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

The political hot-potato in terms of writing at the moment is independent writing. We have decided the tackle this subject head on by producing a mini-series of blog posts about how we have managed to create a writing community within our classroom which allows children to write independently every day.

We will cover all sorts of strategies we use to allow children to write high-quality assessed pieces independently. Some of them we have already discussed and you can find them here:

Writing

This particular post will talk about The Writing Process and how, according to research, the explicit teaching of it is the most effective way to improve children’s independent writing attainment (Graham & Perin, 2007).

It would be good to start off by stating that writing involves both composition and transcription.

Frank Smith, (1982) in his book Writing & The Writer, uses the analogy of a writer and her secretary. This helps visualise the different processes that have to take place when one is writing alone. Remember, this is also what children have to negotiate when writing too.

The writer (composition) has to attend to the following:

  • Generating ideas,
  • Turning thoughts, opinions, feelings into words/sentences.
  • Use of grammar for function,
  • Word and tone choice,
  • Keeping cohesion,
  • Thinking of the purpose of the text,
  • Keeping the reader in mind throughout.

The secretary (transcription) has to attend to the following:

  • Physical effort of writing,
  • Handwriting,
  • Spelling,
  • Capitalisation,
  • Punctuation,
  • Paragraphs,
  • How it will look (including multi-modality).

Frank Smith begins by talking about composing and transcription as if they were performed by two different people. This is simply to allow the reader to see the two broad aspects of writing separately. It is important to remember that we often place both of these burdens on children when we ask them to write. However, consider this for a moment: Teachers often place further cognitive workload upon children. Further burdens can include:

So when they are writing, children have to attend to all of the above and often at the same time. To help the children in our class, at the beginning of the year, we decided to separate the writing process for them and teach each stage explicitly. We call this our Real-World Literacy approach. We taught them how to attend to all the compositional aspects of writing – through what we call:

  • Generating Ideas,
  • Boxing Up,
  • Vomit Drafting and
  • The ‘Revision’ Stage.

We then taught them how to attend to the transcriptional aspects of writing:

  • Proofreading,
  • Editing,
  • Publishing.

I do a kind of pre-draft – what I call a ‘vomit-out’ – Calvin Trillin

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This is because when children are asked to attend to the aspects of composition and transcription at the same time, they both interfere with each other. What would be a collaboration between two people (the writer and the secretary) becomes an unnecessary yet profound conflict for children.

Let’s be clear:

When children are learning to write, composition and transcription can interfere with each other. The more attention you give to one, the more the other is likely to suffer. The problem is essentially a competition for attention.

If thoughts are coming too fast, then the quality of children’s handwriting, spelling or punctuation is likely to decline. If we concentrate on the transcription, the inserting of linguistic features or the appearance of what we write, then composition will be effected; children are likely to produce impeccable nonsense. To avoid either of these occurring, we separate the two processes for the children.

The rule in our class is simple: composition and transcription must be separated and transcription must come last. Revising and editing are as important in our class as writing.

Interestingly, as the year has progressed, we have noted that as the children have got better at composition, the less attention on transcription has been required by them at the end.

The children are now able to characterise themselves and their preferred writing process. We have the following types of writers in our class.

  1. The Vomiters

The most popular writing process. These children like to get their ideas down on paper and spend most of their time revising it and getting it ‘reader ready’ through proof reading and publishing.

2. The Paragraph Pilers

The second most popular process. These children like to vomit a paragraph, clean it up by revising it and editing it before they move on to the next part in their writing.

3. Sentence Stackers

The least popular process. These are children who vomit a sentence and attend to the transcription immediately afterwards.

Interestingly, there are also The Planners and the Discoverers. These are children who either plan the writing to the absolute detail before going on to draft or else I have the Discoverers who resist planning as much as possible and like to see where their writing will take them (with varying success).

Whatever process the children feel works best for them, at the end of the process, all the children will publish a piece of interesting, neat and grammatically correct writing.

Their edited drafts will show evidence that they have attended to spellings, provided evidence of certain linguistic features and punctuated fully. Their final published copy will also show they have attended to their handwriting in a focused way.

I think it is fair to say that the current state of writing-assessment is far from perfect. So how can we ensure that we at least assess children’s writing in a humane way? We currently undertake it in a low-stakes way where children are simply allowed to write through the writing process organically; at their own pace – producing a variety of pieces independently for pleasure.

The popular alternative currently employed in schools is the giving out of a writing stimulus and then given limited time and a high-stakes pressured environment in which to complete it. I know, as an adult, which environment I could do my best writing in.

Incidentally, we should make clear that we are not advocating that every piece is assessed formally but it is comforting to know as a teacher that I have a whole raft of varied and interesting writing from which I can find evidence of good independent writing being undertaken.

