Writing For Pleasure: Scaffolding New Learning And Setting Writing Goals

Scaffolding New Learning And Setting Writing Goals

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According to research, Writing For Pleasure teachers will scaffold new writing projects by setting both process and product oriented writing goals. This happens in a mastery based writing environment which has an atmosphere of inquiry, investigation and experimentation at its heart.

A little note about terminology here before we begin.

  • Distant Writing Goals – often the end goal of a writing project. The final writing ‘product’. The purpose and audience for the writing is revealed, considered and discussed at this point.
  • Product Writing Goals – often writers will talk about their finished writing being their ‘product’. The thing that is created. Product writing goals then are the intentions we have for the writing. What will we have to do to make this an effective product…? This is very different to success criteria which don’t always attend to the intentions for the writing nor are they always authentically generated with the whole writing community.
  • Process Writing Goals – these are goals we often set ourselves as writers. We will often give ourselves mini-deadlines. Rarely do we take on a large project in one go. Rather, we take it a step at a time. For example, ‘We need to try and finish this draft in the next couple of days’. This doesn’t mean you don’t or can’t do two processes at the same time sometimes. For example, some of us, as ‘paragraph pilers,’ will often write a paragraph, read it through, maybe revise it a bit, maybe even proof-read it a little before moving onto our next paragraph. This doesn’t mean we won’t also put time aside to revise and edit it explicitly at a later stage.

Therefore, Writing For Pleasure teachers will in all likelihood:

Set A Distant Writing Goal:

‘Our next writing project is to produce an instructional text about something we are really good at. I was thinking we could write them to share with one another in our class library’? Does anyone have any other ideas?

Setting Product Writing Goals:

Writing For Pleasure teachers will set writing goals for writing projects collaboratively with their apprentice writers. According to research (Ames & Archer 1988; Covington 2000; Rooke 2013), it is important for children’s pleasure in writing that they are afforded some participation and agency in the formation of learning goals for class writing projects. This not only builds the learner’s motivation and engagement in the act of writing, but also helps him or her clarify what has to be undertaken to be successful at it. Children who are motivated and find pleasure in writing may also gain higher levels of self-efficacy as a result (Bandura & Schunk, 1981; Butler & Winnie, 1995; Rooke 2013). Gadd (2014) claims that this might require the teacher to ask questions like:

‘We’ve had a look at a few really good instructional texts from last year’s class. So, what might we have to think about to be successful at writing an excellent instructional text? Let’s write some product goals down on this flip-chart paper together.’

Over The Course Of The Project, Set Process Orientated Writing Goals:

The most effective type of writing goal, this means splitting up the different processes of writing to reduce children’s cognitive load, building their sense of self-efficacy and setting them further writing goals to achieve within these different processes. Writing For Pleasure teachers teach writing processes with a view to children applying them to class and personal projects and for individual mastery of them. This was the subject of our last #WritingRocks talk and you can view more about teaching the writing processes here.

  • Over the next couple of writing sessions, you are to have a plan for your instructional text ready.
  • OK. Using your plans to aid you, you have the next few writing sessions to draft your instructions.
  • I’m giving you this writing session to work with your talk partner on revising your instructional text ready for publication. If you feel you might need another session because you have a lot of revisions to do, let me know.
  • If you feel ready, I’ve put aside this writing session (and tomorrow’s if we need it) for us to proof-read and edit our instructional texts so that they are ‘reader-ready’.
  • Today is the day! This writing session is for you to publish your instructional texts into the class library. 

Writing Goals, Over Time, Create Self-Regulating And Independent Writers

Distant goals (like completing a class writing project e.g. ‘let’s write flash-fiction pieces for the year four classes’) will be sub-divided into more manageable ‘chunks,’ which allows not only for long-term progress to be monitored clearly and regularly, but also for children to feel a sense of satisfaction more frequently by completing these sub-goals (Bandura & Schunk, 1981; Butler & Winnie, 1995; Hmelo-Silver et al 2007). The cognitive load involved in writing is shared out across the writing processes, making the writing project feel more accessible and manageable to children. The ultimate aim is that, over time, these goals become automated and that children negotiate these cognitively challenging writing projects largely independently and using their own preferred writing process (see our last #WritingRocks chat). It also means that they can pursue personal writing projects in much the same way as they do their class ones.

If you set a process goal like ‘over the next three writing sessions, you must complete your revisions,’ why not consider that once children have completed this goal allowing them to pursue their personal writing projects whilst the rest of the class finish? Why not make this the expectation after any class writing goal has been completed?

