Does free-writing Friday mean that for the rest of the week you’re not writing freely?
Some people call these days ‘writing for pleasure’ days but does that mean that on all the other days I have to write with displeasure?
I have no doubt that most of us will think children enjoy these days – at least at first. We will also think it’s a good thing for children to do. I worry, though, because I suspect that many of us will be disappointed in or misunderstand the ‘results’ we get from such days. I worry that many of us will be concerned about the perceived ‘quality’ of what our children produce. ‘Results’ won’t match expectations. I also worry that many of us will ultimately feel guilty because we haven’t put a structure in place for this particular activity, and will fear that free-writing Fridays will end up just being a waste of time.
Here is a brief outline of the key messages from the Education Endowment Fund’s summary on effective writing at Key Stage Two. The summary produced by the EEF uses a number of meta-analysis based research papers to draw its conclusions. It says:
The following article by Donald Graves (written in 1985), considered by many to be the “father” of the process approach to writing, is a classic piece on the need for a change in the way writing has typically been taught in schools. This article helped spark the movement now known as ‘The Writer’s Workshop’ or ‘Process Writing’ approach and has influenced our modern interpretation called ‘Real-World Literacy‘.
This article is excellent because Graves discusses the challenges and needs of students, clearly lays out how teachers can establish a community of writers and the writing process, and provides examples of teachers and students working together.
Research clearly states that teaching children the writing process in an explicit way is the best way to improve their writing outcomes. So how is this done? As we have discussed briefly here, Frank Smith describes the two roles involved in writing as being: the author and the secretary.
When children are in author mode they are concerned with generating ideas, organising thoughts, and arranging selected words and sentences appropriately and effectively.
When in the secretary mode, the child is more concerned with the transcription of the writing (e.g. using correct spelling, capitalisation, handwriting and punctuation).
This article is based on the work of Graham & Perin (2007), The DfE (2012) and other influential research (Beard, 2000, Gadd, 2014, Education Endowment Fund, 2017). There is now a core of consistency to be found across a variety of studies in several different countries on what makes for good writing lessons. We also now know what causes poor writing outcomes – see here. In the case of Graham & Perin (2007), their meta-analysis comes from the largest collection of writing research ever pooled. It analysed all contemporary research into the teaching of writing and looked for significant patterning. You can find a more formal summary of how their and the DfE’s findings marry together to create these 13 strategies at the bottom of this article. This is what research analysis concluded:
We can’t give children rich lives, but we can give them the lens to appreciate the richness that is already there – Lucy Calkins (1991)
As teachers, our job is to help children claim more control over their own lives. One of the ways people most lack control over their own lives is through lacking control over words. Especially written words. – Peter Elbow (1998)
Within a vast educational literature there is a substantial number of treatises that deal with the failure of the primary school to make connections with the lives of working-class children. –Carolyn Steedman (1982)
Think about it. Is there any lower expectation than thinking children will have nothing to write about?
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.
Modeling topic selection is the best way to help children develop independent thinking and decision-making skills for composing – Heller (1999, p.86).
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.
Genre-based approaches to teaching writing…achieve spectacular improvements in student outcomes, from twice to more than four times expected rates of learning’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.1)
Our booklets teach children the meaning and purposes behind certain text-types. They make this information explicitly available to teachers but are also really child friendly.
The booklets share with children the characteristics of the different text-types. They cover the most popular genres across the curriculum and also children’s favourite genres. They explain the social goals of the text type without telling children exactly what to do! Instead, they help children enjoy and develop their own ideas and make their writing academically successful.
I’ve used these genre booklets and think they are utter genius. Brilliant, so thank you!
These booklets are brilliant. They are a ‘show rather than tell’ of how to write.
They are definitely worth every penny, so much work has gone into them!
I should start out by stating quite clearly that this is not an article advocating for the removal of stimuli or book-inspired writing projects from classrooms. Instead, this article will reflect on what contemporary writing research is telling us about how these dominant writing practices may need to be adjusted to be at their most successful and meaningful (Young & Ferguson 2020, in press).
We begin with some wise words from Donald Graves, writer, teacher, researcher and thinker: ‘Children want to write’ (1983 p.1). However, the provision of cross-curricular topics and other stimuli for writing could be inhibiting children’s desire to write and adversely affecting the quality of the writing they produce. Children are failing to realise that they can do more with writing than simply imitate it or produce ‘writing to order’.