the classroom to share.
  6. Become more closely observant of: life’s events, things that happened to them, things that are said and their environment. They are aware, sensitive and responsive – always looking for potential writing ideas and noting them down.
  7. Explore how authors put their work together and ‘magpie’ from them for their own writing.

If you’d like to read more about how the children approach The Writing Process independently in my 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 but may not represent our employer.**

Teachers As ‘Teacher-Writers’: Living The Writer’s Life

  • Atwell, N., (2015), In the middle USA: Heinemann
  • Calkins, L. (1998) The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Cremin, T., (2011) Writing Voices: Creating Communities Of Writers London: Routledge
  • Cremin, T., Baker, S., (2010) Exploring teacher-writer identities in the classroom:conceptualising the struggle. English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 9(3):8-25
  • Cremin, T., Locke, T., (2017) Writer Identity & The Teaching & Leanring Of Writing London: Routledge
  • Garrett, L., & Moltzen, R., (2011) Writing because I want to, not because I have to: Young gifted writers’ perspectives on the factors that “matter” in developing expertise In English Teaching: Practice and Critique Vol.10(1) p.165-180
  • Graves, D., (2003), 20th Ed, Writing: Teachers & Children At Work USA: Heinemann
  • Goouch, K., Cremin, T., Lambirth, A., (2009) Writing Is Primary: Final research report.London: Esmee Fairbairn Foundation
  • Loane, G., (2017) Developing Young Writers In The Classroom London: Routledge
  • Peel, R., (2000) Beliefs about ‘English’ in England In Questions of English, Ethics, Aesthetics, Rhetoric & the Formation o the Subject in England, Australia and the United States 116-88 London: Routledge
  • Smith, F., (1982) Writing And The Writer HEB: New York
  • Smith, F., (1988) Joining the literacy club Heinemann: Oxford
  • Yeo (2007) New literacies, alternative texts: Teachers conceptions of composition and literacy  In English Teaching: Practice and critique, 6(1):113-31

Children’s ‘Rights Of A Child Reader’ Guide.

As part of this blog post, my class and I decided to put together a guide to reading for pleasure. The children came up with roughly 30 rights. I’ve decided to categorise them as I think it makes for more interesting interpretation. Take a look and see what you think. You can also read our ‘Year 5 Rights Of A Child Writerhere.

*Please note these are the views of the children and may not represent the views of our employer.*

The Year 5 ‘Rights Of A Child Reader’ Guide.

The role of the teacher:

  1. The right to a teacher who reads.
  2. The right to read to a teacher.
  3. The right to have a class-book read to you.

The classroom environment:

  1. The right to start your day reading.
  2. The right to a class library.

Type of books:

  1. The right to only read books you enjoy.
  2. The right to read non-fiction, poetry, pictures books, magazines, comics and newspapers.
  3. The right not to use colour-coded books (if you don’t want to).
  4. The right to choose your own level of reading (if you want to).
  5. The right to take a book home to read.
  6. The right to bring your own books in to school.

Types of reading:

  1. The right to take a break from a large book.
  2. The right to read out loud.
  3. The right to mistake a book for your life and get lost in it.
  4. The right to take your time reading.
  5. The right to read a book again.
  6. The right to act out the books you’re reading.
  7. The right to have MEGA DEAR*.
  8. The right to read at home.

Reviewing & talking about books:

  1. The right to book talks.
  2. The right to blog book reviews.
  3. The right to recommend books.
  4. The right to lend your books to the class library.
  5. The right to drop a book.
  6. The right to read and discuss Shakespeare.
  7. The right to rate a book no matter what other people think.

The reader in the writer:

  1. The right to read your class mates’ published writing and talk about it together.
  2. The right to magpie books for your own writing.

*MEGA DEAR is where children are afforded an opportunity to take reading books, play-scripts, poetry and their own writing into a larger space. Here they are allowed to perform poetry for each other, act out stories, myths or fairy-tales, have book talks, draw characters and settings, make comic strips and read and/or write together.