The Types Of Learning Goals Writing For Pleasure Teachers Will Set:

Gadd (2014) suggests quite an open ended interpretation of writing process goals. They can be:

  • Single goals for all learners. We are all going to finish our plans today.
  • Multiple writing goals for learners to select from. Publish something entertaining, using any genre you like.
  • They can be worked on by learners at varying times or simultaneously. Wherever you find yourself in the writing process, carry on.
  • They can be designed to generate one intended outcome or a range of possible outcomes. ‘You must all write a biography of Buzz Aldrin’ or ‘You must all write a biography of someone you know personally’. ‘You have to write an information text about the water cycle’ Or ‘pick a genre and use it to write about the water cycle’.
  • They can be designed to include cooperative or interactive writing projects.
  • They can also be devised by the teacher and children together or the children alone.

Therefore, once the writing processes are established with the children in the school/class and they are fluent or experienced writers, Writing For Pleasure teachers will allow their learners to work on their writing goals at their own level and at their own pace (Garrett & Moltzen 2011; Paratore & McCormack, 2009; Pollard et al., 1994; Reutzel, 2007; Rubie-Davies 2010; Schumm & Avalos, 2009; Wyse & Torgerson 2017).

They are likely to set learning goals such as: ‘your writing goal is to describe the characters in the stories you write’ as opposed to ‘add a noun phrase to describe your character more’. Or ‘you need take more care when proofreading, use your editing checklist to help you’ rather than ‘you have some capital letters missing in this piece – correct them’.

There are links between the setting of these types of learning goals and how Writing For Pleasure teachers deliver these goals through pupil conferencing and potentially as writer-teachers. This is something we will discuss in future #WritingRocks chats!

Obvious Links To Other Writing For Pleasure Manifesto Principles:

The scaffolding of new learning and the setting of writing goals promotes Writing For Pleasure in a number of ways:

  1. It promotes the idea of self-efficacy because it helps apprentice writers to accomplish many goals and gives them the feeling that they can manage the writing project.
  2. It promotes a feeling of agency. Once experienced enough with the different processes and what they involve, children can set and control their own process goals.
  3. It can increase children’s motivation. They can see where their writing is leading to and they will be better able to set themselves specific writing-process goals which they will know how to achieve.
  4. It massively supports children’s self-regulation. Over time, apprentice writers will certainly gain a feeling of independence from external intervention and scaffolding and will be able to monitor their own writing projects.
  5. It will increase their writer-identity. Developing writing processes alongside a feeling of belonging and having an affinity with writing, allows children to feel part of a community where they can talk, craft and undertake the behaviours of a writer in a feeling of safety and understanding.

As an approach, it also reflects other principles outlined in our Writing For Pleasure manifesto including:

  • Creating An Environment For Writing because the children will be writing authentically matching the typical talk and behaviours of writers outside of the classroom, the writing environment will have the feeling of an authentic community of writers working together to create great writing. Writer-teacher and apprentice writers will talk together about the intentions for their writing projects, what the purpose and audience for the writing will be, what sorts of things they will have to consider to produce an excellent writing product and they will discuss their writing processes in achieving that goal.
  • Every child a writer because children will be undertaking the same kind of behaviours as professional writers they will feel like genuine writers too.
  • Purposeful and authentic writing projects because these sorts of projects allow children to negotiate all the different writing processes over a longer period of time and also consider a variety of product goals for different types of writing.
  • Reading, sharing and talking about writing because children can begin talking about their own writerly behaviours and their ‘ways of writing’ and tackling certain writing goals.
  • Building self-regulation because it encourages teachers to provide resources and scaffolds which help children negotiate the writing processes and ultimately shows apprentice writers how they can take an idea through to publishing largely on their own and at their own pace – completing the many goals involved as they go.
  • Personal writing projects allow children time and space to develop their own processes and goals for writing, about things they are motivated to write about and largely at their own pace.
  • Balancing composition and transcription by showing children how they can set specific goals which deal with both composition (seeing product related writing goals) and process goals (editing for spelling, punctuation and publishing for handwriting), children are better able to focus on a specific aspect of writing and to achieve certain goals related to produce a finished piece of writing which is both compositionally and transcriptionally sound.
  • Being a writer teacher because a writer-teacher will have a better understanding of how the writing processes work and how they set themselves their own writing goals, they will be able to pass on that wisdom to their apprentice writers.
  • Pupil conferences As a writer-teacher, you’ll be better able to share feedback and advice about the writing processes as well as the typical products goals for certain types of writing from a position of expertise and understanding.

Further Reading:

If you found this article interesting, you should also read:

www.teachersaswriters.org/general/writing-and-rewriting

www.change.org/p/michael-gove-straws-suck-ban-single-use-straws-across-the-uk

http://thewroxham.org.uk/our-learning/independent-writing-what-is-it/

Please support us by clicking on the ‘Follow’ button in the top-right corner (or if you’re on a tablet or smartphone at the bottom of the screen).

