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 (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 (Grainger, 2013). I often wonder how these teachers come to know these features of children’s home lives? 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).

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 (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. 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, 2013, 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. 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 controlling the writing stimulus. The use of these external stimuli 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 (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.

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. Teach 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.

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
    • Edelsky, C. (2006) With Literacy and Justice for All: Rethinking the Social in
      Language and Education (3rd edition). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence
      Erlbaum.
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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
    • 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]

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-Word Literacy, at the beginning of the year we had 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.

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-Word 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
  3. Generating ‘When I was little…’ 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.
  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.

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

If you like the sound of this type of teaching, you can read our document Real-Word 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]

Introducing Our Genre Booklets To The Class & Their Impact.

Introducing Our Genre Booklets To The Class & Their Impact.

Genre-Booklets To Aid Children & Teachers In Writing Across The Curriculum

This article is about how, this year, we introduced little ‘genre-booklets’ to our year 5 classroom and how they have changed our writing pedagogy in profound ways.

  • An example of one of these Genre-Booklets can be seen at the bottom of this page.
  • If you’d like to see view all of our Genre-Booklets you are welcome to contact us at literacyforpleasure@gmail.com 

What Impact Have We Seen?

So far we have introduced just the following booklets:

  • Short-Story,
  • Information Text,
  • Persuasive Letter,
  • Book-Review,
  • Explaining The Past: Accounting For History,
  • Free-Verse Poetry.

We place these in plastic hanging-baskets on our literacy wall. When children have completed their class-writing, they are welcome to come and take a booklet from the display and write. Children know they have to follow the writing process – as set out here and use the booklet to support them.

We have also had a number of booklets go home – with children asking for addition genres which they feel they need to complete tasks outside of school. For example, a child requested to have the Biography Booklet to write his own footballing history so far. Other children have asked for the Memoir Booklet – so that they can practice it before they are formally taught it after Christmas. Finally, a number of boys have asked for the Match Report Booklet – so as they can formally recount the football matches they attend each weekend.

These Are Our Main Reflections:

  • Children no longer seem to require so much support from us. They write more freely and happily.
  • Children are taking greater care when planning a piece of writing.
  • Children’s writing is purposeful and always demonstrates features of the genre being written.
  • Their writing is genuinely informative or entertaining and is often cohesively produced.
  • Children aren’t so tentative to begin writing.
  • Children don’t want writing sessions to come to an end – it’s hard to get children to pack away.
  • Children’s motivation to write has increased dramatically.
  • Children’s motivation to research and undertake independent study in the foundation subjects has increased dramatically.
  • Children are reading more critically.
  • Children are taking writing in the foundations subjects more seriously.
  • A sharp increase in children taking writing home.
  • A sharp increase in children purchasing writing-notebooks and writing at home.
  • Children’s writing outcomes have so far been impressive across ability ranges.
  • Children are beginning to talk like real writers.

So, What Is Genre And How Did These Booklets Come About?

Genre is about ‘how we use language to live’ and it looks to share the ways in which language can be used functionally to achieve the things we want to achieve through our writing. Our culture has many systems of genres which we enact when we want to achieve something specific. A ‘genre is a staged goal-oriented social process.’ (Martin, 2009, p.13):

  • Staged: You usually have to move through more than one phase to achieve your writing goal.
  • Goal-orientated: There is something that the writing can achieve.
  • Social: Because every genre has an audience in mind.

Genre-based approaches to teaching writing have been widely adopted and have achieved spectacular improvements in student outcomes, from twice to more than four times expected rates of learning’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.1) (see also, Culican, 2005, Rose & Acevedo, 2006 & Rose, 2008).

Why Teach Genre?

Teaching genre allows children to understand that:

  • Writing is a social activity.
  • Learning to write is a social activity.
  • Writing fulfils our needs.
  • There are certain outcomes and expectations that come with certain genres of writing.
  • Learning to write involves learning to use language for your own purposes (Hyland, 2007, pp.152-153).

