Planning Purposeful & Authentic Writing Projects
Have you heard of #WritingRocks, a truly welcoming special interest group open to anyone involved in any aspect of teaching writing in the Primary phase? It is aligned to the Literacy for Pleasure blog, which explores how theoretical ideas and research might inform practical ways by which to potentially improve children’s motivation and outcomes in literacy. I love their Real-World Literacy approach to teaching writing, underpinned by the 14 interconnected principles of their Writing for Pleasure Manifesto.
Each of their regular #WritingRocks Twitter chats is focused on one of these principles. As the founder of The Writing Web, I was incredibly flattered to be asked to host a chat earlier this month by Phil and Ross (the fabulous bodies behind for Literacy for Pleasure and #WritingRocks).
This blog post outlines what I learnt from the process and the key themes that arose from the chat on the 5th February 2018.
I drafted the questions in collaboration with Ross from Literacy for Pleasure. He was instrumental in ensuring the order of the questions was coherent and that they were phrased in such a way that invited diverse and honest responses from potential contributors.
I toyed with the idea of selecting pertinent images to encapsulate each question, as I find this is an effective method of raising the profile of tweets. However, after wasting several hours I chose to create a ‘postcard’, which summarised the session and could be used for regular promotion in the run up to the chat. I believe this was a successful approach, as was directing Twitter followers unfamiliar with Twitter chats to Literacy for Pleasure’s #WritingRocks Schedule and succinct How to Guide. Huge thanks to everyone who retweeted promotional materials to their followers!
Having taken part in #WritingRocks chats before, I know that I find it incredibly difficult to ‘keep up’ with the conversation, especially as I’m prone to typos and generally draft Tweets and responses in a Word document first. (There is simply nothing more cringeworthy as the notification that someone has liked a tweet that promotes a writing business revealing that said tweet is riddled with errors…) So, in preparation for the chat, I drafted some responses to the four questions, including the #WritingRocks hashtag in the responses. #WritingRocks kindly allowed me to take over their account but I was also keen to respond to contributors from my @thewritingweb account. I was stumped. But the Internet Explorer and Google Chrome short cut buttons at the bottom of my screen inspired a solution: run one account from each web browser and juggle these with the trusty ‘drafting space’ the Word document offered. Finally, I felt, with the invaluable support of #WritingRocks, that I could make this work.
I felt completely prepared for the session, so put the kettle on ready to go.
Suddenly, it was three minutes until #WritingRocks was live and I was not ready! I hadn’t even considered that each question would need to be ‘introduced’ with a brief preamble. Cue, serious panic! I rushed to draft some suitable words to accompany the ‘release’ of the first question and select an accompanying image to ensure it was high-profile; Monday night is a busy night for Twitter chats. (Note to self: send this from the #WritingRocks account.) And so, the heady sequence of juggling screens and ideas began in earnest.
At 8:05pm, no responses had been posted (with the exception of #WritingRocks) and I feared we were all alone! The all-encompassing magnitude of my panic was crushing, so I posted some of my pre-prepared contributions as a distraction. (Note to self: send this from the @thewritingweb account.) I refreshed the page and was overwhelmed by the response to the first question:
Q1) 8 to 8:15pm Is there a case for children choosing their own writing topics? What might be the benefits?
This question received the greatest response, I’m not sure whether this is the norm with Twitter chats. However, I was so engrossed in the related conversations that I neglected to glance at the clock until it was 8:15pm. Argh, time to release the second question (Note to self: send this from the #WritingRocks account.) and I hadn’t prepared a preamble! I was inundated with simultaneous actions to complete: juggling screens and juggling conversations, whilst attempting to maintain a professional tone as my sense of panic amplified. What an exhilarating, informative scenario! I have collated responses to all four questions at the end of this blog post.
By the time, 8:45pm arrived, time to release the final question, I felt as if I might finally be getting into the swing of things. Although, much of my time was still focused on threads related to the initial question and my cup of tea remained untouched. It was only during the aftermath, when I spent nearly three hours ‘pulling apart’ the conversations, that I felt that I had the head space to sincerely engage with every valued contribution. I searched for contributions using the #WritingRocks hashtag and copied these into a Word document. It took like what felt forever, as if I was disappearing down the rabbit hole at times. There must be any easier way!
Here is a summary of the conversation that took place on the night. Thank you to everyone who contributed at the time and joined the conversation after the event, using the #WritingRocks hashtag. I was encouraged to learn that those who participated in a Twitter chat for the very first time found it a valuable experience.
I have learnt that there is a real appetite for providing children with opportunities to write for their own audiences and purposes. It was fascinating to learn about others’ approaches to realising this in their classrooms and the associated challenges. Ultimately, the consensus appears to be that enabling children to choose the content of their own writing, increases their confidence, motivation and enjoyment. Children have to know that their ideas are valued and we, as teachers, need to employ relevant strategies to support them in developing child-generated content.
