Writing For Pleasure: Explicitly Teaching The Writing Processes
This week’s #WritingRocks was about explicitly teaching the writing processes to children with a view to them creating and then using their own personalised process independently. This is because research has, for a long time, advocated for such an approach when teaching apprentice writers:
- The first thing to state is that Writing For Pleasure teachers are likely to know that there isn’t really a single agreed upon writing process.
- With this said, Writing For Pleasure teachers will also know that many children are unaware of typical processes involved in writing and they may not, at first, be able to control all aspects of the writing process at once. As a result, Writing For Pleasure teachers will likely teach children how to prioritise writing processes. This strategy can be modelled and involves showing children that when producing a piece of writing not all writing processes have to applied at the same time and in fact this can be too demanding (Locke, 2015, p.162)! Instead focus on one process at a time. For example, when drafting, children can focus on the composition of their manuscript and proof-read and edit it at another time.
- Writing For Pleasure teachers will therefore teach the writing processes and the vocabulary surrounding them (generating ideas, planning, drafting, revising, editing, publishing, sharing and performing) explicitly with a view to increasing children’s flexibly and independent use of them. Particular focus will be given to the recursive nature of these processes too (see below):
Any writing classroom that fails to eventually recognise and promote the recursive nature of these processes and instead looks for children to undertake these processes in order and without socialising with other writers and on demand will ultimately run into difficulties.
Writing For Pleasure teachers will ensure that their writing environment, direct instruction, resources and displays are always looking to promote self-regulation, self-efficacy and a development and personalisation of these writing processes.
- Once experienced enough and as their repertoire of writing skills enlarges, children will begin to automatically re-read and improve their work as they compose. They may start to change their plans as they compose. They might even revise as they draft and perhaps they will undertake editing on a sentence they’ve just written. All automatically and unconsciously. Additionally, children will learn to be discerning about their writing and whether a project is worth pursuing through to publication or not.
- A number of studies have recognised the benefits of this process-oriented approach to writing instruction. The writing process approach, with its links to the writing-workshop movement (Graves, 1983; Calkins 1998; Atwell, 2014), focuses on writers and how to do the things in the classroom that professional writers do. The process writing approach is best defined as being the marriage between the best of ‘writers’ workshop’ with direct instruction and the concept of ‘self-regulating strategy development‘.
- Process writing ensures children engage in phases of idea generation, planning, drafting, revising, editing, and importantly, publishing, sharing and performing. Publishing will be a particular focus because of its connection with feeling a sense of satisfaction from producing a final written product.
Obvious Links To Other Writing For Pleasure Manifesto Principles:
The explicit teaching of the writing processes promotes Writing For Pleasure in a number of ways:
- It promotes the idea of self-efficacy because it helps apprentice writers to picture themselves realising their writing intentions.
- It promotes a feeling of agency. Once experienced enough with the different processes and what they involve, children can control their own writing process.
- 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.
- It massively supports children’s self-regulation. Over time, apprentice writers will certainly gain a feeling of independence from external intervention and scaffolding.
- 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 professional writers in a feeling of safety and understanding.
If you found this article interesting, you should also read:
- Teaching Writing: Research Summaries With Easy Access
- Meeting Children Where They Are: Using Pupil Conferencing
- How We Created Self-Regulating Writers And The Improvements We Have Seen
- Is The Trick In The Publishing? Reflecting On Why The Children Are Writing With Such Care & Attention.
- Planning Authentic & Purposeful Writing Projects
- Building A Writing Community: Children Reading, Sharing And Talking About Writing
- What Teacher Do To Make Every Child Feel Like A Writer
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You can also follow us and contribute to the Writing For Pleasure teacher community @WritingRocks_17
- Atwell, N., (2014), In the middle USA: Heinemann
- Calkins, L. (1998) The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- Corden, R. (2007) Developing reading–writing connections: The impact of explicit instruction of literary devices on the quality of children’s narrative writing. Journal of Research in Childhood Education 21: 269–289
- Danoff, B., Harris, K. R. and Graham, S. (1993) Incorporating strategy instruction within the writing process in the regular classroom: Effects on the writing of students with and without learning disabilities. Journal of Reading Behavior 25: 295–322.
- Englert, C. S., Raphael, T., Anderson, L. M., Anthony, H. M. and Stevens, D. D. (1991) Making strategies and self-talk visible: Writing instruction in regular and special education classrooms. American Educational Research Journal 28: 337–371
- Freedman, A. (1993). Show and tell? The role of explicit teaching in the learning of new genres. Research in the Teaching of English, 27(3), 222–251.