What Actually Are The Genre Booklets?

Genre-Booklets, and the inevitable genre-study that comes along with them, are based on the model of language in context known as Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), as produced by the linguistic Michael Halliday (2004). Halliday sees language as a meaning-making system. The distinctive features of this language system are that it focuses on the following:

  • Grammar as a meaning making resources (as opposed to formal grammar rules)
  • Texts are produced as a result of social context and semantic choices (Martin, 2009, p.11)

Halliday used this concept of grammar having a functional impact on texts as a way of analysing texts students were either expected to write or wanted to write. Martin went beyond this and started to teach children the meaning behind certain texts. Our genre-booklets have been able to make this information explicitly available to teachers but most importantly for children. The booklets are about sharing with children the unconscious and hidden rules which govern the types of writing we engage in every day. The booklets cover genres which are learned and taught across the curriculum but also provide children with the tools to also write in their own favourite ‘home’ genres. The social goals of this variety of genres are made available for children to peruse, enjoy, refine and maybe even change and develop for their own unique purposes.

How Were The Booklets Made?

The SFL model of language suggests that genres are made up of three interrelated meanings or ‘metafunctions,’ which affect the type of language we use in our writing, these are: the ideational, interpersonal and textual. This language, which aids our writing, is shared with both children and teachers in our genre-booklets.

  • Ideational is interested in expressing a reality or topic (whatever it may be).
  • Interpersonal is about negotiating this topic with others.
  • Textual is about how to best manage and present this information.

How this language impacts a text is through what Halliday terms ‘register’. These are called: field, tenor and mode and relate closely to the above metafunctions. Each genre has its own register which encompasses the field, tenor and mode. These can be seen and understood in every one of our genre-booklets in simple terms.

  • Field is about sharing the type of activity children will be engaging in within their chosen genre. The ‘what is going on’.
  • Tenor is about sharing, with children, their role as the writer and their possible obligations to their readership.
  • Mode is about how best to share their information in terms of structure and organisation.

Children ‘are generally more conscious of the meanings associated with register and genre, once you point them out, [more so than] grammatical meanings’ (Martin, 2010, p.24). We take a top-down perspective on writing, starting with the social functions of texts. So before any of the specifics involving register are discussed with children, the purpose of the genre is communicated and discussed. This helps them better understand the reason for such a type of writing and its potential impacts. Through ‘boxing-up’, a genre-process made available to children by Corbett & Strong (2011), children can see the stages of a specific genre. These are made available to the children in all our genre-booklets. The idea is that children understand that they cannot achieve the purpose of their text ‘all at once’ (Martin, 2009, p.12) but have to move through stages and by the end the process, the text will be more or less be where they want it to be.

Here is a summary of how the booklets are organised:

  • Genre – The purpose of the goal-orientated writing.
  • Field – Involves people doing things with their lives and sharing it.
  • Tenor – How to interact with the people you are sharing the writing with.
  • Mode – Making use of ways to channel your writing. (Martin, 2010, p.28)
  • At least one exemplar text of the register features in action
  • A ‘Boxing-Up’ planning sheet, showing the stages the genre goes through.

We have created these booklets to help children negotiate genres that are ‘immensely complex and involve [potentially] thousands of options in multiple systems’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.1). Our genre-booklets allow teachers and children to talk ‘holistically about the social purposes of [different] texts and the ways in which different [texts can be used and even manipulated] to achieve their goals’ (Martin, 2009, p.12). We share with them the ‘semantic patterns which can be found in texts’ of a certain genre (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.2)

Genre-booklets and Genre-Study itself prepare children for: ‘learning across the curriculum’, the writing they will be expected to do in specialised subjects in secondary school and perhaps most critically the ‘various community genres they [will] encounter’ in their lives (Martin, 2009, p.11).

