“All Children Can Write”: A Tribute To Donald Graves

All Children Can Write

Donald Graves: 1930 – 2010

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.

Donald H. Graves University of New Hampshire Learning Disabilities Focus, 1985

Many children who have learning disabilities are poor writers. They equate their struggles with handwriting, spelling, and language conventions with a lack of ideas and information worth sharing. The writing-process approach to teaching first emphasizes what children know, then the conventions that will help them share their meaning with others in the class. This approach has led to major breakthroughs for young writers, particularly those who have learning problems.

This article reexamines writing as communication for oneself and for other audiences. This process occurs in classrooms where children see how teachers demonstrate their own learning in the midst of a highly structured environment.

Four essentials to a successful writing-process program are described: the adequate provision of time (at least 4 days per week), child choice of writing topic, response to child meaning, and the establishment of a community of learners.

Continued success in teaching writing depends on teacher’s work with their own writing. Study programs, as well as additional reading materials, are suggested.

I stood at the side of Ms. Richards’ third grade classroom watching the children write. We were at the beginning of our 2-year National Institute of Education study of children’s composing processes. The school had diagnosed two of the children in Ms. Richards’ room as having severe visual-motor problems. They were not hard to find.

Both leaned over their papers, their elbows crooked at right angles to their bodies to protect the appearance of their papers. I walked over to take a closer look at one of the two children’s papers. Billy’s paper was smudged, wrinkled, letters blackened; in several instances, his paper was thinned and blackened still more where he had gone through several spelling trials on the same work. The more serious aspect of Billy’s writing profile was not his visual-motor difficulty, the appearance of his paper, or his numerous misspellings. Billy was a self-diagnosed poor writer. He connected his writing problems with a lack of worthwhile ideas and experiences. In addition, he was well-versed in what he couldn’t do.

Billy had been in a separate program emphasizing visual-motor skills, letter formation, and various fine-motor tasks. No question, using a pencil was painful and arduous for him. Teachers complained that Billy rarely completed his work and was constantly behind the others, though he seemed to be articulate. Billy’s program was skill-based, disconnected from meaning, and filled with positive reinforcement about his ability to form letters on good days. There was not attempt to connect his writing with the communication of ideas.

Children with learning disabilities often work on skills in isolation, disconnected from learning itself, and therefore disconnected from themselves as persons. Therefore, like Billy, though their skills may improve slightly in isolation, the children do not perceive the function of the skill. Worse, they do not see the skill as a means to show what they know. Skills work merely supplies additional evidence for the misconception that they are less intelligent than other children.

Billy was in a classroom that stressed writing as a process. This meant the children received help from the time they chose a topic to the time they completed their final work. Ms. Richards played the believing game, starting with what Billy knew, particularly his experiences. In fact, Billy’s breakthrough as a writer came when his teacher discovered his interest in and knowledge of gardening. As Ms. Richards helped him to teach her about this subject, she learned how to plant, cultivate, water, fertilize, and provide special care for certain varieties of tomatoes. Although Billy wrote more slowly than the other children, he became lost in his subject, forgot about his poor spelling and handwriting, ceased to cover his paper, and wrote a piece filled with solid information about gardening. Once Billy connected writing with knowing-his knowing- it was then possible to work with his visual motor and spelling problems, but as incidental to communicating information.

Ms. Richards is now one of the thousands of teachers who teach writing as a process in the United States and the English speaking world. New research and publications, university courses, and numerous summer institutes, are now helping teachers and administrators to find out for themselves what students can do when they focus on the meaning of their writing. Much of the focus of these institutes and courses is on the teachers’ own writings: most of us had to rediscover the power of writing for ourselves before we could learn to hear what these young writers had to teach us.

Although writing-process work helps all writers, it seems to be particularly successful with people who see themselves as disenfranchised from literacy. I place in this group learners like Billy who have diagnosed learning disabilities and the accompanying “I-don’t-know-anything” syndrome.

The writing-process approach to teaching focuses on children’s ideas and helps children teach the teacher or other children in the class what they know, with emphasis first given to ideas and clarifying. This is the first experience many children have with other humans who work hard to point to what they know, instead of what is lacking in the message. Small wonder then that the writing process works best with the disenfranchised, who become a bit giddy at the prospect of seeing their words on paper affecting the thinking of others.

Understanding writing as communication is the heart of teaching the writing process. This article will first focus on the nature of writing, look in greater detail at research on the writing process itself, examine two principles in teaching writing, and then describe four basics in establishing a writing program. It also has a brief section on further reading and recommendations for summer programs for people interested in continuing their study of the writing process.

What Is Writing?

Writing is a medium with which people communicate with themselves and with others at other places and times. When I write, I write to learn what I know because I don’t know fully what I mean until I order the words on paper. Then I see … and know. Writers’ first attempts to make sense are crude, rough approximations of what they mean. Writing makes sense of things for oneself, then for others.

Children can share their writing with others by reading aloud, by chatting with friends while writing, or (in more permanent form) by publishing. Billy found that writing carried a different authority from spoken words. When he took the gardening piece out in December, he found that words written in September could be savored 3 months later. Furthermore, when he read the published books of other children in his room, he began to realize that his book on gardening was read by others when he wasn’t present.

Written language is different from oral language. When Billy speaks, he reinforces his meaning by repeating words and phrases. Unlike when he writes, an audience is present; when the audience wanders or indicates disagreement, he changes his message with words, hand signals, facial expressions, and body posture. This is the luxury of oral discourse. “Error,” adjustment, and experimentation are an expected part of oral discourse.