To find out more about our approach to teaching writing, which we are calling ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow this link.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

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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.

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.

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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 writers do – so why not teach children to do it 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 required to get involved in a text that your teacher has chosen.

For in most classrooms the chief and privileged story-teller (stories of any kind) is the teacher – Harold Rosen

If our students are to take lessons from literature, they need to be doing more of the legwork, having more of the fun, reaping more of the rewards – Shelley Harwayne

The real author of the narrative is not only he who tells it, but also, at times even more, he who hears it – Gérard Genette

This year, we have taught all the children in our class how a writer will use the books they’ve read to generating an original idea. This has included teaching them how real authors use their favourite texts to influence their own short-stories, poetry, ‘faction’ and non-fiction pieces. We haven’t asked them to use a single book on which they must hang their writing.

We taught them 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, settings and put them in their personal writing project books.
  • Say: Cor, I would love to nick that…
  • Say: I could have a go at writing something like that…

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 on their own – with their own texts.

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We believe this approach is enabling. It takes children off what Donald Graves articulates perfectly as ‘writers’ welfare.’ Children, for once (maybe 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 throughout their time at school and beyond.

It’s ironic that, when children are younger they are actively encouraged to write/mark-make about any text that may have inspired them, yet once they enter infant and primary school, this privilege is largely taken away.

In ‘Teachers As Readers: Building Communities Of Readers,’ it talks about teachers who undertake ‘novel study’ literacy units with their classes. It describes 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 writing-teaching has serious potential consequences. The children in the study explain that whilst their teacher read aloud they often didn’t like it. This is because, in part, they knew it would involve 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 than to support and develop it. (Dixon, 1967)

If we teach writing in this way, it could become all too easy for children to feel that their own responses to a book they would have chosen to be inspired by is unimportant.

Some may of course recognise this as sounding incredibly similar to the failed Literacy Strategy and the dreaded ‘Literacy Hour’. The dryness of schematic and systematic analysis of imagery, symbols, linguistic and grammatical features as well as structural relations killed any potential enthusiasm children would have had to respond, in writing, to the texts they were reading. It is personal written response to literature and not literary criticism which we should be looking to teach during writing lessons. Or as Parry & Taylor (2018) call it: ‘‘leisure reading equalling volitional writing’.

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 and meaningful writing projects here.

Bodies of knowledge – about life, about books, about words – are among the products of [children’s] work. It is possible to regard these bodies of knowledge as the ‘content’ for a writing lesson (John Dixon, 1967 p.74)

You may find the following, taken from our article here, interesting reading too:

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 believe that the great writers can offer a variety of models on which pupils’ writing can be hung. However, this turns language into a one-way process: pupils are receivers of the master’s voice. How does an activity like novel study relate to the ways in which professional writers write every day? Novel study is misleading many teachers into focusing on the teaching of the stimuli itself at the expense of showing children how writers are informed and inspired by their reading and how they can do this too. This misconception of how writers work has very far-reaching consequences. By concentrating on the stimuli (the book), the teacher controls both the book and the relevance that is to be taken from the book. The question of relevance for the children rarely enters their head.

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 largely ignored.
  • It perpetuates the concept that literature itself is a given, a ready made structure which children are simply asked to imitate. The content is chosen as noble and rich enough as being worthy of study.
  • This approach denies children exposure to compositional processes which are used by writers. 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 hugely underdeveloped.
  • It therefore neglects the most fundamental aim of writing teaching – to promote interaction with one’s self (through reflection) and between people.
  • As a result, writing has been interpreted as the study of texts and ‘imitating’ it out by order of the teacher. It deals largely in pre-formatted activities and writing-tasks which are solely there for assessment purposes.

When we, as teachers, mine our favourite texts for potential ideas for writing, we get excited about sharing what we’ve liked or noticed with the children. We also learn a great deal about the book. Therefore shouldn’t we be teaching children the strategies we are employing when we plan novel study so that they can undertake such strategies on their own chosen texts instead? Can they be allowed to enjoy what we enjoy?

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, classics 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 dabble in their writer’s notebook as they are reading.
  • 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 them how to write ‘fan-fiction’.
  • Having a book that is read as a ‘class-read’ which the children can be inspired by.

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. Let children be participants in class writing projects as opposed to recipients. We are fortunate in being able to 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 (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)

Children are ‘always in a high state of readiness to transform into story not only what [they] experience directly but also what they hear and read. (Rosen, 1985)

The increased attention placed on novel study or book planning as a single writing approach has led to the elimination of other approaches and for no good reason. Glenn (2007) & Rosen (2018) argue that, when we allow students to write fiction that’s unrelated to a specific text, their commitment to and resulting understanding of texts more generally is enhanced and encourages children to be more motivated writers.