We believe that our genre-booklets provided teachers with knowledge about genres that is ‘relatively easy to bring to consciousness’ and does not ‘demand a costly induction’ (Martin, 2009, p.12).

Here Is A List Of Our Current Genre-Booklets:

  • Narrative writing
    • How to write a memoir (recount)
      • How to write a match report
    • How to write a short-story
      • How to write a vivid setting
      • How to write an interesting character
      • How to write a memorable and vivid story (advanced)
    • How to write a newspaper article
      • How to write advocacy journalism
  • Non-fiction writing
    • How to write an information text
    • How to write a book review
    • How to write instructions
    • How to write rules
    • How to write an explanation
    • How to write a biography
    • Letter to the editor: responding to a newspaper article.
    • How to write a letter of compliant
    • How to write persuasively
      • How to write a persuasive letter
      • How to write a persuasive leaflet and advert
    • How to write a discussion text
  • How to write a free-verse poem

Book review has a particular important role in bridging reading comprehension to writing because the purpose of a book-review is to ‘interpret the message of a literary work and respond to its cultural values’ (Coffin, 2006, p.7). This develops children’s skills in reading for meaning.

How To Use The Genre Booklets

Traditional approaches assume that language must be taught as it is described in school grammars, as a set of decontextualized systems’ but the crucial skills that children actually need are to be able to recognise language patterns ‘at each level as they read real texts’, to discuss its function in relation to the genre’s goals, and to then use these language patterns (or grammar) flexibly and legitimately in their own writing (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.4).

As a result, after exposing children to the genre and its register and engaged in discussion of it, you have reached the point in the children’s apprenticeship that they are likely to understand ‘the basic staging structure of [a] genre’ (Martin, 2009, p.14). At this stage, they can either look at the exemplar texts formally and see how the genre is successful as a result of the register features or formally identify any grammar or language patterns from their Functional Grammar Lessons (see here for more info) or you can allow the children go on and apply the genre for themselves, for legitimate and productive reasons.

In this way children can use our Genre-Booklets do to the following:

  • Focus on developing their identification skills of both genre and grammar features.
  • See how certain register features make the exemplar text successful
  • Practice using the register features for themselves in a purposeful way.

To be used most successfully by children, these Genre-Booklets should be used as part of our writing approach we are calling Real-Word Literacy. For more details on this approach you can click here.

Reading Like A Writer: The Use Of Exemplars

According to Frank Smith, ‘writing requires an enormous fund of specialised knowledge that cannot possibly be acquired from lectures, drill or even from the exercise of writing itself.’ He goes on to say that ‘much more is required to become a competent and adaptable author of letters, reports, journals, poems or pieces of fiction’. ‘To learn how to write for newspapers you must read newspapers; to write poetry, read it’ (Smith, 1988, p.17-20)

We provide contextualised exemplar texts which make ‘the ground rules [of a genre] visible’. This makes clear to children ‘what the genre requires’ so that they can plan and organise their piece ‘under suitable headings’ (Coffin, 2006, p.13). Exemplars are part of our genre-booklets because we adopt a top-bottom approach to genre-study. We follow ‘the course of natural language learning, in which new language features are encountered in meaningful contexts’ these exemplars allow children, whether formally or informally, to learn from and discuss a high-quality contextualised example (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.2). Frank Smith (1982, p.201) sums it up beautifully, when he states: ‘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’.

Our Genre-Booklets can also be used as part of giving children pupil-conferences. Teachers can use our booklets as a way to provide guiding questions that can extend children’s text while they are writing it. It’s our opinion that teachers play an important supportive and guiding role in interaction with children. If done intelligently, pupil-conferences can enable children to accomplish more as a result of interaction than they would have been able to on their own (Martin & Rose, p.5). For more information on how to conduct pupil-conferences to improve children’s writing outcomes, see here.