There is a different tradition surrounding most teaching of writing. Only one attempt, one draft is allowed to communicate full meaning (without an audience response). Red-lined first drafts are the norm; we blanch at any misspellings or crudely formed letters.

Still worse, writing has been used as a form of punishment: “Write your misspelled worry 25 times.” (This is called reinforcement of visual-memory systems.); “Write one hundred times, I will not chew gum in school”‘, “Write a 300 word composition on how you will improve your attitude toward school.” Most teachers teaching in 1985 were bathed in the punishment syndrome when they were learning to write. Small wonder that most of us subtly communicate writing as a form of punishment. We have known no other model of teaching.

The Writing Process

When children use a meaning-centered approach to writing, they compose in idiosyncratic ways. Each child’s approach to composing is different from the next. Some draw first, write two words, and in 10 minutes or less announce, “I’m done.” Others draw after writing or do not write at all; instead, they speak with a neighbor about what they will write. Some stare out the window or at the blank page and write slowly after 20 minutes of reflection. At some point in their development, writers believe one picture and two words beneath the drawing contain an entire story. In the writer’s mind, the story is complete; members of the audience shake their heads and try to work from drawing to text and back to understand the author’s intent.

Such idiosyncratic approaches by children seem capricious to outsiders, confusing to children, and bewildering to us as teachers. We intervene with story starters to “get them going,” produce pictures as stimuli for writing, and consult language arts texts for language activities. The texts provide “systematic” approaches, often through the teaching of the sentence, advance to two sentences, and finally development of the paragraph. Our detailed observation of young children writing shows they simply don’t learn that way. Rather, they write three sentences in one in their first year, not understanding where one sentence ends and the other begins. Studies of children’s understanding and use of sentences show they don’t acquire full sentence sense until much later (about fifth grade).

The most pernicious aspect of teacher interventions is that children begin to learn early on that others need to supply topics because they come to the page with nothing in their heads. A focus on skills and form to the exclusion of child initiated meaning further confirms their lack of fit with the writing process.

Prepared materials seek to reduce the stress and the uncertainty that writers face when they encounter the blank page. But the attempt to produce certainty through standardization by-passes the opportunity for child growth. There is good reason to expect tension when a child first writes.

When writers write, they face themselves on the blank page. That clean white piece of paper is like a mirror. When I put words on the page, I construct an image of myself on that whiteness. I may not like my spelling, handwriting, choice of words, aesthetics, or general cleanliness of the page. Until I can begin to capture what I want to say, I have to be willing to accept imperfection and ambiguity. If I arrive at the blank page with a writing history filled with problems, I am already predisposed to run from what I see. I try to hide my paper, throw it away, or mumble to myself, “This is stupid.” But with every dangerous, demanding situation, there is an opportunity to learn. Teachers who follow and accompany children as they compose help them to deal with what they see on the page. The reason writing helps children with learning disabilities is that they do far more than learn to write: They learn to come to terms with a new image of themselves as thinkers-thinkers with a message to convey to the world.

Teaching Writing- Two Basic Principles

After 12 years of working with writing research and the teaching of writing, I have found two principles essential for effective teaching of writing:

  1. The teacher teaches most by showing how he/she learns, and
  2. the teacher provides a highly structured classroom.

The best demonstration of how teachers learn is through their gathering of information from the children. They place the children in the position of teaching them what they know, usually through conferences. “Now you say that you have to be careful how deep you plant lettuce, Billy. Can you tell me more about that? And do you think the precise depth should be in your piece for the other children? Will they want to know that?” Billy’s teacher has shown him how she learns and how he should learn to listen to questions he soon will be able to ask himself.

Ms. Richards, Billy’s teacher, has a basic lifestyle of learning from everyone. Whether seated next to someone on a plane, in the teachers’ room, or talking informally with children, she wants to be taught; in a lifetime she has learned how important it is to help others to teach her. People leave Ms. Richards’ presence surprised they knew so much about their subjects.

Ms. Richards’ classroom is a highly structured, predictable classroom. Children who learn to exercise choice and responsibility can function only in a structured room. Furthermore, the up-and-down nature of the writing process itself demands a carefully defined room. Predictability means that writing occurs daily, at set times, with the teacher moving in the midst of the children, listening to their intentions, worries, and concerns. They know she will be nearby attending to their work. She rarely addresses the entire class during writing time. She works hard to establish a studio atmosphere. Predictability also means she won’t solve problems for them. Rather, she asks how they might approach the problem. She listens, clarifies their intentions and their problems, and moves on.

Children learn to take responsibility not only for their topics, content of their drafts, and final copy, but also for carrying out classroom decisions. A structured classroom requires an organized teacher who has set the room up to run itself. The teacher has already made a list of the things to be done to help the room function. From September through June, he/she gradually passes on those duties to the children. Attendance, caring for room plants and animals, room cleanliness, lunch lines, desk supervision, and cleaning are but a few examples of these delegations. When room structure and routine do not function well, the teacher and students plan together for the best way to make it function more smoothly. Ms. Richards’ room is based on extensive preparation in room design and knowledge of materials, the children, and the process by which they learn to take responsibility.

Teachers who function well in teaching the writing process are interested in what children have to teach them. Writing-process teaching is responsive, demanding teaching that helps children solve problems in the writing process and in the classroom.

Carrying Out A Writing-Process Program

I am often asked, “What are the essentials to strong writing programs?” Although the list could be extensive, I think that if teachers understand the following four components, their writing programs will serve the children well. These components are adequate provision of time, child choice of topic, responsive teaching, and the establishment of a classroom community, a community that has learned to help itself.