You can also follow us and contribute to the Writing For Pleasure teacher community @WritingRocks_17

References

  • Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: Students’ learning strategies and motivation processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 260–267.
  • Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(3), 586–598
  • Butler, D. L., & Winne, P. H. (1995). Feedback and self-regulated learning: A theoretical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65(3), 245–274.
  • Covington, M. V. (2000). Goal theory, motivation, and school achievement: An integrative review. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 171–200.
  • Garrett, L., Moltzen, R., (2011) Writing because I want to, not because I have to: Young gifted writers’ perspectives on the factors that “matter” in developing expertise In English Teaching: Practice and Critique 165-180
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Mason, L., (2011) Self-Regulated Strategy Development for Students With Writing Difficulties. Theory Into Practice. Vol. 50 Issue 1, p20-27
  • Hmelo-Silver, C., Duncan, R., & Chinn, C. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99–107.
  • Langer, J. A. (2001). Beating the odds: Teaching middle and high school students to read and write well. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 837–880.
  • Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (1991). Self-regulation through goal setting. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 212–247
  • Paratore, J. R., & McCormack, R. L. (2009). Grouping in the middle and secondary grades: Advancing content and literacy knowledge. In K. D. Wood & W. E. Blanton (Eds.), Literacy instruction for adolescents: Research-based practice (pp. 420–441). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Paris, S. G., & Winograd, P. (2003). The role of self-regulated learning in contextual teaching: Principles and practices for teacher preparation (CIERA Report). Retrieved from http://www.ciera.org/library/archive/2001-04/0104parwin.htm
  • Pollard, A., Broadfoot, P., Croll, P., Osborn, M. and Abbott, D. (1994) Changing English in Primary Schools? The Impact of the Education Reform Act at KS1. London: Cassell
  • Reutzel, D. R. (2007). Organizing effective literacy instruction: Differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all children. In L. B. Gambrell, L. M. Morrow, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (pp. 313–434). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Rooke, J., (2013) Transforming Writing: Final Evaluation Report National Literacy Trust: London
  • 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.
  • Schumm, J. S., & Avalos, M. A. (2009). Responsible differentiated instruction for the adolescent learner. In K. D. Wood & W. E. Blanton (Eds.), Literacy instruction for adolescents: Research-based practice (pp. 144–169). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 25, 71-86
  • Schunk, D. H. (1996). Goal and self-evaluative influences during children’s cognitive skill learning. American Educational Research Journal, 33(2), 359–382.
  • Schunk, D. H., & Swartz, C. W. (1993). Goals and progress feedback: Effects on selfefficacy and writing achievement. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 18(3), 337–354.
  • Seijts, G. H., Latham, G. P., Tasa, K., & Latham, B. W. (2004). Goal setting and goal orientation: An integration of two different yet related literatures. Academy of Management Journal, 47(2), 227–239.
  • Timperley, H. & Parr, J., (2009) What is this lesson about? Instructional processes and student understandings in writing classrooms, The Curriculum Journal, 20:1, 43-60
  • Vanderburg, R., (2006) Reviewing Research on Teaching Writing Based on Vygotsky’s Theories: What We Can Learn In Reading & Writing Quarterly, 22:4, 375-393
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Planning Purposeful & Authentic Writing Projects

Planning Purposeful & Authentic Writing Projects

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#WritingRocks  chat by  @thewritingweb

Have you heard of #WritingRocks, a truly welcoming special interest group open to anyone involved in any aspect of teaching writing in the Primary phase?  It is aligned to the Literacy for Pleasure blog, which explores how theoretical ideas and research might inform practical ways by which to potentially improve children’s motivation and outcomes in literacy. I love their Real-World Literacy approach to teaching writing, underpinned by the 14 interconnected principles of their Writing for Pleasure Manifesto.

Each of their regular #WritingRocks Twitter chats is focused on one of these principles.  As the founder of The Writing Web, I was incredibly flattered to be asked to host a chat earlier this month by Phil and Ross (the fabulous bodies behind for Literacy for Pleasure and #WritingRocks).

This blog post outlines what I learnt from the process and the key themes that arose from the chat on the 5th February 2018.

I drafted the questions in collaboration with Ross from Literacy for Pleasure.  He was instrumental in ensuring the order of the questions was coherent and that they were phrased in such a way that invited diverse and honest responses from potential contributors.

I toyed with the idea of selecting pertinent images to encapsulate each question, as I find this is an effective method of raising the profile of tweets. However, after wasting several hours I chose to create a ‘postcard’, which summarised the session and could be used for regular promotion in the run up to the chat.  I believe this was a successful approach, as was directing Twitter followers unfamiliar with Twitter chats to Literacy for Pleasure’s #WritingRocks Schedule and succinct How to Guide.  Huge thanks to everyone who retweeted promotional materials to their followers!