The concept of pupil-conferences is ‘at odds with traditional language teaching methods, in which teachers may demonstrate language features as they show them on a [whiteboard]. Students will often then perform exercises using these features, and teachers evaluate their performance. These methods provide relatively little scaffolding support, leaving a gap between the teacher demonstration and the child’s writing (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.7). Children are often left to bridge this gap on their own. With our Genre-Booklets however children have a scaffold constantly available to them and this can be further supplemented through the pupil-conferencing we have mentioned.

The use of genre-booklets has resulted in some changes to Martin’s (1999, p.131) Teaching & Learning Model.

teaching-learning-cycle-300x300A Genre-Booklet’s description of field, tenor and mode, its exemplars and using them in genre-study sessions are all an aid for Martin’s ‘deconstruction stage’. The reinvention of this model is in combing the joint construction and individual construction phases. Through process-writing, children can engage in pupil-conferencing about their writing in real time, whilst they are producing their text in the independent phase. During pupil-conferencing, the teachers becomes a scaffold; ‘informer, guide and negotiator. Producing carefully thought out questions and comments that guide the students into constructing an appropriate text’ Coffin, 2006, p.13).

The Genre-Booklets, with their ‘boxing up’ of the stages a genre goes through will also allow children to move between the joint construction and independent construction stage by themselves. They can refer back to the booklet whenever they feel they need to. This reorganisation makes literacy lessons more efficient, giving children more time to practice the craft of writing through process-writing. Process-writing allows children to ‘revise and re-write their texts according to consultations and advice’, edit their pieces and publish for a wider audience (Coffin, 2006, p.14). To read more on pupil-conferencing go here, for process-writing, go here.

How To Use Genre-Booklets In The Foundation Subjects

Because we believe that process-writing is the best means for children to explore writing and the subjects they care about, so it should be the case for children to use process-writing in the foundation subjects to share the things they have learnt or already know about in a multitude of different ways. But to allow children to write in a multitude of ways they need to be exposed to and understand the different genres which are commonly used to express our meaning in subjects like science, history amongst others. For example ‘observations and experiments play a major role in school science and this affects the kinds of writing children are expected to undertake’ (Coffin, 2006, p.2). In history children have to sequence past events and often account for the significance of these events too. ‘School subjects each have their own specialised language’ and we believe that ‘academic disciplines should be re-contextualised’ within school subjects with the help from subject specific genre-booklets (Coffin, 2006, p.2). This is because they are different to the genres written in everyday life. Teachers often complain that their student’s writing in the foundation subjects is not as good as their writing in English. This is because ‘students have not developed control of the kinds of text and linguistics structures that serve the specific purposes’ of the foundation subject areas (Coffin, 2006, p.4). We ourselves are early into this exploration but the potential seems boundless. At present we provide genre-booklets for the following:

  • Science
    • Scientific enquiry report
    • How to explain a piece of science (identification of phenomena, factors of importance (implications, consequences)
    • How to debate a scientific idea (thesis, arguments)(issue, arguments, conclusion)
  • History
    • Recounting the past (public history)
    • How to debate the past
    • How to account for the past
    • How to write a historical biography
  • Geography
    • How to explain a geographical issue
    • How to persuade and discuss a geographic issue

You will have noticed that ‘some of these genres are common to all subject areas’. ‘However it is important to be aware that despite the commonality of some of the texts, aspects of language will often be quite distinct’ (Coffin, 2006, p.9).

It’s our belief that these subject specific genre-booklets could not only ‘improve language work in [foundation subjects], where it is currently ‘given little status’ by children, but also improve children’s understanding of what people in the foundation subjects actually do and why they do it (Creese, 2005, p.188). This is because they get to understand the genres these people use and the reasons why they engage in them. ‘Texts [can] become transformed as teachers and children attempt to meet both sets of aims’, that of understanding the foundation subject and learning to write to meet its needs (Creese, 2005, p.188). Creese (2005, p.189) believes that ‘educational success will come as a result of students learning the subject curriculum and associated language skills and literacies simultaneously’. This is what our genre-booklets look to help achieve. Our Real Word Literacy approach along with the use of genre-booklets aims to ‘eliminate the artificial separation between language instruction and subject matter classes which exist’ in most foundation subject topics. Through Real-Word Literacy, teachers will no longer have to ‘carry the linguistic burden of [their] class’ (Creese, 2005, p.191). For more information on our Real Word Literacy approach, go here.