Time

Our data show that children need to write a minimum of 4 days a week to see any appreciable change in the quality of their writing. It takes that amount of writing to contribute to their personal development as learners. Unless children write at least 4 days a week, they won’t like it. Once-a-week writing (the national average is about 1 day in 8) merely reminds them they can’t write; they never write often enough to listen to their writing. Worse, the teacher simply has no access to the children. He/she has to scurry madly around the room trying to reach each child. With little access to the children, the teacher can’t help them take responsibility, solve problems for them, or listen to their responses and questions. The very important connection between speaking and writing is lost.

Although teaching writing 4 to 5 times a week helps the teacher, it helps the children even more. When children write on a daily basis, we find they write when they aren’t writing. Children get into their subjects, thinking about their texts and topics when they are riding on buses, lying in bed, watching television, reading books, or taking trips. When they write regularly, papers accumulate. There is visible evidence they know and are growing. They gain experience in choosing topics and very soon have more topics to write about than class time can accommodate. Children with learning problems need even more time. They need to listen to themselves with help from the teacher. In summary, regular writing helps:

  1. Children choose topics,
  2. Children listen to their pieces and revise,
  3. Children help each other,
  4. Teachers listen to child texts,
  5. Skills develop in the context of child pieces,
  6. Teachers to have greater access to children.

Topic Choice

The most important thing children can learn is what they know and how they know it. Topic choice, a subject the child is aware that they know something about, is at the heart of success in writing. Billy struggled with handwriting and spelling and equated those problems with not knowing topics to write about. When his teacher helped him to discover his knowledge and interest in gardening, he began to write, first haltingly, then with greater flow. He was open to help with spelling and handwriting when he knew he had something to say. Skills are important; learning disabilities cannot be ignored, but neither can teachers or researchers forget that writing exists to communicate with self and others.

“How can I get the child to write? Do you have any good motivators?” are frequent questions asked of me in workshops. The word get embraces the problem. There are thousands of “motivators” on the market in the form of story starters, paragraph starters, computer software, animated figures, picture starters, and exciting “sure-fire” interest getters. We forget that children are very sophisticated consumers of motivators from Saturday morning television alone. Worse, motivators teach the child that the best stimulus comes from the outside. Writing actually demands dozens of motivators during the course of composing, but they are motivators that can only be supplied by the writer himself. All children have important experiences and interests they can learn to tap through writing. If children are to become independent learners, we have to help them know what they know; this process begins with helping children to choose their own topics.

Very young children, ages 5 through 7, have very little difficulty choosing topics, especially if they write every day. As children grow older and experience the early effects of audience, even under favorable learning conditions, they begin to doubt what they know. From that point on, all writers go through a kind of doubting game about the texts they produce. They learn to read better and are more aware of the discrepancy between their texts and their actual intentions. If, however, overly severe, doubting teachers are added to the internal doubts of the child, writing becomes still more difficult.

If children write every day and share their writing, we find they use each other as the chief stimulus for topic selection. If teachers write with their children, demonstrating the origin of their topics, and surround the children with literature, topic selection is even easier.

Topic selection is helped through daily journal writing where children take 10 minutes to record their thoughts. Teachers may also give 5- to 10-minute writing assignments, such as: “Write about how you think our room could be improved” just following a discussion about how the room could be improved with the entire class or “That upsets you? Well, blast away on paper with the first thoughts that come to mind. But write it for you; if you feel like showing it to me, okay.” The teacher finds many occasions where it is useful to record thoughts and opinions on paper. Each of these approaches demonstrates what writing is for, as well as helping the children to have access to what they know and think.

Response

People write to share, whether with themselves or others. Writers need audiences to respond to their messages. The response confirms for the writer that the text fits his/her intentions. First, the teacher provides an active audience for the writer by confirming what he/she understands in the text and then by asking a few clarifying questions. Second, the teacher helps the entire class to learn the same procedure during group share time. Each writing period ends with two or three children sharing their pieces with the group while the group follows the discipline of first pointing to what is in the text, then asking questions to learn more about the author’s subject. All of these responses, whether by the teacher or the other children, are geared to help writers learn to listen to their own texts.

While the children are writing, Billy’s teacher moves around the room, responding to their work in progress. Here is an interchange Ms. Richards had with Billy about his piece “My Garden.” (The child’s text is presented, followed by the conference with the teacher.)

My Grdan

I help my Dad with the grdan ferstyou have to dig it up an than you rake an get the racks out of it. Than you make ros an you haveto be cerfull to make it deep enuff so the letis will come up.

Ms. Richards first receives the piece by saying what she understands about what Billy has written. She may also have him read the writing aloud to her:

Ms. Richards: You’ve been working hard, Billy. I see that you work with your dad on your garden. You know just what you do; you dig it up, rake it to get the rocks out, and then you have to be careful how deep you plant things. Did I get that right?

Billy: Yup.

Ms. Richards: Well, I was wondering, Billy. You say that the lettuce has to be planted deep enough so the lettuce will come up. Could you tell me more about that? I haven’t planted a garden for a long time.

Billy: Well, If you plant it too deep, it won’t come up. Lettuce is just near the top.

Ms. Richards: Oh, I see and did you plant some other things in your garden?

Billy: Yup, carrots, beans, turnips (I hate ’em), spinach (that, too) beets, and tomatoes; I like tomatoes.

Ms. Richards: That’s quite a garden, Billy. And what will you be writing here next?

Billy: You have to water it once you plant it.

Ms. Richards: Then you already know what you’ll be doing, don’t you.