Having taken part in #WritingRocks chats before, I know that I find it incredibly difficult to ‘keep up’ with the conversation, especially as I’m prone to typos and generally draft Tweets and responses in a Word document first.  (There is simply nothing more cringeworthy as the notification that someone has liked a tweet that promotes a writing business revealing that said tweet is riddled with errors…)  So, in preparation for the chat, I drafted some responses to the four questions, including the #WritingRocks hashtag in the responses.  #WritingRocks kindly allowed me to take over their account but I was also keen to respond to contributors from my @thewritingweb account.  I was stumped.  But the Internet Explorer and Google Chrome short cut buttons at the bottom of my screen inspired a solution: run one account from each web browser and juggle these with the trusty ‘drafting space’ the Word document offered.  Finally, I felt, with the invaluable support of #WritingRocks, that I could make this work.

I felt completely prepared for the session, so put the kettle on ready to go.

Suddenly, it was three minutes until #WritingRocks was live and I was not ready!  I hadn’t even considered that each question would need to be ‘introduced’ with a brief preamble.  Cue, serious panic!  I rushed to draft some suitable words to accompany the ‘release’ of the first question and select an accompanying image to ensure it was high-profile; Monday night is a busy night for Twitter chats.  (Note to self: send this from the #WritingRocks account.)  And so, the heady sequence of juggling screens and ideas began in earnest.

At 8:05pm, no responses had been posted (with the exception of #WritingRocks) and I feared we were all alone!  The all-encompassing magnitude of my panic was crushing, so I posted some of my pre-prepared contributions as a distraction. (Note to self: send this from the @thewritingweb account.)  I refreshed the page and was overwhelmed by the response to the first question:

Q1) 8 to 8:15pm Is there a case for children choosing their own writing topics? What might be the benefits?

This question received the greatest response, I’m not sure whether this is the norm with Twitter chats.  However, I was so engrossed in the related conversations that I neglected to glance at the clock until it was 8:15pm.  Argh, time to release the second question (Note to self: send this from the #WritingRocks account.) and I hadn’t prepared a preamble!  I was inundated with simultaneous actions to complete: juggling screens and juggling conversations, whilst attempting to maintain a professional tone as my sense of panic amplified.  What an exhilarating, informative scenario!  I have collated responses to all four questions at the end of this blog post.

By the time, 8:45pm arrived, time to release the final question, I felt as if I might finally be getting into the swing of things.  Although, much of my time was still focused on threads related to the initial question and my cup of tea remained untouched.  It was only during the aftermath, when I spent nearly three hours ‘pulling apart’ the conversations, that I felt that I had the head space to sincerely engage with every valued contribution.  I searched for contributions using the #WritingRocks hashtag and copied these into a Word document.  It took like what felt forever, as if I was disappearing down the rabbit hole at times.  There must be any easier way!

Here is a summary of the conversation that took place on the night.  Thank you to everyone who contributed at the time and joined the conversation after the event, using the #WritingRocks hashtag.  I was encouraged to learn that those who participated in a Twitter chat for the very first time found it a valuable experience.

I have learnt that there is a real appetite for providing children with opportunities to write for their own audiences and purposes.  It was fascinating to learn about others’ approaches to realising this in their classrooms and the associated challenges.  Ultimately, the consensus appears to be that enabling children to choose the content of their own writing, increases their confidence, motivation and enjoyment.  Children have to know that their ideas are valued and we, as teachers, need to employ relevant strategies to support them in developing child-generated content.

* Plug Alert! *

Hosting the Twitter chat in collaboration with #WritingRocks proved to be an invaluable way of promoting The Writing Web, a newly-developed service that supports Year 6 and 7 students in writing for their own audiences and purposes.  Thank you #WritingRocks for the opportunity, I look forward to participating in your future Twitter chats!

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Q1) Is there a case for children choosing their own writing topics? What might be the benefits?