In terms of history, could it be that children are exposed to some recounts of the past by the teacher and they are then allowed to decide how they would like to interpret these recounts. Could it be possible that after this subject knowledge has been negotiated between the teacher and the class, the class could be free to choose a historical genre in which to stamp their own perspective on the recounts? Could they be allowed to choose whether they wish to account for or debate the evidence? Could these finished pieces find their way into the class book-stock for others to read and could this lead to further research and debate by the children? Would this not result in children not only learning the disciplines of being a historian but also improve their literacy at the same time? The freedom that is now allowed as a result of the revised National Curriculum (2013) would suggest so.

It is clear that, ‘if students are to make sense of, and survive, secondary school’ and discover what they would like to do as part of their working life, ‘they will need to learn how to access and use the specialised genres and language that construct the different curriculum areas’ (Coffin, 2006, p.11)

Why Genre-Booklets Were Made?

We believe ‘bottom-up teaching programs assume a theory of learning, that language is learnt by studying and remembering lower level components of the language system, before applying them in writing’ (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.3). Skills like ‘recognising, interpreting and using written language patterns from texts are less often taught explicitly in bottom-up teaching programs’ and so these skills often have to be acquired by luck by the most successful students who are already most experienced at reading and writing texts but for those who are less experienced, they are unlikely to learn and apply these skills (Martin & Rose, 2007, p.3). The traditional approach to literacy teaching simply follows other academic traditions, in which the content of the subject (especially grammar) is separated out and given to students in the form of exercises to practice. Children’s memory of these features of our language system are then tested.

Our approach, particularly towards grammar teaching, but also in terms of genre comprehension and writing, believes that these features are best learnt as they are repeatedly experienced in contextualised writing. Children are best served in doing this through learning about and engaging in process-writing. To read more about our approach to ‘Process Writing’ go here.

We believe that genre-study opens up the possibility for teachers to allow their children to write through the act of process-writing because genre-study addresses the main criticism of process writing, that without genre knowledge, children will write in a ‘very narrow range of writing’ (Martin, 2009, p.11). Process writing allows children to write every day. It also shows children that knowledge about language is not useless or harmful to their writing but they can use it to harness and share the things they want to say and they can be successful in doing so. This point needs to be emphasised, because genres are a model for language and social context it means children will naturally engage in certain types of grammar and language use. As a result, ‘it provides a natural context for learning [many of the word, sentence and tense level] structures and other organisational structures’ (Martin, 2009, p.18) insisted on by The National Curriculum (2013).

Additionally, since both the genre is stable and made explicit to children it allows them ‘considerable freedom in determining just how they are to realise’ their piece of writing (Martin, 2010, p.27). The register is distributed over a whole text and so there children only have a few local constraints to abide by. ‘This does not mean that register and genre can be ignored. They cannot’ (Martin, 2010, p.27). The children have to use ‘enough signals of register’ from the booklet to ensure their reader can see where they are coming from. The point we are making here is that our booklets are not a ‘mechanical formulae, which stand in the way of a child’s creativity or self-expression’ (Martin, 2010, p.27). It is true to say that ‘you can’t write if you don’t control the appropriate register’ [of a genre], unfortunately, control of these systems is something that educators too often take for granted’ (Martin, 2010, p.27).

Finally then, it allows children the freedom and support to ‘move from one genre to another without having to take too much on board’ or remember back to a previous year’s teaching (Martin, 2009, p.15). The booklets create a zone of proximal development to support teachers and scaffold children’s need to ‘develop their literacy repertoire’ (Martin, 2009, p.15).

