The headline from this year’s National Literacy Trust’s survey into young people’s attitudes towards writing is unsurprising but increasingly concerning.
For a number of years now we have used the trust’s annual survey, which focuses on responses from over 40,000 apprentice writers, to make the case for a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy.
Throughout these years, we have seen that young people have either an indifference to or a dislike for writing but this year it has climbed to over 50%. We also have 40% of children who only ever write when they have to. This is quite staggering.
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.
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.
Authenticity increases student engagement and achievement, particularly in teaching writing (Behizadeh, 2018)
According to Wray et al (1988), children are put off writing because:
They feel they have nothing to say.
They feel they do not write well and become discouraged by their final product.
They do not write regularly enough to view the task as a natural progression from talking.
They get tired of doing the same old task over and over again.
Everything of interest which happens in schools leads to ‘now we’re going to write about it’.
After all their efforts, nobody takes any notice of what they have done anyway.
It is often stressed that authentic writing experiences can improve children’s pleasure and academic outcomes in writing. Indeed, calls for authenticity can be found throughout literature and research (Dyson, 2003, Leung & Hicks, 2014, Flint & Fisher, 2014, Flint & Laman, 2012, Gadd, 2014, Grainger (Cremin), Goouch & Lambirth, 2003, New London Group, 2000, Wegner, 1999). Perhaps the best example though is Hillocks (2011), concluding in his review of 100 years of writing research that:
We now know from a very wide variety of studies in English and out of it, that students who are authentically engaged with the tasks of their learning are likely to learn much more than those who are not. (p.189)
The quality of writing in our classrooms grows more from the tone, values, and relationships of our classroom communities than from anything else. – Lucy Calkins
As part of our ongoing work on building a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy, we have been reflecting on the first principle of our Writing For Pleasure manifesto:
Creating A Community Of Writers (1)
When writers see their teachers as positive, caring and interested in pupils’ lives, they are more likely to engage in writing at a high level of achievement. The aim is to create a community of writers, in which teachers write alongside children and share their own writing practices, and children are shown how to talk about their own and their peers’ writing in a positive and constructive way.
What needs attention when trying to build a community of writers in your class or school? This obviously means creating an environment where writers can flourish.
Below, we have offered some questions that might be worth reflecting on. If you’ve written about writing environments yourself or would like to contribute, you’re welcome to use the comments section below.
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).