  • Several contributors highlighted the importance of children writing from a position of expertise. If children choose to write about a familiar topic they are passionate about / that matters to them, this will impact positively on their engagement levels and motivation, leading to better writing outcomes.
  • As educators, we must step aside, for children to understand that they have ‘permission’ to lead the learning. Encourage and acknowledge that they are experts or have a keen interest in a subject or topic and nurture this knowledge towards making good choices about writing
  • Writing is a tool of communication and content and form of authentic communication is determined by the writer.
  • Children who are already experts in a subject will have a lot to write about, making it easier for them to practise the skills they need to develop and refine to become better writers. This might be a more efficient method of teaching writing than having to ‘teach the stimulus’ so often.
  • Children in the EYFS are actively engaged with their learning, as they have a sense of ownership of it. Teachers suggest that this is harder to achieve in KS2.
  • Don’t teach children one Teach them how to use any book for writing. Many teachers ask children to create a bank of ideas, which they draw from in planning sessions, whilst this is not individual choice per se, there is benefit in sharing why certain ideas were selected.
  • One contributor invited children to share and display their interests on a class poster, demonstrating the fact that their ideas are valued and that they can write for and learn from each other.
  • Blogging with an active audience appears to be a solution to offering true freedom of choice and authentic opportunities to make connections. It is imperative that children know who they are writing for and why, as this sense of purpose will inform every subsequent choice they make as writers.
  • Giving children an insight to the different choices a writer has throughout the writing process is always powerful and should include making decisions about content. Some teachers create a ‘toolkit’ as they write, as authentic writing is an organic, creative process.
  • Like adults, children have got to be given the chance to find their spark if they are to achieve real independence as effective creative writers, so that their writing is imaginative not prescriptive. The children who find it most difficult to come up with ideas are the ones who are never asked to.  Perhaps therefore we as teachers can be disappointed with children’s outcomes when given choice at first, because they haven’t been taught how to do it and had enough practice.  Quality fiction and non-fiction texts, as well as practical and creative experiences can provide a possible impetus for children who find it difficult to generate their own ideas.
  • Having choice contributes to children’s enjoyment, motivation and confidence, which is a great baseline from which to create meaningful writing.
  • Some teachers have experience of initiatives such as Free Write Friday. They acknowledged that these can provide opportunities for children to write for pleasure and develop their writing fluency.  It is important that the stages of the retained writing process are employed in such instances, if children are to recognise the importance of editing and publishing.

Q2) How could we help children have confidence in self-choice? Would we as teachers feel a loss of control and would that be significant?

This question received a limited response, however:

  • @Rosemarycalm had a wonderful and positive perspective on teaching writing,suggesting that if you scaffold and model in the early stages the children will be more confident to innovate as the year goes on. Then teachers should feel proud to hand over control.
  • How often do we genuinely model generating and developing ideas, as opposed to presenting children with a bank of ‘fully formed’ resources from the outset?

Q3) How can we find safe and supportive audiences for children’s writing? 

  1. Build A Community Of Writers.
  2. Every Child Seen As A Writer.
  3. Reading, Sharing And Talking About Writing.
  • Build a community of writers by teaching children to give and receive constructive feedback to their peers; a supportive forum ultimately starts within your class.
  • Photocopying work and sending it home is often very appreciated. Spend time teaching the children how to critique each other’s work so it is supportive.
  • Children could create a micro publishing company in partnership with library: logo design, branding, publicity etc. Anthologies in library with info about methods/techniques for enabling kids to write There is lots of scope for purposeful writing and promoting the connections between reading (and libraries) and writing. As a bonus, there’s a receptive audience for their writing as part of the deal!

Q4) How can we successfully promote and value children’s Home Writing?  Do Class Writing and Home Writing ever merge and if so, how is this managed in class?

  • The potential of home writing can often be missed. It can reveal so much about a child’s interests, choice and motivation.
  • Blogs can work well as a crossover between Home writing and class writing. Many excellent teachers encourage blogging in their classes but they often decide what they want the students to write about, devising carefully thought out ‘invitations’ to blog. The Writing Web model demands students choose and develop their own blog content.
  • One school has set up an email account for parents to screen shot work and send it in.
  • Contributors emphasised the importance of providing children with the space and time to share their Home Writing, whilst acknowledging the associated timetabling constraints. Modelling our own home writing too.

If you liked this blog-post, you should also read: Teaching Writing: What Actually Is Authentic Writing?

Give A Class ‘One’ Book To Write Through And You’ve Taught Them For A Day. Teach Them How To Use ‘Any’ Book And You’ve Taught Them For A Lifetime.

This article is written with the intention to inform and provide reflection. With the Book Trust’s ‘The Write Book’ research summary coming out in March – we were excited to see what it concluded.

We have entitled our article after the saying that: you give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day – teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. That is what we have tried to achieve through our own approach to the idea of traditional ‘Book Planning’ or ‘Novel Study’.

Ever since reading The Reader In The Writer, we have always advocated for children using books of their choice to inform their writing. There is no greater joy than showing children that through literature we can take and find signs from our own lives – either real or imagined. This is exactly what our favourite books and authors draw on and what we, as the reader, may bring to the text too. Perhaps, what we as teachers shouldn’t do is do this important work on behalf of our pupils. To feel those kind of relationships with books means to be deeply and personally involved in a text you have struck a connection with. This is different from being asked to recognise them at a cool distance away; about a text your teacher has decided they have a connection with.

This year we have taught all the children in our class how a writer goes about generating an original idea. This has included teaching them how real authors (themselves included) use their favourite texts to produce something new for their own short-stories, flash-fictions, poetry or other ‘faction’ and non-fiction texts. This is opposed to the use of a single book on which all children must hang their writing.