Gay Su Pinnell (1989) reports on a successful programme with ‘at risk’ children. It showed how children were encouraged to make connections between their reading and writing as a way of boosting their academic achievement. The tasks were not a matter of imitating a book extract or completing a writing task related to a class novel – but instead the children were immersed in a community of rich texts. In response to having read something they felt was great, they had an eye on how they could write like their heroes and as a result learnt how to be better writers.

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 project 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 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 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 and poetry aloud, encouraging children to 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 writing.

  • 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 ‘collection of great phrases’ as a means for a story idea, we ask them to try and integrate a personal experiences into their stories. We do this because children often find writing stories 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.

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.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

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
  • Harwayne, S., (1992) Lasting Impressions: weaving literature into the writing workshop Heinemann: USA
  • 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
  • Parry, B. & Taylor, L., (2018) Readers in the round: children’s holistic engagements with texts In Literacy 52 (2): 103-110
  • Pinnell, S., (1989) Success of at-risk children in a program that combines writing and reading In Reading and writing connections Boston: Allyn & Bacon
  • Rosen, M., (2018) Writing For Pleasure London: Michael Rosen

Writing Identity

    • Ball, S., (2013) Foucault, Power & Education London: Routledge
    • Bearne, E., Marsh, J., (2007) Literacy & Social Inclusion London: Trentham Books
    • Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity, London, Taylor and Francis.
    • Canagarajah, S. (2004) ‘Subversive identities, pedagogical safe houses and critical learning’ in Norton, B. and Toohey, K. (eds) Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
    • Cremin, T., (2011) Writing Voices: Creating Communities Of Writers London: Routledge
    • Cummins, J. (2011). Identity matters: From evidence-free to evidence-based policies for promoting achievement among students from marginalized social groups.In Writing & Pedagogy 3(2): 189–216. http://dx.doi.org/10.1558/wap. v3i2.189.
    • Dockrell, J., Marshell, C., Wyse, D., (2015) Teacher’reported practices for teaching writing in England In Read Write 29:409-434
    • Edelsky, C. (2006) With Literacy and Justice for All: Rethinking the Social in Language and Education (3rd edition). Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
    • Feiler, L., et al (2007) Improving Primary Literacy: Linking Home & School London: Routledge
    • Fisher, T., (2006) Whose writing is it anyway? Issues of control in the teaching of writing. Cambridge Journal Of Education 36(2):193-206
    • Flint, A. S., Fisher, T., (2014) Writing Their Worlds: Young English Language Learners Navigate Writing Workshop In Writing & Pedagogy 1756-5839
    • Flint, A. S., & Laman, T. T. (2012). Where Poems Hide: Finding Reflective, Critical Spaces Inside Writing Workshop In Theory Into Practice, 51(1), 12-19.
    • 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 Vol.10(1) p.165-180
    • Gonzalez, N., Moll, L. & Amanti, C. (eds) (2005) Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practices in Households, Communities, and Classroom, Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
    • Graham, L., Johnson, A., (2012) Children’s Writing Journals London: UKLA
    • Graham, S., Berninger, V., & Fan, W. (2007). The structural relationship between writing attitude and writing achievement in first and third grade students In Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32(3), 516-536
    • Grainger, T., Goouch, K., Lambirth, A., (2003) Playing the game called writing: children’s views and voices. English In Education, 37(2):4-15
    • Grainger, T., Goouch, K., Lambirth, A., (2005) Creativity and Writing: developing voice and verse in the classroom London: Routledge.
    • Gregory, E., Arju, T., Jessel, J., Kenner, C. and Ruby, M. (2007) ‘Snow White in different guises: interlingual and intercultural exchanges between grandparents and young children at home in East London’, Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, vol. 7, no. 5, pp. 5–25.
    • Guerra, J. C. (2008). Cultivating transcultural citizenship: A writing across communities model In Language Arts, 85(4), 296–304.
    • Gutiérrez, K. (2008) ‘Developing a sociocritical literacy in the Third Space’, Reading Research Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 2, pp. 148–64.
    • Kress, G., (1997) Before Writing: Rethinking the Paths to Literacy London: Routledge
    • Labov, W., (1971) Variation in language in The learning of language Appleton-Century-Crofts
    • Labov, W., (1972) The logic of nonstandard english in Language and social context Penguin
    • Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
    • Leung, C., Hicks, J., (2014) Writer Identity and Writing Workshop A Future Teacher and Teacher Educator Critically Reflect In Writing & Pedagogy Vol. 6 583-605
    • Maybin. J. (2006) Children’s Voices: Talk, Knowledge & Identity London: Palgrave
    • Myhill, D., (2005) Testing times: the impact of prior knowledge on written genres produced in examination settings In Assessment in Education Vol. 12, No. 3, November 2005, pp. 289–300
    • Morpurgo, M., (2016) Such Stuff: A Story-Makers Inspiration London: Walker
    • Myhill D., (2005) Writing Creatively In A. Wilson (ed), Creativity in Primary Education: 58-69 Exeter: Learning Matters.
    • Rosen, H., (1972) Language & Class: A Critical Look At The Theories Of Basil Bernstein London: Falling Wall Press
    • Rosen, M., (2016) What is poetry? The essential guide to reading and writing poetry. London: Walker Books
    • Smith, Clint. (2016) The danger of silence Available Online: [http://www.ted.com/talks/clint_smith_the_danger_of_silence#t-242155]