- Graham, S., Harris, K. & Chambers, A. (2016) Evidence-based practice and writing instruction: A review of reviews, in: C. MacArthur, S. Graham & J. Fitzgerald (Eds) Handbook of writing research (2nd edn) (New York, Guilford Press).
- Graham, S. and Sandmel, K. (2011) The process writing approach: A metaanalysis. Journal of Educational Research. 104: 396–407
- Graves, D., (1983), Writing: Teachers & Children At Work USA: Heinemann
- Grossman, P. L., Loeb, S., Cohen, J., & Wyckoff, J. (2013). Measure for measure: The relationship between measures of instructional practice in middle school English Language Arts and teachers’ value-added scores. American Journal of Education, 119(3), 445–470.
- Harris, K. R. and Graham, S. (1996) Making the Writing Process Work: Strategies for Composition and Self-Regulation. Brookline, Massachusetts: Brookline Books.
- Harris, K. R., Graham, S. and Mason, L. H. (2006) Improving the writing, knowledge, and motivation of struggling young writers: Effects of self-regulated strategy development with and without peer support. American Educational Research Journal 43: 295–337
- Hoewisch, A. (2001) “Do I have to have a princess in my story?”: Supporting children’s writing of fairytales. Reading and Writing Quarterly 17: 249–277
- Jasmine, J., Weiner, W., (2007) The Effects of Writing Workshop on Abilities of First Grade Students to Become Confident and Independent Writers In Early Childhood Education Journal, 35, (2) pp. 131-139
- 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.
- Larson, J. and Maier, M. (2000) Co-authoring classroom texts: Shifting participant roles in writing activity. Research in the Teaching of English 34: 468–497.
- Lipson, M., Mosenthal, J., Daniels, P., Woodside-Jiron, H., (2000) Process Writing in the Classrooms of Eleven Fifth-Grade Teachers with Different Orientations to Teaching and Learning In Elementary School Journal. 101, (2), pp. 209-231
- Locke, T., (2015) Developing Writing Teachers London: Routledge
- Goldstein, A., Carr, P., (1996) Can Students Benefit From Process Writing In NCES, 1, (3), p.96
- Peterson, S. S. (2012) An analysis of discourses of writing and writing instruction in curricula across Canada. Curriculum Inquiry 42: 260–284
- Rooke, J., (2013) Transforming Writing: Final Evaluation Report National Literacy Trust: London
- Seban, D., Tavsanli, Ö., (2015) Children’s sense of being a writer: identity construction in second grade writers workshop In International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7(2), 217-234
- Sexton, M., Harris, K. R. and Graham, S. (1998) Self-regulated strategy development and the writing process: Effects on essay writing and attributions. Exceptional Children 64: 295–311
- Taylor, M., (2000) Nancie Atwell’s “In the Middle” and the Ongoing Transformation of the Writing Workshop In The English Journal, 90,(1), pp. 46-52
- Wyse, D., Torgerson, C., (2017) Experimental trials and ‘what works?’ In education: The case of grammar for writing In British Educational Research Journal, 43,(6), pp. 1019–1047
Building A Community Of Writer-Teachers
As some of you may know, we have recently set up a @WritingRocks_17 twitter account. One of its aims is to build of a community of writer-teachers.
- In our recent poll, only 37% of our readers considered themselves ‘writer teachers’.
- Over 50% stated they were teachers that happen to teach writing.
The truth is though that actually all teachers are writers – we write often! Some might argue we write too often – about things that don’t really matter – but that’s another blogpost! Perhaps then, as Teresa Cremin (2017) points out, we need to move away from writing being seen as some kind of ‘quasi-romantic’ practice to actually one that many of us can and do excel at!
As studies indicate (Peel, 2000, Yeo, 2007) and Teresa’s article here shows, many teachers who are passionate about the teaching of English come to it through a passion for reading – not writing. This has a considerable impact on classroom practice with reading often profiled over writing.
Our @WritingRocks_17 community is looking to help raise writing up to the same level as reading. Incidentally, @ReadingRocks_17 does a great job of raising the profile of the reading-for-pleasure pedagogy.
Another poll we undertook on Twitter showed that teachers overwhelmingly wanted to become a more effective ‘writer-teachers’ and so this is where we will begin.
Let’s talk about the difference between a ‘writer-teacher’ and a ‘teacher-writer’ because the difference is a profound one.
What Is A ‘Writer-Teacher’?