We have taught the children to consider the following when reading:

  • Ask: does this book remind me of anything from my life?
  • Ask: does this book remind me of anything else I’ve seen or read?
  • Ask: what do I have in common with this book?
  • Ask: why did I pick up this book?
  • Collect: plot ideas, characters, favourite lines and put them in their personal writing project books.

Because writing is a social act we model how to do it as a class with the ultimate aim being that children begin to do it individually too.

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We accept that this is slightly different to the traditional way of teaching children to write through a ‘class text’ also known as ‘novel study,’ which is often chosen by either the teacher or by some kind of working majority amongst the children.

The benefit of our approach, we believe, is that it is enabling. It takes children off what Donald Graves articulates perfectly as ‘writers’ welfare.’ They, for once (in a long time), have been shown and then encouraged to develop their own writing voice on a book or theme of their own choosing (the benefits of which can be seen in the research references below) and is a strategy they can use forever.

Remember too that when children are younger they are actively encouraged to write/mark make about any text that may have inspired them. However once they enter infant and primary school, this privilege is largely taken away.

In the research project ‘Teachers As Readers: Building Communities Of Readers,’ it talks about teachers who undertake ‘novel study’ literacy units with their classes. It talks about how read aloud sessions are usually followed by literacy work focused on developing word, sentence or text level skills linked to the reading. It states that this type of teaching of writing has serious potential consequences. The children in the study explain that whilst their teacher read aloud; often children didn’t like it. This is because it, in part, it involved subsequent written work. Teachers are inadvertently tethering writing tasks onto reading aloud and children don’t like it.

‘This process of novel-study can sap central enjoyment and satisfaction away from the act of reading and responding. There is widespread and self-defeating refusal to see that literature cannot be taught by a direct approach, and that the teacher who weighs in with talk or lecture [on a text of their choice] is more likely to kill a personal response then to support and develop it. We are all tempted into doing so, of course.’ (Dixon, 1967) If we teach in this way, it could become all too easy for children to feel that their own responses to the book they would have chosen as study to be unacceptable and instead learn to only profess the opinions of the respected critic (their teacher). Research is clear. If children don’t like the act of writing, they won’t progress nearly as well as children that do. Again, see references below for more details.

Some may of course recognise this as sounding incredibly similar to the failed Literacy Strategy and the dreaded ‘Literacy Hour’. Something that was never able to achieve the longevity and respect of its Numeracy counterpart. The dryness of schematic and systematic analysis of imagery, symbols, linguistic and grammatical features as well as structural relations. Therefore, it is likely that this should be avoided passionately in schools. It is literature, not literary criticism which we should be looking to promote in writing lessons. However, it is vividly plain that it is much easier to teach literary criticism than to teach literature, just as it is much easier to teach children to write according to writing-tasks than it is to teach them to use their own voice (Dixon, 1967).

Of course you also have the additional consideration that this is yet another way in which reading instruction can bleed into writing lessons and writing time. This often happens because, as Cremin (2014) points out, the vast majority of teachers come to teaching with a love for reading not writing and this of course must have significant epistemological effects on their writing pedagogies. This is something perhaps to reflect on. You can read more about it here.

Incidentally, we too have spoken on the subject of the over use of writing-stimuli having negative effects on children’s writing potentials here; how it is dangerous to believe children are too ‘culturally deprived’ to choose an appropriate book topic of their own here  and the importance of providing authentic writing projects in class here.

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)

Incidentally, you may find the following, taken from our article here, interesting:

Book Planning / Novel Study

This approach is some people’s response to the skills approach. It looks to fill the vacuum left by the skills model. The concept is that teachers can be the gate-keepers of what is best in terms of literature and hand this down to a generation. In a happy way, they see it that the great writers can offer a variety of models on which pupils’ writing could be hung. However, this turns language into a one-way process: pupils are readers, receivers of the master’s voice. How does activity like novel study relate to the stream of public interaction through writing in which we are all involved every day? Can we agree then that this has in the past (and present) misled many teachers into focusing on the teaching of ‘the body of knowledge’ (the stimuli itself) at the expense of teaching the actual generalities of writing? This misconception has had very far-reaching consequences. By concentrating on the stimuli (the book), the teacher can either assume the relevance of what they are handing over – or more honestly, the question of relevance (for the children) never enters their head. Instead the tradition is accepted.

Limitations Of Such An Approach

  • The main limitation of course concerns ‘culture’. This model stresses culture as a given and one that is chosen by the teacher(s). Therefore, there is the constant and systematic ignoring of ‘culture’ as the pupils in the class may know it. A network of attitudes, experiences and personal reflections that children bring to the classroom are therefore largely ignored.
  • It perpetuates the concept that literature itself is a given, a ready made structure which children are simply asked to imitate and a content chosen as noble and rich enough by the teacher as being worthy of attention. Writing is a product handed over by the teacher.
  • This approach denies children exposure to compositional processes which are used throughout life. For example: generating and publishing original thoughts, ideas and concepts, reflecting on lived experiences, reactions to one’s own reading material, wanting to share something we know a lot about and wanting to make changes to the world. In other words, strategies which could show children how writing can and will relate to their own life and experiences are largely underdeveloped.
  • It therefore neglects the most fundamental aim of writing teaching – to promote interaction with one’s self (through reflection) or between people.
  • As a result, writing has been interpreted as the study of texts and ‘imitating’ them out. It deals largely in pre-formatted activities and writing-tasks.