There are many problems with Billy’s text: misspelled words, run on sentences, missing capitalizations, and incomplete information. But Billy has just started writing his piece. Therefore, Ms. Richards works on word flow, helping Billy to know that he knows something about his subject and that he has a clear understanding of what he will do next. Later, when his piece is finished, she will choose one skill to teach within the context of his topic. Above all, she works hard to help Billy teach her about his subject, to keep control of the topic in his hands, no matter how uncertain Billy might feel about his subject.

Notice that Ms. Richards has spent no more than a minute and a half in response. She then moves to other children while responding in the same manner, receiving a text and asking questions. As she moves to different children in other parts of the room (she does not move in rotation or down rows; the movement appears to be random), the other children can hear that the teacher expects them to help her with what they know. Lengthy responses tend to take the writing away from the child. For example, if Ms. Richards were to say, “I had a garden once, Billy. I planted all kinds of things too: I planted cabbages, those same turnips, yellow beans, pole beans, and corn. Yes, It’s hard work,” she’d be identifying with Billy’s garden and the hard work that goes into it, but she’s now the informant. Such sharing should come only when his piece is completed and his authorship of this piece established.

Ms. Richards’ statement is specific. When she receives Billy’s text, she uses the actual words he has composed on the page. All writers need to know their words (the actual words on the page) affect other people. Notice that very little praise is given to Billy in this type of response. Instead, the listener, Ms. Richards, points with interest to the words; they are strong enough for her to understand and to remember them. The use of specifics, rather than the exclusive use of praise, is a fundamental issue in helping Billy to maintain control of his piece, as well as to take more responsibility for his text.

Establish A Community Of Writers

Writing is a social act. If social actions are to work, then the establishment of a community is essential. A highly predictable classroom is required if children are to learn to take responsibility and become a community of learners who help each other. Writing is an unpredictable act requiring predictable classrooms both in structure and response.

Children with learning disabilities often have histories of emotional problems. Many have become isolated and feel very little sense of community. They themselves may produce unpredictable classrooms. Their histories in taking responsibility are equally strewn with failure. Notions of choice and responsibility are threatening and require careful work on a broad front. The following ingredients help to build a structured, predictable community of more independent writers.

  1. Write daily, at the same time if possible, for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  2. Work to establish each child’s topical turf, an area of expertise for each writer.
  3. Collect writing in folders so that writers can see the accumulation of what they know. Papers do not go home; rather, the collected work is present in class for student, teacher, parent, and administrator to examine. Some writing is published in hardcover or some more durable form.
  4. Provide a predictable pattern of teacher participation by sharing your own writing, moving in the midst of students during writing time, and responding in predictable structure to your students’ writing.
  5. End each writing time with children responding to each other’s writing in a predictable format: receiving, questioning.
  6. Set up classroom routines in which you examine the entire day to see which responsibilities can be delegated to the children. Solve room problems in discussion. The group learns to negotiate, whether in working with a draft or solving a classroom problem.
  7. Continually point to the responsibilities assumed by the group, as well as the specifics of what they know.

The writing classroom is a structured, predictable room in which children learn to make decisions. The external structure is geared to produce a confident, internal thinking framework within which children learn what they know and develop their own Initiative.

Continuing Education Of Professionals

Most teachers have been drawn into process work because they have seen significant personal growth by their students with learning problems. Students who lacked confidence and initiative and were disenfranchised from literacy learn to write, share their writing with others, and take charge of their own learning. Although some teachers may wish to start work on the writing process based on this article, I suggest additional reading and work with their own writing.

The single most important help to teachers who work with young writers is work with the teacher’s own writing. Both the National Writing Project and our work here at the University of New Hampshire stress work with the teacher’s own writing. Thus teachers become acquainted with writing from the inside by actually doing it themselves. It would be unheard of for a piano teacher, a ceramicist, or an artist working with water colors to teach someone their craft without practising it themselves. Most of us have had little instruction in learning the craft of writing. We’ve written term papers, letter, and proposals, but we haven’t worked with someone who has helped us to know what we know, then showed us how that knowledge is increased through the writing process.

Final Reflection

Before children go to school, their urge to express is relentless. They learn to speak and to carry messages from one person to another. They burst into their homes to tell what just happened outside. They compose in blocks, play games, mark on sidewalks, and play with pencils or crayons. For most children, early audiences are receptive: adults struggle to make sense of the child’s early attempts to communicate.

When children enter school, their urge to express is still present. A few enter already scarred from attempts to communicate with others. But the urge to be, to make a mark on the universe, has not left them. As children grow older and spend more time in school, many become still more disenchanted with writing. They can’t keep up with the rest of the class and equate their struggles with handwriting, spelling, and early conventions as evidence that their ideas are unacceptable and that they are less intelligent than others. Even for these children, the urge to express, to make worthwhile contributions, to express a meaning that affects others, does not go away.

The most critical factor for children with learning disabilities is the meaning-making question. Teachers need to first believe they know important information, then work overtime to confirm for the child the importance of that information. The children see their teachers write; they see and hear them struggle for meaning on an easel or overhead projector as they compose before them. The children become apprentices to the use of words.

When children write, they make mistakes on the road to communicating their messages. The teacher’s first response is to the meaning. Before a piece is completed, the teacher chooses one skill that will enhance the meaning of the piece still further. From the beginning, the teacher works to build a strong history for writers through collections of all their work, some publishing, and the writers’ effective sharing with other members of the class.