As Frank Smith (1988) puts it, ‘Teachers who are not themselves members of the club cannot admit children to it’.
Writer-teachers write for and with the children in their class as well as for themselves. They do this for the children’s and for their own benefit. Research has shown, being a writer-teacher is a seriously powerful teaching tool. If you, and we, can become a community of writer-teachers, our identities and understanding of the writing process will change for our young writers benefit.
Why So Important?
‘The main requirements are easily stated. We, as teachers, must provide an environment in which a child will want to write and in which a child can learn about writing. The environment in which a child will want to write is an environment of demonstrations, not just of ‘this is the way we do things’ but also ‘these are things that can be done.’ (Frank Smith, 1988, p.201)
Transformative effect occur when teachers, through sustained engagement in acts of writing and reflection in communities of practice, assume identities as writers and enact this identity with their students… This is because such teacher have newfound understanding of what pedagogical practices around writing actually work (Locke, 2015, preface)
The most effective way of improving children’s writing outcomes is for them to have teachers who are able to teach about the writing process. Teachers who can give good, honest general advice about how to approach the different aspects of the writing process produce the best writers. Carruthers & Scanlan (1990) report that as teachers become writers their students’ writing improves. Goouch et al (2009) and Cremin & Baker (2010) have also shown the young writers who have writer-teachers as their teachers are able to settle more quickly, remain focused for longer and are as similarly engaged in writing as their teacher. Research has also shown children who have writing-teachers are more motivate to write and heightened levels of intrinsic motivation have been found to characterise exceptional achievers in writing (Garrett & Moltzen, 2011).
It would be unheard of for a piano teacher, a ceramicist, or an artist working with water colours to teach someone their craft without practising it themselves. – Donald Graves
What Is A ‘Teacher-Writer’?
According to our recent poll, over 50% of teachers said they were ‘teacher-writers’. Teachers who happen to teach writing. When these teachers do write, it is often for school-work reasons (often the producing of examplar texts for work). These texts are often products for the system as they will inevitably include certain grammatical and linguistic features that the writer may not have wanted to include – had they been writing the piece for themselves – for pleasure.
(Cremin & Baker, 2010, p.20)
Writer-teachers do this too of course. They will write products for school-work but they also engage in the writing process just for themselves. For inter and intrapersonal reasons. These teachers are the ones who are able to better understand what their pupils are going through when they negotiate the difficult (but hugely rewarding) task that is writing. They can share this ‘writers-life’ advice with their children quickly and regularly. We know that it is this type of teaching of writing that is the most effective in terms of improving children’s writing outcomes too – see here.
Watch this video to meet the master ‘writer-teacher’ Donald Graves talking about his life as a writer-teacher:
What Does A Writer-Teacher Look Like?
To be an authentic model of the ‘writers-life’, teachers need to do much more than model the act of composition. Just as it is with the reading-for-pleasure pedagogy, you need to do much more than just read books yourself to show children how to become life-long readers. Teresa Cremin, in her book Writing Voice: Creating Communities Of Writers, states that writer-teachers are teachers who do the following things:
- Authentically demonstrate their writing process and their writing products with their class and be open to sharing their strategies,
- Are engaged readers; always looking to magpie: words, lines, sentences, characters, plots, settings, poetic moments from their reading for their own writing.
- Are engaged in the world – looking for things to: describe, be critical of, explain, or to debate.
- Work on class compositions,
- Give genuine writing advice through Pupil-Conferencing whilst children write,
- Write alongside the children in the class when they can,
- Publish their own and children’s work into the class-library,
- Write in their everyday lives. They try to live the ‘writer-life’,
- They have their very own Writing Process which they can discuss and share with their pupils.
To live the writer-life, these teachers will often have writing notebooks at school and at home. In them they will scribble down potential writing moments. Over time, they will write down vocabulary or lines from books to use later. They will write inspired by poems, they will write memoirs about their childhood to share with their class – to entertain them or to make them reflect.
What Does My ‘Writer-Teacher’ Process Look Like?
I now have a fairly established writer-life. I tend to generate ideas when I’m out and about. I’ll notice something or have something happen to me that I know will be a good moment to expand on in a written piece. I’ve taught the children that these are what are called ‘pebble moments’.
Pebble moments are when you write about a single thing really well as opposed to writing about a ‘whole beach of ideas’. It’s really about writing specifically rather than generally about a topic. So instead of writing about swimming – write about the swim you took on Brighton beach on Christmas Day. It’s about having that mentality and watching out for little moments that people might relate to and connect with.