The only reason process-writing fails in schools is because organisers have not ‘clearly articulated [a] model of the relations between’ genre, grammar and contexts (Martin & Rose, 2007, p4). Our Real-Word Literacy pedagogy does this.

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To read about our Real Word Literacy pedagogy, go here.

If you’d like to see view all of our Genre-Booklets you are welcome to contact us at literacyforpleasure@gmail.com 

For more updates and resources, please follow us by pressing the follow button at the top-right hand side of this webpage. Alternatively, you may want to follow and contact us through twitter at @Lit4pleasure

References:

  • Coffin, C. (2006) Mapping subject-specific literacies In NALDIC Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 13–26.
  • Corbett, P., Strong, J., (2011) Talk For Writing Across The Curriculum. Maidenhead: Open University Press
  • Christie, F. and Martin, J. R (eds) (2007) Language, Knowledge and Pedagogy:Functional Linguistic & Sociological Perspectives, London: Continuum
  • Hyland, K.  (2007) Genre pedagogy: Language, literacy and L2 writing instruction In Journal of Second Language Writing 16: 148-164
  • Kerfoot., C & Van Heerden, M., (2015) Testing the waters:exploring the teaching of genres in a Cape Flats Primary School in South Africa In Language and Education, 29:3, 235-255.
  • Martin, J. R. (2009) Genre and language learning: a social semiotic perspective In Linguistics and Education, vol. 20, no. 1, pp. 10–21
  • Martin, J.,  Rose, D., (2008) Genre relations: Mapping culture. Equinox Publishing
  • Purcell-Gates, V., Duke, N. K., & Martineau, J. A. (2007). Learning to read and write genre-specific text: Roles of authentic experience and explicit teaching In Reading Research Quarterly, 42(1), 8-45.
  • Svalberg, A. (2009) Engagement with language: interrogating a construct In Language Awareness, 18: 242-258
  • Whittaker, R. (2010) Using systemic-functional linguistics in content and language integrated learning In NALDIC Quarterly, vol. 8, no. 10, pp. 31–6.
  • Bourne, J. (2008) Official pedagogic discourses and the construction of learners’ identities In Martin-Jones, M., de Mejia, A.M. and Hornberger, N.H. Encyclopaedia of language and education, Vol. 3 Discourse and Education, 2nd edn, New York, Springer.
  • Donovan, C.A. (2001). Children’s development and control of written story and informational genres: Insights from one elementary school In Research in the Teaching of English, 35, 452-497.
  • Donovan, C. A., & Smolkin, L. B. (2002). Children’s genre knowledge: An examination of K-5 students’ performance on multiple tasks providing differing levels of scaffolding In Reading Research Quarterly, 37(4), 428-465.
  • Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Mason, L. (2005). Improving the writing performance, knowledge, and self-efficacy of struggling young writers: The effects of self-regulated strategy development In Contemporary Educational Psychology, 30(2), 207-241
  • Scott-Evans, A., Crilley, K., & Powell, E. (2004). A critical study of effective ways to teach instructional texts In Education 3-13, 32(1), 53-60
  • Thwaite, A., (2006) Genre writing in primary school: from theory to the classroom, via first steps In Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, Vol.29(2), p.95(20)

Why The Use Of Writing Stimuli & Class Book Topics Are Damaging Children’s Writing Potential.

Why The Use Of Writing Stimuli & Class Book Topics Are Damaging Children’s Writing Potential. 

We begin with some wise words from Donald Graves, writer, teacher, researcher and thinker:

‘Children want to write’.

In this post I want to suggest that the provision by teachers of cross-curricular ‘topics’ or ‘writing stimuli’ for writing in school is often inhibiting the desire to write, which therefore affects the quality of the writing. Luckily, there is another way of offering topic choice which can redress this sad state of affairs.