Most teaching of writing is pointed toward the eradication of error, the mastery of minute, meaningless components that make little sense to the child. Small wonder. Most language arts texts, workbooks, computer software, and reams of behavioral objectives are directed toward the “easy” control of components that will show more specific growth. Although some growth may be evident on components, rarely does it result in the child’s use of writing as a tool for learning and enjoyment. Make no mistake, component skills are important; if children do not learn to spell or use a pencil to get words on paper, they won’t use writing for learning any more than the other children drilled on component skills. The writing-process approach simply stresses meaning first, and then skills in the context of meaning. Learning how to respond to meaning and to understand what teachers need to see in texts takes much preparation.

The writing process places high demands on the teacher. The room is carefully designed for developing student independence: Decisions are discussed, responsibilities assigned and assumed. Routines are carefully established with writing becoming a very important part of the room’s predictability. Initially, response to the child’s writing is predictable with receiving of the child’s text, followed by questions of clarification, and the child’s next step in the writing process.

Teachers who use the writing process to greatest advantage spend time working with their own writing. They read and become involved in many of the National Institutes that are helping teachers use writing as a tool for their own learning. Soon they find their students’ learning careers change as well.

If you’ve enjoyed this article and the wise words of Donald Graves, we highly recommend that you purchase his fantastic book Writing: Teachers & Children At Work

You can also watch him being interviewed here:

Article adapted from: http://www.ldonline.org/article/6204

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are our own and may not represent our employer.**

What The Research Says: The 13 Most Effective Ways To Improve Children’s Writing.

The Most Effective Practices For Teaching Writing

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:

1. Provide opportunities for students to experience the complete writing process:

The most important finding was the clear evidence that the explicit teaching of The Writing Process is the best way to improve children’s writing outcomes. Using our Real-World Literacy approach alongside our Genre-Booklets, can allow the children in your class to take part in regular high-quality ‘free-writing’ sessions where they will do some of their most profound and accelerated learning.

2. All students can and should write:

Just like with reading, the more students write the better they get. And by the way, the more they write, the better they read. Therefore we suggest you create a classroom library where the children can donate the books they’ve read – you can supplement this with local or school library books. Make sure to include non-fiction and poetry for the children to read regularly. For more details on how to set up a rich classroom library, visit our blog-post here.

3. Help students find real purposes to write and real audiences to reach:

Through our Real-World Literacy approach, children are taught that all their writing has a purpose and that they are  learning to write just like the authors they read do and how to write like real writers do outside our school walls. Publishing is a vital part of the writing process.

4. Help students exercise choice, take ownership, and assume responsibility:

Through our Real-World Literacy approach, children are taught how authors generate ideas. They no longer have to try and negotiate topics they have limited experience or knowledge of. Instead, they are confident before they begin to write because they have something in mind they are attached to and care about. To learn about teaching children to generate their own ideas, see our post here.

5. Help students get started:

Again, many children struggle with topic selection – show them prewriting techniques that unleash their thinking. This can be done through our Genre-Booklets which provide children with a Boxing-Up plan for each of their favourite Genres. It also provides them with exemplar texts written by us and children. We have also introduced ‘Writing Tricks Books‘ which we will discuss in another blog post soon.

6. Confer with individual students on their writing:

  • Pupil-Conferencing is your golden differentiation opportunity — brief 1:1 moments that are goal-oriented and richly instructional. You can read about how to conduct them in a systematic way here.

7. Guide students as they draft and revise:

Undertaking ‘Writing Study’ & Functional Grammar Lessons through our Real-World Literacy approach allows you to model how to revise things. Teaching a Writing Process which includes ‘Vomit Drafting‘ and then a revision stage helps children write their best work.

8. Model for kids how you write a text:

  • As part of introducing our Genre-Booklets to the children, we will write a couple of examplar texts using the Booklet’s advice and Boxing-Up sheet. This is not only helpful as a teaching resource but also when it comes to giving writing advice through Pupil-Conferencing and teaching Writing-Study.

9. Teach grammar and mechanics in the context of actual writing:

10. Provide a classroom context of shared learning:

  • Peer collaboration, not peer critique! Students need a safe, not critical, place to take risks and try things that drive their growth as writers. That’s why we allow the children to publish their of authentic pieces into the class library. This is also an excellent way to practice their handwriting – again, for a real purpose.

11. Use writing to support learning throughout the curriculum: 

  • Our Genre-Booklets also cover the real writing done by authors in other fields. Teach children how to write like real scientists, historians & geographers do.

12. Use evaluation constructively and efficiently:

13. Lead students to learn the craft of writing:

  • Setting up your classroom so that children have access to all aspects of The Writing Process is at the heart of our Real-World Literacy approach. Children have access to our Genre-Booklets via the classroom library – these include a Boxing-Up suggesting what to include and how to paragraph their piece. We then have our Revision Tips Sheet which shows the children how they can improve their work and finally we have our Proof-Reading Sheets which show children how to make their work ‘reader-ready’ for publication.

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If you have liked what you have read here and would like to read more about our approach to writing which we call ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow the link here. If you’d like to view our Genre-Booklets, you can follow this link.

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Summary Findings From Graham & Perin (2007)

Intervention Effect Size

(The numbers below show the significance of each intervention on writing outcomes).

Teaching The Writing Process

This includes meeting with, teaching and encouraging children to plan & revise their own writing. It’s also about sharing how to approach the writing process. This is one of the two most effective ways for improving writing and is embedded in our approach.

.82
Summarization Instruction

Encouraging individual writing in class along-side shared goal-setting for subsequent pieces, self-assessment by the child and face-to-face assessment with the teacher. This constitutes the second most effective intervention in terms of writing progress. Our approach has such an intervention running through it.

.82
Collaborative Writing

This includes teachers developing arrangements where children can meet with a teacher or peers to discuss their writing. Such shared writing instruction is seen in Writing Study, Genre-Booklet lessons and Pupil Conferencing.