It might be worth reflecting on the idea that: when we are planning a novel study unit are we not taking that pleasure away from the children in our class? Not only that, are we also taking the intellectual challenge away from them too? When we as teachers mine our favourite texts for potential sources for writing instruction, we get excited about sharing these teaching points with the children. We also learn a great deal about the book. And if we plan on writing ourselves as teachers, we may also learn a great deal about writing too. Therefore should we be teaching children the strategies we are employing when we plan novel study so they can undertake such strategies on their own texts? Can children be afforded opportunity to feel and learn the things we do when we study texts for writing opportunities?

This year, we have taught the children in our class how they can successfully use any book in their writing that has had an impact on them. We have done this in a number of ways:

  • Provided the children with a class library full of high-quality texts including poetry and non-fiction.
  • Afforded children the opportunity to bring books in from home into the class library or bring books in from the local library to share.
  • Shown them how they can write ‘inspired by poems‘ and created regular time for them to engage in that kind of writing.
  • Shown them how to appreciate certain character development, setting descriptions or beautifully crafted sentences in their reading, how to make a note of it in their ‘Writing Tricks Books’ and then use those jottings to inform their own story, flash-fiction, poetry, ‘faction’ or non-fiction writing.
  • Shown them how to ‘hybrid’ two or more of their favourite books to look for themes that they could exploit for their own writing.
  • Shown them how to ‘hybrid’ genres in new and unexpected ways using themes from their reading.
  • Shared many exemplar texts written by children and ourselves that model how this has been done successfully and made these available to read in the class library.
  • Shown how to write ‘fan-fiction’.
  • Having a book that is read as a ‘class-read’ for which the children can be inspired by and write around but are also not obligated to do so.

We have done this because the research on effective writing teaching points this way. Create a class of producers instead of consumers (or at best imitators) and writing outcomes and attitudes will improve dramatically. We are in the fortunate position that we can see the research and theory come together in practice and succeed.
‘When published authors give advice about becoming writers they invariably tell their audience to read as much as possible. Ofsted’s survey of 12 outstanding schools revealed that visits to libraries, plentiful reading aloud by teachers and the provision of good-quality up-to-date texts stimulated pupils to read more and inspired them with ideas for their own writing (Ofsted, 2011).

Children who read more, write more and write better. Since the 1980s, research evidence has shown that reading and being read to help children to develop models for writing: children who read particular genres, such as stories using metafictive devices, can be inspired to create something of their own in that genre, in which, for example, the narrator directly addresses the reader (Pantaleo, 2007b).

Stories they have read may also suggest events or predicaments for children to include in their own texts. Indeed for children as well as adults, all writing is intertextual.’  (Dombey/UKLA 2013, p.23)

Each new text written reflects, in some measure, the shadows of texts experienced in the past. (Cairney, 1990, p.484)

The goal of education in general, and any writing program in particular, is to help students gain independence. (Ted DeMille, p.145)

The increased attention placed on response to literature as the singular writing approach has led to the elimination of other forms of student writing and for no good reason. Glenn’s (2007) study argues that, when we allow students to write fiction unrelated to a particular text, their commitment to and resulting understanding of texts may be enhanced and might serve as an additional means to encourage student engagement and skill.

Guy Pinnell (1989) reports on a successful program with ‘at risk’ children. It showed how children were encouraged to make connections between their reading and writing as a means of boosting their academic standing. The tasks were not a matter of imitating a book extract or to complete a writing task – but instead the children were immersed within a community of rich texts. As a result, they wrote with an eye on what they read; speaking about it and being in admiration of it. In response to having read something great, they had an eye on how they could write, and learnt how to write better.

Imitating the masters is universal in all art and is often the first stage in any creative process. This is why our Genre-Booklets are proving to be so popular. They share with children: the patterns, the approach writers take and the linguistic features that can be deployed in story writing. Some people have recently asked, how do you get children to write their own unique stories without using a whole-class mentor text or any other kind of writing stimulus? We’ll look to explain how below.

No one should be in any doubt that it’s important to show children how other accomplished authors do what they do. It’s also important that children have time to enjoy, appreciate, discuss, understand and try imitating aspects of the books they are reading. And most importantly – we need to show children how they can do this for themselves.