If you agree with Donald Graves’ assertion, the question you will ask yourself is: what do children want to write? It is our belief that all children have experiences and interests in their own lives which they can bring to writing, and that teachers should make it possible for them to do so. An incident, a person, a preoccupation, an opinion, a question, a memory, a curiosity, a story – all these are personal resources available for children to draw on as valuable and valid subjects for writing in school. Yet in the typical writing pedagogy, according to research (Dockrell, et al, 2015), the choice of topic is almost always chosen by the teacher. It states that ‘virtually no teacher reported not using them‘ Children are therefore all too often subjected to external ‘stimuli’ such as:

  • Video or films (such as those found on the popular website The Literacy Shed)
  • Whole-class literature study, 
  • Talk-For-Writing -read our article about Talk For Writing here,
  • Pictures or excerpts from non-fiction texts.

Children are then expected to respond. In this way, their own desires are not realised. They learn they are only ever to be consumers of writing as opposed to authentic producers. Maybe this is why The Literacy Trust has recently stated that children’s attitudes towards writing is worsening and that fewer children are writing at home or for pleasure. It’s well known that even very young children will ‘write’ spontaneously and readily about things which have made an impression on them in their daily lives. So how and why is it that teachers feel they must be responsible for providing older children with a stimulus in which to write (inauthentically)?

Writing tasks set by the teacher are very often derived from the foundation subjects such as history or geography, and are thus termed ‘cross-curricular’ topics. There is probably no rationale for this beyond simply providing children with a subject on which to hang practising writing in a particular genre – in effect, a form of writing exercise. It is possible that teachers may see cross-curricular writing as an opportunity for children to show their understanding of a geographical location or an historical event(s). Maybe they see it as an opportunity for pupils to express a feeling of empathy for a character caught up in a particular moment in history, or simply a way to cram extra foundation subject work into the timetable. Unfortunately though, as a teacher who specialised in History & Geography before gaining an MA in Education with Linguistics,  these lessons produce neither a decent historical/geographical piece of writing nor a good literary one. This is because children are effectively being asked to make an imaginative leap into someone else’s psyche or produce writing on the basis of new and very limited knowledge. On top of this they also have to negotiate this new found knowledge further through literary requirements such as noun phrases, embedded clauses, the passive voice and fronted adverbials. Now, a few children will occasionally be inspired by these topics; fewer will be able to produce a satisfying piece of writing. The reality is that all too often you receive a collection of stilted, inauthentic and depressingly similar pieces.

The question we are asking is why we require pupils to jump through these hoops when we could be inviting them to write about what they are expert in, authentically, with engagement and interest, for a purpose and audience of their own choosing and in a (learned) genre which suits their intention- in short, what they are capable of doing from their own centre.

A Facebook post from a reader of this post said:

I agree with many points in this article, but what about those children that cannot think of anything to write about? The ones that do nothing on the weekend except watch TV or play on the computer? The ones that have very little life experience to bring to the table? Often the anxiety of having to generate ideas is the hardest part of writing for these children. Sometimes a teacher directed task or stimulus is the right thing to do for some of our children. It can’t be a one size fits all, need to differentiate!

Whilst reading our article, you may have been wondering the same thing. What could self-directed subject choice look like practically? Would it work in a real classroom?

Well, a colleague and I have been working for some time on producing a new pedagogy for writing in the primary school which begins with children making their own choice of subject. You can read about it 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: 

  • Idea hearts or idea maps,
  • Asking themselves ‘What if..?’ questions
  • Generating ‘When I was little…’ statements 
  • ‘What makes me angry, scared, upset, happy’ lists, 
  • Deciding to use ideas from the books they have chosen and read,
  • Deciding for themselves to use the topic(s) they are studying/ have studied in foundation subjects.

 

To read about how this is done in our classroom, you may like to read our ‘The Sea Of Writing Ideas: How We Got Children Choosing Their Own Writing Ideas’ article here.