.75
Using Genre Features

This includes giving children the features and tools of a specific genre piece that they can work through systematically, as seen in our Genre-Booklets and Functional Grammar Lessons.

.70
Sentence Combining

This is the specific teaching and modelling of the functional use of compound and complex sentences. This as recommended in our Functional Grammar Lessons.

.50
Process Writing

Extended opportunities for free-writing, writing for real audiences, children choosing their own writing-topics, high levels of pupil and teacher interaction and a supportive learning environment.

.46
Pre-Writing Planning

Setting aside time and space for children to generate ideas and come up with potential writing topics.

.32
Providing Exemplars

Providing children with example texts in a genre. Real-World Literacy includes using genre-booklets and shared writing.

.32
Formal Grammar Teaching

This intervention, the study of traditional school grammar, yielded a negative result. This approach involves the explicit and systematic teaching of grammar without application to real writing or looking into the functional aspects of the use of grammar.

-.32

Summary Findings From The DfE (2012)

The following table lists approaches that have been found to be effective in the teaching of writing by research and reviews of international evidence (What Works Clearinghouse, 2012; Gillespie and Graham, 2010; Andrews et al, 2009; Santangelo and Olinghouse, 2009). (DfE, 2012, p.12)

Teach pupils the writing process

  • Teach pupils strategies/tools for the various components of the writing process such as : generating ideas, planning, drafting, sharing, evaluating, revising and editing; summarising; sentence combining.
  • Gradually shift responsibility from the teacher to the pupil so that they become independent writers.
  • Guide pupils to choose and use suitable writing strategies.
  • Encourage pupils to be flexible when using the different writing components.
  • Engage them in pre-writing activities where they can access what they already know.
This supports our recommendation for daily process writing sessions.
Teach pupils to write for a variety of purposes

  • Help pupils understand they can write in different genres.
  • Develop pupils’ concept of what is ‘audience’
  • Teach pupils explicitly how to use the features of good writing and provide them with models of good writing.
  • Teach pupils techniques for writing effectively for different purposes.
This supports our advocacy of genre-study lessons and Genre-Booklets.
Teach pupils to become fluent with sentence construction

  • When teaching spelling, connect it with writing construction.
  • Teach pupils to construct sentences for fluency, meaning and style.
This supports our recommendation for Functional Grammar Sessions.
Set specific goals to pupils and foster inquiry skills

  • Goals should be created by the teacher and the pupils themselves together (and reviewed by the teacher). These goals can include adding more ideas to a paper or including specific features of a writing genre.
  • Encourage self-motivation e.g. by personal target-setting.
  • Give pupils a writing task which involves the use of inquiry skills e.g. exploring their own ideas and interests.
This supports our advocacy for student choice in terms of writing subjects as well as Pupil Conferencing, editing, target setting and publishing.
Provide daily time to write

  • Pupils should be given at least 30 minutes per day to write in their first year in primary school.
  • Teachers can make links with other subjects.
This supports our recommendation for process writing, where children write, for a sustained period, everyday. It also supports our suggestion that foundation subjects can influence children’s writing choices during literacy times. Finally, it supports our ideas around subject-specific Genre-Booklets.
Create an engaged community of writers

  • Teachers could model their writing in front of pupils, and share real examples with them.
  • Give pupils opportunities to choose the topics they write about.
  • Encourage collaborative writing.
  • Use verbal feedback to inform writing work.
  • Ensure that pupils give and receive constructive feedback throughout the writing process.
  • Publish pupils’ writing and reach for external audiences
This fully endorses our whole approach including; Genre-Booklets, genre study and Functional Grammar Lessons, process writing and the regular publishing of children’s pieces.

In particular, we believe this fully supports writing conferencing as a legitimate means of informing children about their work, giving constructive feedback and the setting of targets without necessarily having to rely on written-feedback.

Functional Grammar Lessons

By [functional] grammar teaching the researchers referred to:

  • Introducing grammatical constructions and terminology at a point which is relevant to the focus of learning.
  • The emphasis is on effects and constructing meanings, not on the feature or terminology itself.
  • The learning objective is to open up a ‘repertoire of possibilities’, not to teach about correct ways of writing.
Most of the research to date has focused on the explicit teaching of grammatical features. A randomised controlled study was conducted in UK and aimed to explore the effect of [functional] grammar teaching on pupils’ writing development.

Findings from the study were promising, showing a significant positive effect for pupils in the intervention group, taught in lessons using the said principles. They scored higher in the writing tests compared with pupils in the comparison group.

DfE (2012) What is the research evidence on writing? Education Standards Research Team, Department for Education: London

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are our own and may not represent our employer.**

Bored With Your Pretend Journalism Topic? Have Children Writing Real Advocacy Journalism Instead!

This half term we focused on the teaching of advocacy journalism. Advocacy journalism is when you advocate for something. It means you champion it, support it and try and stand up for it.

In our first week, we discussed this genre using our genre-booklets. To make the writing truly purposeful, the school contributed a charity grant fund worth £150 to a JustGiving page and invited the community to top this up, which in the end raised well over £300.

So, over half term, we asked the children to talk with their families and choose a local charity, organisation or cause that was worthwhile or important to them. They then had to research details of the charity and bring their information into school. They even had to phone up their charity on the phone to try and get a quote – some of them did remarkably well with this.

We explained that the grant money would be given away to three of the local charities the children decided to write about. Depending on the focus, each news article was placed into one of three groups:

  • Helping people,
  • Helping animals,
  • Helping the environment.