* Plug Alert! *
Hosting the Twitter chat in collaboration with #WritingRocks proved to be an invaluable way of promoting The Writing Web, a newly-developed service that supports Year 6 and 7 students in writing for their own audiences and purposes. Thank you #WritingRocks for the opportunity, I look forward to participating in your future Twitter chats!
Q1) Is there a case for children choosing their own writing topics? What might be the benefits?
- Several contributors highlighted the importance of children writing from a position of expertise. If children choose to write about a familiar topic they are passionate about / that matters to them, this will impact positively on their engagement levels and motivation, leading to better writing outcomes.
- As educators, we must step aside, for children to understand that they have ‘permission’ to lead the learning. Encourage and acknowledge that they are experts or have a keen interest in a subject or topic and nurture this knowledge towards making good choices about writing
- Writing is a tool of communication and content and form of authentic communication is determined by the writer.
- Children who are already experts in a subject will have a lot to write about, making it easier for them to practise the skills they need to develop and refine to become better writers. This might be a more efficient method of teaching writing than having to ‘teach the stimulus’ so often.
- Children in the EYFS are actively engaged with their learning, as they have a sense of ownership of it. Teachers suggest that this is harder to achieve in KS2.
- Don’t teach children one Teach them how to use any book for writing. Many teachers ask children to create a bank of ideas, which they draw from in planning sessions, whilst this is not individual choice per se, there is benefit in sharing why certain ideas were selected.
- One contributor invited children to share and display their interests on a class poster, demonstrating the fact that their ideas are valued and that they can write for and learn from each other.
- Blogging with an active audience appears to be a solution to offering true freedom of choice and authentic opportunities to make connections. It is imperative that children know who they are writing for and why, as this sense of purpose will inform every subsequent choice they make as writers.
- Giving children an insight to the different choices a writer has throughout the writing process is always powerful and should include making decisions about content. Some teachers create a ‘toolkit’ as they write, as authentic writing is an organic, creative process.
- Like adults, children have got to be given the chance to find their spark if they are to achieve real independence as effective creative writers, so that their writing is imaginative not prescriptive. The children who find it most difficult to come up with ideas are the ones who are never asked to. Perhaps therefore we as teachers can be disappointed with children’s outcomes when given choice at first, because they haven’t been taught how to do it and had enough practice. Quality fiction and non-fiction texts, as well as practical and creative experiences can provide a possible impetus for children who find it difficult to generate their own ideas.
- Having choice contributes to children’s enjoyment, motivation and confidence, which is a great baseline from which to create meaningful writing.
- Some teachers have experience of initiatives such as Free Write Friday. They acknowledged that these can provide opportunities for children to write for pleasure and develop their writing fluency. It is important that the stages of the retained writing process are employed in such instances, if children are to recognise the importance of editing and publishing.
Q2) How could we help children have confidence in self-choice? Would we as teachers feel a loss of control and would that be significant?
This question received a limited response, however:
- @Rosemarycalm had a wonderful and positive perspective on teaching writing,suggesting that if you scaffold and model in the early stages the children will be more confident to innovate as the year goes on. Then teachers should feel proud to hand over control.
- How often do we genuinely model generating and developing ideas, as opposed to presenting children with a bank of ‘fully formed’ resources from the outset?
Q3) How can we find safe and supportive audiences for children’s writing?
- Display, praise and celebrate writing children produce at home.
- By promoting the first three principles of the Writing For Pleasure Manifesto:
- Build A Community Of Writers.
- Every Child Seen As A Writer.
- Reading, Sharing And Talking About Writing.
- Build a community of writers by teaching children to give and receive constructive feedback to their peers; a supportive forum ultimately starts within your class.
- Photocopying work and sending it home is often very appreciated. Spend time teaching the children how to critique each other’s work so it is supportive.
- Children could create a micro publishing company in partnership with library: logo design, branding, publicity etc. Anthologies in library with info about methods/techniques for enabling kids to write There is lots of scope for purposeful writing and promoting the connections between reading (and libraries) and writing. As a bonus, there’s a receptive audience for their writing as part of the deal!
Q4) How can we successfully promote and value children’s Home Writing? Do Class Writing and Home Writing ever merge and if so, how is this managed in class?
- The potential of home writing can often be missed. It can reveal so much about a child’s interests, choice and motivation.
- Blogs can work well as a crossover between Home writing and class writing. Many excellent teachers encourage blogging in their classes but they often decide what they want the students to write about, devising carefully thought out ‘invitations’ to blog. The Writing Web model demands students choose and develop their own blog content.
- One school has set up an email account for parents to screen shot work and send it in.
- Contributors emphasised the importance of providing children with the space and time to share their Home Writing, whilst acknowledging the associated timetabling constraints. Modelling our own home writing too.
If you liked this blog-post, you should also read: Teaching Writing: What Actually Is Authentic Writing?