How To Have Children Writing Independent ‘Assessable’ Pieces Every Day.

The political hot-potato in terms of writing at the moment is independent writing. We have decided the tackle this subject head on by producing a mini-series of blog posts about how we have managed to create a writing community within our classroom which allows children to write independently every day.

We will cover all sorts of strategies we use to allow children to write high-quality assessed pieces independently. Some of them we have already discussed and you can find them here:

Writing

This particular post will talk about The Writing Process and how, according to research, the explicit teaching of it is the most effective way to improve children’s independent writing attainment (Graham & Perin, 2007).

It would be good to start off by stating that writing involves both composition and transcription.

Frank Smith, (1982) in his book Writing & The Writer, uses the analogy of a writer and her secretary. This helps visualise the different processes that have to take place when one is writing alone. Remember, this is also what children have to negotiate when writing too.

The writer (composition) has to attend to the following:

  • Generating ideas,
  • Turning thoughts, opinions, feelings into words/sentences.
  • Use of grammar for function,
  • Word and tone choice,
  • Keeping cohesion,
  • Thinking of the purpose of the text,
  • Keeping the reader in mind throughout.

The secretary (transcription) has to attend to the following:

  • Physical effort of writing,
  • Handwriting,
  • Spelling,
  • Capitalisation,
  • Punctuation,
  • Paragraphs,
  • How it will look (including multi-modality).

Frank Smith begins by talking about composing and transcription as if they were performed by two different people. This is simply to allow the reader to see the two broad aspects of writing separately. It is important to remember that we often place both of these burdens on children when we ask them to write. However, consider this for a moment: Teachers often place further cognitive workload upon children. Further burdens can include:

So when they are writing, children have to attend to all of the above and often at the same time. To help the children in our class, at the beginning of the year, we decided to separate the writing process for them and teach each stage explicitly. We call this our Real-World Literacy approach. We taught them how to attend to all the compositional aspects of writing – through what we call:

  • Generating Ideas,
  • Boxing Up,
  • Vomit Drafting and
  • The ‘Revision’ Stage.

We then taught them how to attend to the transcriptional aspects of writing:

  • Proofreading,
  • Editing,
  • Publishing.

I do a kind of pre-draft – what I call a ‘vomit-out’ – Calvin Trillin

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This is because when children are asked to attend to the aspects of composition and transcription at the same time, they both interfere with each other. What would be a collaboration between two people (the writer and the secretary) becomes an unnecessary yet profound conflict for children.

Let’s be clear:

When children are learning to write, composition and transcription can interfere with each other. The more attention you give to one, the more the other is likely to suffer. The problem is essentially a competition for attention.

If thoughts are coming too fast, then the quality of children’s handwriting, spelling or punctuation is likely to decline. If we concentrate on the transcription, the inserting of linguistic features or the appearance of what we write, then composition will be effected; children are likely to produce impeccable nonsense. To avoid either of these occurring, we separate the two processes for the children.

The rule in our class is simple: composition and transcription must be separated and transcription must come last. Revising and editing are as important in our class as writing.

Interestingly, as the year has progressed, we have noted that as the children have got better at composition, the less attention on transcription has been required by them at the end.

The children are now able to characterise themselves and their preferred writing process. We have the following types of writers in our class.

  1. The Vomiters

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 the 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 (with varying success).

Whatever process the children feel works best for them, at the end of the process, all the children will publish a piece of interesting, neat and grammatically correct writing.

Their edited drafts will show evidence that they have attended to spellings, provided evidence of certain linguistic features and punctuated fully. Their final published copy will also show they have attended to their handwriting in a focused way.

I think it is fair to say that the current state of writing-assessment is far from perfect. So how can we ensure that we at least assess children’s writing in a humane way? We currently undertake it in a low-stakes way where children are simply allowed to write through the writing process organically; at their own pace – producing a variety of pieces independently for pleasure.

The popular alternative currently employed in schools is the giving out of a writing stimulus and then given limited time and a high-stakes pressured environment in which to complete it. I know, as an adult, which environment I could do my best writing in.

Incidentally, we should make clear that we are not advocating that every piece is assessed formally but it is comforting to know as a teacher that I have a whole raft of varied and interesting writing from which I can find evidence of good independent writing being undertaken.

To find out more about our approach to teaching writing, which we are calling ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow this link.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

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What Teachers Do To Make Every Child Feel Like A Writer

Teachers must help children to perceive themselves as writers before they are able to write for themselves – Frank Smith

The world is not divided into the people who know how to write and those who don’t. – Philip Gross

As part of our ongoing work on building a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy, we have been reflecting on the second principle of our Writing For Pleasure manifesto:

High Expectations: Seeing Every Child As A Writer (2)

Effective writing teachers hold high achievement expectations for all writers. They see all children as  writers and, from the first, teach strategies that lead to greater independence. They make the purposes and audiences for writing clear to children for both their class and personal writing projects. They teach what writing can do. They also promote the social aspects of writing and peer support in their classrooms.