The articles were presented to a group of Year 6 pupils who were asked to determine which pieces were the most effective in: informing, persuading and providing a personal touch.

The three winning pieces received a share of the grant money.

Choosing A Charity

We were struck by the sheer variety and personal commitment to different local charities. We had originally proposed a list of charities the children could  potentially use but found, much to our surprise, this wasn’t necessary. A great many children were able to choose charities that they had been directly involved with or received help from. This was lovely and made writing the pieces even more genuine.

Our writing-study lessons were good but we also learnt what to do next time. 

As we always do when introducing a genre for the first time to the class, we wrote a couple of examples ourselves. I wrote about a local charity which supported my sister during her brain injury, whilst my colleague wrote about an animal sanctuary. In both cases, we interviewed someone connected to the charity; this was also a requirement for the children to do as part of their homework.

What became clear was that this was a multi-faceted genre. It required us (and therefore the children) to negotiate aspects of informing and persuading as well as recounting a small anecdote relating to the charity.

After looking at our examplar text, the children were shown a terrible example of what NOT to do when writing theirs. This was a worthwhile lesson as we could see some of the children’s plans were looking very similar to this examplar!

Our functional-grammar study focused on the use of direct quotation and modal verbs, but also ventured into discussion of moving between informing and persuading, formal and informal tone.

If you have liked what you have read here and would like to read more about our approach to writing which we call ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow the link here. If you’d like to view our Genre-Booklets, 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

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are our own and may not represent our employer.**

Is The Trick In The Publishing? Reflecting On Why The Children Are Writing With Such Care & Attention.

Don’t Underestimate The Power Of Publishing: It’s The Key To High-Quality Independent Writing

As part of our independent writers blog series, we’ve been reflecting on why the children in our class write the way they do.

We recently asked the children why they take so much care over the editing of their pieces – particularly their spellings and it was interesting to hear their responses.

  • More people will read your work.
  • Improves my work for the people who read it.
  • I don’t do it for you – I do it for my readers.
  • I want my reader to read it all.
  • I want everyone in the class to understand it.

Then one of our students said this:

  • If I know it’s not going into the class-library, I wouldn’t bother to edit it so well.

Then the children started reflecting on how writing was taught to them in their previous years:

  • We were writing for nothing.
  • I would have been better if we’d been able to publish.
  • We couldn’t do anything with our writing.
  • We did neat copies but no one saw them.
  • I didn’t know what publishing was.

I then asked who would still edit their work carefully if they knew it wasn’t going to be published. Only 5/33 said they would. The reasons why they still would were that it would ‘help them for the future’ (as opposed to the present!) or that they would do it for their own sense of satisfaction. Worryingly though were the 28/33  that said they wouldn’t bother to edit so well. 25/33 said that they edited well because they knew their friends would be reading it. Perhaps this is why you’re not getting the writing outcomes you want from the children in your class?

Interestingly, 30/33 of my class wished they had been taught to proof-read, edit and publish earlier than year 5.

31/33 of my pupils believed it was important for their writing development that they be allowed to publish work into the class book stock. Only 2/33 said they didn’t mind if their work stayed within their literacy books alone.

We didn’t touch on the impact publishing must also have on their desire to compose great pieces, but if one takes the view that children generally consider editing to be the least enjoyable and interesting part of writing and yet they have such a conscientious attitude towards it when they are allowed to publish – then we can reasonably assume that publishing makes a massive difference to children’s writing outcomes more generally too.

The CLPE (2000) also state that publish can improve children’s attention towards spelling and is legitimate and worthwhile handwriting activity.

So if you want your children to write with a bit more care and attention, you should consider allowing them to regularly publish their writing into your class library.

In our class, we have anthologies for the different genres the children tend to write in – these include:

  1. Flash-Fiction,
  2. Memoir,
  3. Poems,
  4. Information Texts,
  5. Book Reviews,
  6.  Match Reports.

You can read more about how we get the children to edit their work by going here.

To find out more about our approach to teaching writing, which we call ‘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

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are our own and may not represent our employer.**

 CLPE (200) Understanding Spelling London: CLPE

If In Doubt, Circle It Out! How To Create A Class Of Independent Spellers

This is another post in our series on the topic of creating independent writers.

The Standards & Testing Agency have in some ways made the marking of spellings more problematic than it’s ever been. They state quite clearly, that individual spellings should no longer be pointed out to children if you wish to mark it as an independent piece. This, coupled with Ofsted’s move away from heavy amounts of marking needing to be seen in books, could make the marking of spelling seem tricky.

What the The Standards & Testing Agency do say is that you can tell a child, through marking, that there are spelling errors in certain paragraphs that they’ve written. I actually think this is quite sensible if we wish to develop children as independent spellers.

How we have tried to create a culture of independent spellers in our classroom is by splitting up the writing process for children – and you can read more about that here. Regardless of the particular style the children like to write in, Vomitter, Paragraph Piler or Sentence Stacker, they have to ensure they attend to their spellings.

We taught the children, at the very beginning of the year, that when they are writing and they get to a word they want to use but can’t spell, they are to:

Invent It -> Circle It -> Continue.

According to Burns et al, (1999), invented spellings plays an important role in helping children learn how to write. When children use invented spellings, that are in fact exercising their growing knowledge of phonemes, the letters of the alphabet, and their confidence in the alphabetic principle. It also indicates that the child is thinking on their own about the relationship between letters, sounds and words. It therefore also aids their reading.

Once at the editing stage, they then attend to these spellings by looking them up on the computer, using a dictionary, their electronic speller checker or by using their vocab book. This has proved very successful in identifying maybe 80% of spelling errors within in a piece.