I tend to collect these ‘pebble moments’ on my phone. They then get written in the back of my writing journal which is on my writers desk when I get home. I do take my writing-journal into school from time to time to share and to write with the children. I also tend to plan and box-up my writing by hand in my journal. However, I often then transfer to the computer when I want to draft a piece. I’ll then print it out and stick it in my writing journal. Once in my journal, I might still play round with it. If it is any good, I’ll read it to the children or make it an exemplar text for one of our Genre topics.
I’m not a very confident writer and as a result I will often use the tools I’ve created for the children in my class! I don’t know if it is embarrassing to say but I use my own Genre-Booklets that I’ve created for the children and will stick to them quite closely. I’ll use the Boxing Up sheet too to plan my writing. I will then try out some of the Revision Tips the children use to improve their writing. Finally, I’ll proof read it using the Editing Checklist I’ve created for the children in my class. I guess I do this because I find it all a good support but I also get the added benefit of putting the materials ‘under stress’ to see if they work well – and if I can an improvement can be made to the booklets, I’ll make it.
The Writing Processes The Children In My Class Have Identified
- 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 their 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 (often with varying success).
The Seven Things Writer-Teachers Do:
- Have the self-esteem to believe they have something to say.
- Can mine their lives for writing ideas.
- Have built or are building a love affair with writing and language.
- Reading and writing become interlocked in trying to make sense of the world and to communicate ideas, thoughts, reactions and memories.
- Bring their writing and their writing process into the classroom to share.
- Become more closely observant of: life’s events, things that happened to them, things that are said and their environment. They are aware, sensitive and responsive – always looking for potential writing ideas and noting them down.
- Explore how authors put their work together and ‘magpie’ from them for their own writing.
If you’d like to read more about how the children approach The Writing Process independently in my class, you can go here.
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**By Phil Ferguson**
Teachers As ‘Teacher-Writers’: Living The Writer’s Life
What The Education Endowment Fund’s ‘Improving Literacy in Key Stage Two‘ Report Tells Us About Teaching Writing Effectively.
Here is a brief outline of the key messages from the Education Endowment Fund’s summary on effective writing at Key Stage Two. The summary produced by the EEF uses a number of meta-analysis based research papers to draw its conclusions. It says:
- Children listening to texts being read aloud is important to both reading and writing development.
- Children being given time to discuss the books they are reading with others is valuable.
- Children should have freely available a wide-range of texts to read from.
Teaching The Writing Process
- The writing process should be explicitly taught using the ‘gradual release of responsibility’ otherwise known as the ‘repeated practice’ or ‘self-regulated strategy instruction’ model.
- Children need regular practice at writing and the writing process to become successful!
- To achieve this level of practice children need to be kept motivated and fully engaged in wanting to improve their writing.
- Teachers need to be on hand, providing feedback to help pupils focus their effort appropriately.
- Schools should focus first on developing core classroom teaching strategies that improve the literacy capabilities of the whole class. With this in place, the need for additional support should decrease.
Teaching Through Genre Topics
Generating Ideas And Planning
- Children talking through their text with a partner before and during their writing will improve writing outcomes.
- Although accurate spelling, grammar and handwriting are important, at this stage they are not the main focus. If these aspects mistakenly become the focus at the drafting stage, writing becomes slow and effortful and therefore hinders progress in writing composition.
- Encouraging children to continuously re-read their texts as they write them can improve writing outcomes.
Revision & Editing
- Revising should be encouraged and ‘it should be accepted that work may become messy but that at this stage the audience will be limited’.
- When editing, spelling and grammar assume greater importance, pupils will need to recognise that their work will need to be accurate if readers are to engage with it and extract the intended information from it.
- Children will give greater focus to revision and editing if the writing is intended to be published.
- Presenting the work so that others can read it. This may not be the outcome for all pieces of writing, but when used it can provide a strong incentive for pupils to produce high-quality writing.
**By Phil Ferguson*
Education Endowment Fund (2017) Improving Literacy In Key Stage Two EEF: London
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
- The teacher teaches most by showing how he/she learns, and
- 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.
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.
- Children choose topics,
- Children listen to their pieces and revise,
- Children help each other,
- Teachers listen to child texts,
- Skills develop in the context of child pieces,
- Teachers to have greater access to children.
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.
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.
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: 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?
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.
- Write daily, at the same time if possible, for a minimum of 30 minutes.
- Work to establish each child’s topical turf, an area of expertise for each writer.
- 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.
- 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.
- End each writing time with children responding to each other’s writing in a predictable format: receiving, questioning.
