The goal of literary work (of literature as work) is to make the reader no longer a consumer, but a producer of text (Barthes 1975, cited by Rosen 1985, p.385)
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’.
Does free-writing Friday mean that for the rest of the week you’re not writing freely?
Some people call these days ‘writing for pleasure’ days but does that mean that on all the other days I have to write with displeasure?
I have no doubt that most of us will think children enjoy these days – at least at first. We will also think it’s a good thing for children to do. I worry, though, because I suspect that many of us will be disappointed in or misunderstand the ‘results’ we get from such days. I worry that many of us will be concerned about the perceived ‘quality’ of what our children produce. ‘Results’ won’t match expectations. I also worry that many of us will ultimately feel guilty because we haven’t put a structure in place for this particular activity, and will fear that free-writing Fridays will end up just being a waste of time.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
What the The Standards & Testing Agency do say is that you can tell a child, through marking, that there are spelling errors in certain paragraphs that they’ve written. I actually think this is quite sensible if we wish to develop children as independent spellers.
We can’t give children rich lives, but we can give them the lens to appreciate the richness that is already there – Lucy Calkins (1991)
As teachers, our job is to help children claim more control over their own lives. One of the ways people most lack control over their own lives is through lacking control over words. Especially written words. – Peter Elbow (1998)
Within a vast educational literature there is a substantial number of treatises that deal with the failure of the primary school to make connections with the lives of working-class children. –Carolyn Steedman (1982)
Think about it. Is there any lower expectation than thinking children will have nothing to write about?