Untitled

If In Doubt, Circle It Out

Now, at the end of a writing session, we also give the children around 5 minutes to ‘If In Doubt, Circle It Out’. This is where the children, alongside their talk-partner, circle any ‘unsure’ spellings – spellings they think they might need to attend to at the editing stage. This takes care of a further 15% of spellings. Finally, we, as the teachers, will then look to identify where the last 5% spellings may be hiding!

What we don’t do during their writing time is spell words for them. Doing so would transform the teachers from a writer-teacher to a human dictionary, When we spell words for children, our students are simply taking dictation. This is not how spelling is learned. Just the opposite infact. Students learn to spell by approximation and then seeing the conventional form (Jacobson, 2010, p.41).

We should add that the children in our class take the editing of their work quite seriously because they know they may well want to publish it into our class library. We talk about the importance of publishing in developing independent writers – here. 

To find out more about our approach to teaching writing, which we call ‘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

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are our own and may not represent our employer.**

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

This article is based on, and written in relation to, findings of educational research and writings (see end of article). 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.

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 place this burden on children alone when we ask them to write in the classroom. However, consider this for a moment: Teachers often place further cognitive workload upon children. This 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

Untitled

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 affected; 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 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 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 way I’d rather be asked to write.

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

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are our own and may not represent our employer.**

They Won’t Have Anything To Write About: The Dangers Of Believing Pupils Are ‘Culturally Deprived’.

This article is based on, and written in relation to, the findings of educational research and writing on the subject of writing. 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.

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)

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 (Dyson, 2003, 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 (Dyson, 2003, Grainger, 2013). I often wonder how these teachers come to know these features of children’s home lives? According o research (Grainger et al 2003, 2005, Fisher, 2006), 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 is 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.

When we assign topics we create a welfare system, putting children, our students on to writers’ welfare – Donald Graves (1982)

To diminish the potential for individual meaningfulness in students’ work is a denial of their basic humanity – Willinsky (1990)

To not affirm and respect student voices is both morally wrong, because it disparages who students are and what they know, and strategically a mistake, because students will resist becoming active partners in teaching and learning. – Lensmire (2000)

Writing assignments without a background of discussion and shared experience are unlikely to elicit much response from many children Dixon (1966)

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). Research also suggests that even pre-schoolers have the ability to choose their own writing topics with ease (Dyson, 2003, Krees, 1997) and only lose it once it has been extinguished by the dominant writing pedagogies used in schools.

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 (Dyson, 2003, 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 (Grainger et al 2003). 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 et al 2003, 2005, Grainger 2013, Fisher, 2006, 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. It’s artificial writing. For example, 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).

In his review of 100 years of literacy research, Hillocks (2011) forcefully stated, “We know from a very wide variety of studies in English and out of it, that students who are authentically engaged with the tasks of their learning are likely to learn much more than those who are not” (p. 189).

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)

The children are often happy because they know no different, and this enjoyment seems to validate the teacher’s choice of  choosing and controlling the artificial writing stimulus. The use of artificial writing 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 (Dyson, 2003, 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.

You either learn your way towards writing your own script in life, or you unwittingly become an actor in someone else’s script. – John Taylor Gatto

There is always the danger of a closed, behaviourist solution. By the teacher giving the writing topic as well as the general or specific expressions that should be used, children may learn at once a style of seeing and feeling. And the writing will for a time appear good to us (the teachers), though somehow less varied and personal. There is a sense of limitation, falseness, a restrictiveness that all of us who care for imaginative and life-long uses of the written language must be concerned about (Dixon, 1966).

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. A significant factor in school genre teaching is that they emphasize a power relationship
between the teacher and the writer, with the teacher:

  • Knowing the conventions of the genre,
  • Often acting as the determiner of the title and content,
  • Being the arbiter of the finished piece of writing.

We believe in making available the conventions of a genre and providing substantial time for children to engage and practice these genres through the use of our use of Genre-Booklets.

By providing the children with the Genre tools, teaching them how they can use their cultural reference points and by giving them extended and regular periods in which to practise the writing of them means that children whose home background hasn’t socioculturally prepared them for production of these written genres are not at a disadvantage (Myhill, 2005).

‘Our best guides are the things pupils come up and talk about – their individual and group interests rather than an external ‘stimuli’ or book (which necessarily cannot know their particular circumstances or desires)…[therefore what is needed is] a questing exploratory atmosphere in a writing classroom.’ John Dixon (p.86)

It’s about teaching 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 – for now and for their futures.

Gerald Gregory, for example, in 1984 described the emergence of a small ‘community publishing’ movement among working class groups in Britain who have taken up the writing, editing and publishing of voices otherwise unheard. Although there is just as great a temptation to romanticise the writing of workers as there is with apprentice writers, Gregory speaks of the factors that motivate this writing and publishing as deeply felt and highly communal.

“Passionate conviction about the intrinsic value of working-class culture, especially those solitaries that underpin its outstanding and unique achievements (e.g. trade union, political and mutual help associations); a determined refusal to stay marginalised; indignation and impatience at being represented, misrepresented, patronised and abused by outsiders; these have fuelld the drive to write rather than be written about (or not), publish rather than be published (or not) and, increasingly, to theorise rather than be theorised” – Gregory (1984, pp.222-23)

Finally then, through our Real-World 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

**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are our own and may not represent our employer.**

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
    • Dyson, A., (2003) Popular Literacies and the ‘all’ children: rethinking literacy development for contemport childhoods Language Arts 81:100-9
    • Edelsky, C. (2006) With Literacy and Justice for All: Rethinking the Social in
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