What do you need to consider as a teacher to ensure you are creating an inclusive environment where all apprentice writers can flourish?

By reading, amongst others, Gadd’s wonderful work on what is critical in the effective teaching of writing, we are able to offer some questions that might be worth reflecting on below. If you’ve written about children being writers yourself or would like to contribute, you’re welcome to use the comments section below.

Finally, at the end, we have provided references which are great reading if ensuring every child is a writer sounds like something you’d like to learn more about.

How do you make children feel like writers in your classroom?

  • Establish positive relationships with all learners (Burchinal et al 2002; Cornelius-White, 2007).
  • Allow all children an opportunity to share, perform and/or publish their writing products (including class and personal writing projects) with their peers.
  • Employ mixed-ability, interest-based groupings and opportunities for sharing and for the discussion of writing amongst peers.
  • Believe that despite their circumstances, all children have interests, passions and idiosyncrasies which contribute to their funds of knowledge and that these funds of knowledge can be used by children in their writing (Dyson, 2003; Grainger, et al 2013; Leung & Hicks, 2014).
  • Tend to believe more strongly than other teachers that all learners can achieve if they receive appropriate support from the teacher.

How do your class writing projects make every child feel like a writer?

  • Plan writing projects to ensure children have some ownership and agency over their project.
  • Provide opportunities to learn new material.
  • Give all children challenging writing projects to undertake.
  • Set up specific writing process goals that all children in the class can achieve.
  • Monitor the expectations you communicate to learners on a near daily basis.
  • Ensure a supportive and social learning environment in which to write (children who feel emotionally secure and can communicate effectively with their teachers are better able to devote their energies and attention to writing – Burchinal et al 2002).

Do you have any resources or strategies that help children feel like authentic writers?

  • Provide writing strategies and helpful writerly advice through verbal feedback (pupil-conferences) to aid children’s writing.
  • Provide instructional strategies and resources which promote self-regulation, greater independence and adoption of a personal writing process.
  • Give access to high-quality writing examples and a rich classroom library.

How do you model writerly behaviour and how do you talk about writing with your children?

  • Provide: smiles, head nods, positive body language, eye contact, friendliness, clue giving, repetition, rephrasing, more praise and less criticism to all children.
  • Talk as writer to writer.

How could a mastery perspective towards writing make children feel more like real writers? 

  • See writing more as mastery through repeated practice and so give children more time, space and opportunities to develop their writing.

As a result of these types of interactions and expectations of children, Cornelius-White (2007) claims that teachers should see an increase in children’s participation, initiation into the writing community, satisfaction in their learning, motivation to write, higher self-esteem, and better social connections with their fellow writers.

What can people read to find out more about ensuring every child is a writer?

Growth Through English by John Dixon

A summary of a great meet up (before twitter meets existed) at Dartmouth between UK and US teachers in the late 1960s. This Dartmouth meet up looked to reflect on the teaching of apprentice writers and is an absolutely fascinating and thought provoking read in today’s context. 

GrowthEnglish

The Myth Of The Deprived Child by Herbert Ginsburg

A book which holds the highest possible regard and expectations of children regardless of their circumstances

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Writing Voices: Creating Communities of Writers by Teresa Cremin & Debra Myhill

An absolute must read for anyone interested in creating communities and rich environments for writing to take place.

Build a Literate Classroom by Donald Graves 

The gold standard of creating writers and a writers’ classroom! Only £1.17 on Amazon!

In The Middle by Nancie Atwell

A seminal text on creating a climate for writers to flourish – perfect for KS2 and KS3.

No More ‘I’m Done’ Fostering Independent Writers In The Primary Grades by Jennifer Jacobson

A perfect text for creating communities of writers in KS1/LKS2 – really accessible read.

Joining the Literacy Club: Further Essays into Education by Frank Smith

This text is a bit more heavy going but is infinitely fascinating and thought provoking

References:

  • Burchinal, M., Peisner-Feinberg, E., Pianta R., Howes., C (2002) Development of Academic Skills from Preschool Through Second Grade: Family and Classroom Predictors of Developmental Trajectories In Journal of School Psychology, Vol. 40, No. 5, pp. 415 – 436
  • Cornelius-White, J., (2007) Learner-Centered Teacher-Student Relationships Are Effective: A Meta-Analysis In Review of Educational Research, Vol. 77, No. 1, pp. 113–143
  • Dyson, A., (2003) Popular Literacies and the ‘all’ children: rethinking literacy development for contemport childhoods Language Arts 81:100-9
  • Grainger, T., Goouch, K., Lambirth, A., (2003) Playing the game called writing: children’s views and voices. English in Education, 37(2):4-15
  • Gadd, M., (2014) ‘What is critical in the effective teaching of writing?‘ The University Of Auckland
  • Leung, C., Hicks, J., (2014) Writer Identity and Writing Workshop A Future Teacher and Teacher Educator Critically Reflect In Writing & Pedagogy Vol. 6 583-60
  • Rubie-Davies, C. M. (2010). Teacher expectations and perceptions of student attributes: Is there a relationship? British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(1), 121–135.