- 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.
- 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.
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
**By Phil Ferguson**
The Writing Process
Research clearly states that teaching children the writing process in an explicit way is the best way to improve their writing outcomes. So how is this done? As we have discussed briefly here, Frank Smith describes the two roles involved in writing as being: the author and the secretary.
When children are in author mode they are concerned with generating ideas, organising thoughts, and arranging selected words and sentences appropriately and effectively.
When in the secretary mode, the child is more concerned with the transcription of the writing (e.g. using correct spelling, capitalisation, handwriting and punctuation).
Process Writing – The Writing Workshop – Real World Literacy
The Real-World Literacy approach recognises the importance of both the author and secretary roles. In our approach, children nearly always choose their own topics, write for real audiences and purposes. It is this motivation which makes children want to develop the skills needed to write effectively, conventionally and creatively.
This Process Writing approach originated from the work of Donald Graves and has been moved forward and exemplified by The Writing Workshop model popularised by Nancie Atwell.
Here is a beautiful interview with the master, the legend, the original writer-teacher, Donald Graves:
The Real-World Literacy approach emphasizes writing fluency, including techniques that improve a student’s ability to get words down on paper. It promotes frequent writing in contexts that are meaningful and authentic to the children. The intended reader is emphasized as both peers and teachers provide feedback, either in writing or in Pupil Conferences.
Our approach encourages the use of the students’ or your own writing as mentor texts for the teaching of composition and conventions. In the process approach, a teacher cannot teach writing without use of a student’s or their own writing. Research consistently shows this to be vital in terms of children’s writing process.
The stages of the writing process are:
Due to the nature of writing, children quickly learn and can be taught that these stages may overlap.
- In the generating ideas stage, students consider what will interest, motivate and stimulate them and their readers.
- In the planning stage, students plan and organise their writing (e.g., brainstorming, drawing or boxing-up).
- During the Vomit Drafting stage, students create drafts of their writing pieces -potentially many.
- In the revising stage, (the often forgotten stage) teachers encourage their student writers to make substantial improvements to the piece (i.e., thinking about the reader, using certain linguistic and grammatical features and genre-features). Peers and others often provide feedback to the author during this stage.
- The apprentice writers in your class then assume the secretary role during the editing stage, focusing on correcting mechanical errors such as punctuation, spelling, and capitalisation.
- The publishing stage can take many forms ranging from: contributing to the class library, entering writing competitions and sending it through the post to other interested and relevant readers.
Again, students may progress through the stages linearly or they may return to
previous ones (e.g., even after “publishing,” a piece could go through revision again), alternating between the author and secretary roles fluidly, and, through our Real-World Literacy approach, independently.
I’m sure you already do most, if not all, of these stages in your classroom but research shows that actually taking time out of lessons to teach aspects of the writing process is the way of improving your children’s writing outcomes significantly.
This is because newly acquired learning in writing can only ever be maintained and developed if children connect it with regular free-writing opportunities. If new writing skills are given the chance to be reinforced in a variety of genres and situations, increased application and transformation of these new writing skills is likely. This basically means regularly teaching an aspect of the writing process and then allowing children to apply and use it in their (regular) writing time. This forms the basis of Real World Literacy.
Each stage of the writing process gives teachers an opportunity to implement instruction that will increase the likelihood of excellent writing outcomes.
Consider this: according to Baer (1999), “no one learns a generalised lesson unless a generalised lesson is taught“. For example, a student who successfully writes a short-story in October may not maintain that ability through June – not without deliberate efforts to provide opportunities for regular practice. This is why our Genre-Booklets are so important.
These are booklets which children take from the class library whenever they want to and which show them how to write in a specific genre. All children are given time to practise writing in these common and popular genres every week. As a result, their ability to write them well and independently increases vastly.
Building into your classroom strategies for promoting generalised outcomes such as this is what Real-World Literacy is all about. It provides children with specific strategies for generalisation and application of all the skills a writer needs. They can be used quickly, often, independently, at school or at home and for pleasure. We have built these strategies into each stage of the writing process: generating ideas, vomit drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.
Some of which we have already shared on this blog:
- Generating ideas independently,
- Vomit Drafting,
- Memoir Genre-Booklet: Writing a memoir independently,
- Independent spellers/proof readers.
Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction & Improvements In Our Children’s Writing.
The Self-Regulated Strategy Development model can help teachers incorporate self-regulatory training into their writing pedagogy.