We regularly read children Michael Rosen poems. He takes the most boring and ordinary life events and makes them extraordinary. We get them to go home and write a list of ‘poems hide in‘ statements – this is where they run around their house and write down things that they could write poems about. Finally, with some of our most inexperienced writers, we ask them to bring artefacts in from home which they could write about. We ask them to draw pictures that they could then write about. No child is a floating blob in time and space – they all have experiences, passions and treasured objects – we just need to make them feel they are legitimate and that we want to hear about them in fun and creative ways!

We appreciate that this shift from imposing tasks and themes for writing to allowing children to write about what they would like is an ideologically profound one – and you can read more about that here. Teachers find it difficult to relinquish apparent control and pass the responsibility to their pupils (a question of trust). They fear that children’s self-chosen themes will be superficial or trivial (again, a lack of trust).They may make the assumption that the resultant writing will not have the same ‘quality’ as a piece whose theme is secured by them. To allay these fears, I would ask them to consider the following observations made at the coal-face:

In our experience, children’s freedom to write about what interests and motivates them, what has amused or struck them, what they care about, love or hate, carries many benefits. Assisting a child with a theme is not the same as imposing a topic for children to write about. Imposing writing topics upon children is an act of linguistic oppression which shouldn’t be underesitmated. We believe that quality writing cannot emerge without an underlying authentic intention. That is not to say that in some circumstances there may be an adequate reason for requiring children to write to a given theme, to explore an issue in a particular subject area, for example. But if our aim is to help a child learn to write then we have to accept that the consequence of  selected themes being forced upon children is to make their writing less probable or profitable. It very often becomes an imposition and does not help children to become  real writers – just writers of writing exercises.

The children in our class, however, genuinely love making their own choice of topic. They have said so many times. They are intent on writing. Many have now acquired their very own notebooks in which they jot down ideas and try out pieces – often at home, at playtimes or in their free-time.

We believe the most direct and relevant way for a teacher to demonstrate to a pupil the power of writing is to write with them and give them the opporunity to write what is motivating to them. You can read about how we do this through Pupil Conferencing, here.

They come to understand all the functions of writing – to share and communicate, explore issues, explain or persuade, entertain and inform, get through a hard time, re-live a good time or work out a problem. They begin to write like real writers, readily sharing their work with their peers and giving and accepting helpful criticism. Not all topics will prove to be what Graves calls ‘hot topics’. But children will be practising the craft of writing until their hot topic comes along. They will learn that they are producers of content, not simply there to rehash or consume other people’s writing ideas and desires. You can read about why this is so important here.

As teachers we positively look forward to reading such a wide variety of writing pieces. And feel excitement and motivation ourselves.

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

Finally, if you are interested in the research which underpins our advocacy for authentic topic choice, you may want to peruse our references below:
References:
  • 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
  • Dockrell, J., Marshell, C., Wyse, D., (2015) Teacher’reported practices for teaching writing in England In Read Write 29:409-434
  • 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
  • Gee, J. P. (2008) A sociocultural perspective on opportunity to learn In P. Moss, D. Pulin, J. P. Gee, E. Haertel and L. Young (eds) Assessment, Equity, and Opportunity to Learn (pp.76-108) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. & Amanti, C. (eds) (2005) Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classroom, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
  • 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
  • Rogoff, B., Moore, L., Najafi, B., Dexter, A., Correa-Chavez, M. and Solis, J. (2007) Children’s development of cultural repertoires through participation in everyday routines and practices In J. E. Grusec and P. D. Hastings (eds) Handbook of Socialization: Theory & Research (pp.490-515) New York: Guildford Press
  • Tomasello, M. (2003) Constructing a Language: A usage-based Theory of Language Acquisition Cambridge: Harvard University Press
  • Tomasello, M. (2006) Acquiring linguistic constructions In R.S Siegler & D. Kuhn (eds), Handbook of Child Psychology: Cognitive Development (pp. 255-298) New York: Wiley