Our Flash-Fiction Genre-Booklet is essentially a writing unit designed to help children identify story patterns, use ‘author voice’ and create stories independently. The stories that are exemplars within the Genre-Booklet are deliberately short and show children that this type of writing is well within their grasp.

The exemplar texts showcase how a short-story can be constructed using only 250/300 words. We try to keep this limit in the children’s minds as they write too, so as to avoid the inevitable ‘and then…‘ syndrome. Educator Nancie Atwell makes the point that even the children in her middle-school (12+) can find anything longer than 300 words difficult to handle and in our experience, working with children from 5-11, this can often be said about them too.

Our exemplar texts are not there for the children to imitate – not even the ideas. They are there to showcase how the linguistic features of story telling can be used effectively. These include:

  • Length,
  • How they can use the typical themes of literature,
  • A clear and memorable telling of an event (including different types of openings and endings),
  • Using inviting language,
  • Thought provoking descriptions of characters, settings or special objects.

Once these features have been made explicit to the children, we encourage them to generate their very own writing ideas. This includes strategies like:

  • Using the books they have read during DEAR time.

At this point, we should say that for this approach is most effective if you adopt an approach to reading that is very similar to ours. To read about how our children are reading during DEAR time, follow this link. Essentially though, you need to be reading high-quality literature aloud, encouraging children read independently and giving them plenty of time to do so.

  • Using their ‘linguistic collections’ from their Writing-Tricks Books.

Again, these collections come from the children’s reading during DEAR time. To read about ‘Writing-Tricks Books’ click here. Essentially though, this is a book, which lives in their trays, encourages children to write down things they notice their favourite authors doing and the sentences and themes they like the most. Children are encouraged to dip into these collections when they are generating ideas for a flash-fiction.

  • Our 10 strategies for idea-generating, which can be found here.

These are strategies that encourage children to write stories from personal interests, recounts, loves, hates, idiosyncrasies, hobbies and obsessions. These 10 strategies unearth a whole bouquet of potential topics for stories.

If a child is using a book or a ‘linguistic collection’ as a means for a story idea – we ask them to try and integrate into that a real experience. We do this because children often find the writing experience easier as a result. In our class, we call these types of stories ‘Inspired by…‘ stories, after the poem ‘My Yellow Dog’ in the book ‘Love That Dog‘. We’ve noticed that what begins as imitation or impersonation soon moves beyond that by the time the children have finished their writing.

Each student creates a final draft in the voice of an author and their own in usually two or three days. Soon after, the children revise these texts and edit them for punctuation and spelling. They are then published into the class book stock for everyone to read or entered into local or national writing competitions.

And so we were pleased to read in the Book Trust’s ‘The Write Book‘ research summary that we are indeed on the right lines:

  • Children enjoy writing more, and write better, when they’re inspired by a high quality book they’ve loved.
  • Book choice is key in encouraging children’s creative response. (and who better to choose than the child themselves).
  • Using high quality books to inspire and emulate writing encourages children to think of themselves as writers (even more so if you have taught them an idea generating strategy that is genuinely used by published authors).
  •  Improved the technical elements of their writing such as vocabulary, descriptive writing skills and sentence structure.
  • Developed more interest in and enthusiasm for books and writing.
  • Wrote voluntarily at home and in free time at school, often when they had never done so before.

And so, in many ways, we are inviting you to combine the best of educational research. Use what ‘The Write Book,’ The Reader & The Writer and what the meta-analysis (here) says about the teaching of writing to create a truly effective, memorable and life-long writing curriculum.

If you’d like to read more about how the children writing independently in our class, you can go here.

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**Please note that the views expressed on this blog are informed by educational research but may not represent our employer.**

Research References

  • Barrs, M., and V. Cork. (2001) The reader in the writer: The links between the study of literature and writing development at Key Stage 2. London: CLPE
  • Book Trust, The (2015) The Write Book [Available Online: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/programmes/primary/the-write-book/] London: The Book Trust
  • Cremin, T., (2014) Building Communities Of Engaged Readers: Reading For Pleasure London: Routledge
  • Dixon, J., (1967) Growth In English Oxford University Press: London
  • Dombey/UKLA, (2013) Teaching Writing: What the evidence says UKLA argues for an evidence-informed approach to teaching and testing young children’s writing UKLA: London
  • Galda, L., Cullinan, B., (2003). Literature for literacy: what research says about the benefits of using trade books in the classroom In J. Flood, D. Lapp, J. R. Squire, & J. M. Jensen (Eds.) Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (2nd ed., pp. 641–648). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.
  • Glenn, W., (2007) Real writers as aware readers: Writing creatively as a means to develop reading skills in Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 51(1) pp. 10-20
  • Pinnell, S., (1989) Success of at-risk children in a program that combines writing and reading In Reading and writing connections Boston: Allyn & Bacon

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