Many children struggle to coordinate the multiple cognitive and self-regulatory demands
of the writing process. Below we describe how the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model of instruction, which combines the explicit teaching of writing strategies with instruction in self-regulatory skills has been used in our classroom this year to great effect.
Self-regulation can be learned:
- by being taught directly through instruction,
- through repeated practice,
- indirectly through sheer experience and observation of others.
What Has Been Given ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction’ In Our Writing Classroom This Year:
- Generating Ideas (using the 10-Ideas Sheet)
- Boxing-Up (using our Genre-Booklets)
- Vomit Drafting (Using our Vomit Draft rules – checking for ‘unsure’ spellings, punctuation and ‘sticky bits’),
- Revision Tips Sheet (using certain grammatical or linguistic features)
- Editing Checklist (proof-reading for spellings, capitalisation and other punctuation)
- Publishing (using The Cursive Script Examplar)
How The ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction’ Was Delivered
- Discuss It (explain why authors use these techniques)
- Model It (show them how it is done)
- Support It (through Pupil-Conferencing)
- Independent Performance (give children the resources to carry it out on their own for the whole year)
- ‘Held’ understanding – adapt these resources in future year groups to make children’s transitions even easier. E.g. have ‘Boxing-Ups’, ‘The Vomit Draft Rules’, ‘Revision Tips Sheets’, ‘Editing Checklists’ and ‘Cursive Script Exemplars’ for every year group.
As a result of setting up these resources, the children can now see a piece of writing through from generating an original idea all the way to publish – completely independently. They will attend to all aspects of composition and transcription in the process.
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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**By Phil Ferguson**
Teaching The Writing Process:
- Atwell, N., (2015), In the middle USA: Heinemann
- Bloodgood, J., (2002) Quintilian: A classical educator speaks to the writing process In Reading Research and Instruction, 42:1, 30-43
- Calkins, L. (1998) The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- Casey, M., & Hemenway, S. I. (2001). Structure and Freedom: Achieving a Balanced Writing Curriculum.The English Journal, 90(6), 68
- Gardner, P (2011) The Reluctant Writer in the Primary Classroom: an investigation of mind mapping and other pre-writing strategies to overcome reluctance. Bedford: The Bedford Charity
- Graham, S., & Sandmel, K. (2011). The Process Writing Approach: A Meta-analysi In The Journal of Educational Research, 104(6), 396-407
- Graves, D., (2003), 20th Ed, Writing: Teachers & Children At WorkUSA: Heinemann
- Jasmine, J., & Weiner, W. (2007). The Effects of Writing Workshop on Abilities of First Grade Students to Become Confident and Independent Writers In Early Childhood Education Journal Early Childhood, 35(2), 131-139
- Levitt, R., Kramer-Vida, L., Palumbo, A., & Kelly, S. P. (2014). Professional Development: A Skills Approach to a Writing Workshop In.The New Educator, 10(3), 248-264.
- McQuitty, V., (2014) Process-Oriented Writing Instruction in Elementary Classrooms Evidence of Effective Practices from the Research Literature In Writing & Pedagogy6.3 467-495
- Porcaro, J. J., & Johnson, K. G. (2003). Building a Whole-Language Writing Program In Kappa Delta Pi Record, 39(2), 74-79.
- Taylor, M. M. (2000). Nancie Atwell’s “In the Middle” and the Ongoing Transformation of the Writing Workshop In The English Journal, 90(1), 46.
- Tompkins, G. E. (2011). Teaching writing: Balancing process and product. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
Writing As A Craft – Writing Everyday
- Gee, J. P. (2008) A sociocultural perspective on opportunity to learn In P. Moss, D. Pulin, J. P. Gee, E. Haertel and L. Young (eds) Assessment, Equity, and Opportunity to Learn (pp.76-108) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
- National Commission on Writing (2003) The Neglected R: The Need For A Writing Revolution America’s Schools & Colleges
- Rogoff, B., Moore, L., Najafi, B., Dexter, A., Correa-Chavez, M. and Solis, J. (2007) Children’s development of cultural repertoires through participation in everyday routines and practices In J. E. Grusec and P. D. Hastings (eds) Handbook of Socialization: Theory & Research (pp.490-515) New York: Guildford Press
- Tomasello, M. (2003) Constructing a Language: A usage-based Theory of Language Acquisition Cambridge: Harvard University Press
- Tomasello, M. (2006) Acquiring linguistic constructions In R.S Siegler & D. Kuhn (eds), Handbook of Child Psychology: Cognitive Development (pp. 255-298) New York: Wiley