Writing For Pleasure CPD Review

Hi dear Writing For Pleasure friends!

This is just a quick post to share the CPD review from our UKLA Writing For Pleasure conference. It was created by the wonderful writer-teacher Sadie Phillips. You can find Sadie on Twitter @SadiePhillips

Sadie also has a blog at: https://literacywithmissp.wordpress.com/

Click on the image below to download her review as a PDF

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How you might teach greater depth writers.

When I was ten and a new pupil at secondary school, I wrote my first set homework assignment for R.E. – a recount of the one of the seven plagues of Egypt. After a few days my book came back with the comment (in a mean little script written in red pen): Is this all your own work? Mortified, because it was my own work and I’d written it like a story, with my usual enthusiasm and emotional investment, I approached the teacher on the pretext that I hadn’t been able to read her comment. “Well,” came the reply, “it was so vivid.” I said I had written it myself, but I could see she didn’t believe me. To this day I still feel the injury to my early strong sense of myself as a writer, and the need I had to own and assert my talent, though of course in those days, when the teacher was the ultimate authority figure, it didn’t make any difference to her judgment.

Continue reading “How you might teach greater depth writers.”

Writing For Pleasure Practice: Creating Class Publishing Houses

Writing For Pleasure Practice: Creating Class Publishing Houses

Having read Back & Forth: Using An Editor’s Mindset To Improve Student Writing by Lee Heffernan, I was inspired to create a class publishing house in my own classroom. This is a recount of how I went about it.

We are now about half way through the academic year and the children are settling into the idea that they can of publish personal writing projects into the class library. Writing is being undertaken at home and is also making its way into the class library. Children are increasingly talking about writing and are writing collaboratively too. Confidence has been built and a sense of writer-identity has been established. The children are beginning to believe they are writers and that they have many things to say and share with each other.  

Earlier in the year, we had a mini-lesson where we looked to discover what ‘literacy clubs’ make up our writing community. This is where we find out what sort of special interest groups make up our writing community. The children described what they were experts on, what they were excited by and the things that interested them most outside of school. We created a class poster and placed it proudly on our working wall. This, over time, helped build our writer identity as a class.

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For a while, the children would use this as inspiration for writing projects. They would write to other excited members of their ‘special interest group’ but also write to inform other community members of their interests. However, this seemed to die off a little moving into the second term.

At the time of writing, I’ve been fortunate enough to accept a publishing deal and after reading Lee Heffernan’s book, I took the opportunity to explain the process I was now going through and the relationship I was having to build with the publishing house and my ‘editor’. What I’ve come to realise is that a compositional editor is a very critical friend. They look to push your ideas and your writing to its maximum potential. They support and champion you but they also tell you when things need untangling. A publishing house, I’ve also discovered, has a certain identity, a certain statement of intent and a certain reputation for producing certain types of books. I decided to talk about it a little with my class.

We discussed which publishing houses were publishing our favourite books in the class library and we discussed that, in many ways, I was the writing community’s editor, and as a writer-teacher, the children were often mine too! But we soon noticed that we didn’t have a publishing house? We publish into the class library but what does our library stand for? What sort of texts do we want to publish for eachother? Importantly, what sort of texts do we need to publish for eachother? What’s our mission? We discussed this and created our own mission statement for our newly forming publishing house…Now we needed a name and a logo. The children got together and came up with a variety of ideas. We took a vote and agreed on ‘Banger Books Publishing: Books With Wizz And A Bang!’ Alongside it was a logo which we felt everyone would be able to draw and add to their published pieces easily.

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However, there was soon some disappointment within the class. Some of the children became attached to their particular vision for their publishing house and felt that maybe their idiosyncrasies weren’t visible in our whole class mission statement. So with that, as a community, we decided that we could also have smaller, independent houses and that these would need mission statements, brand names and logos too! It was also agreed that these independents would have to be unique enough to not encroach on Banger Books Publishing.

The result was the poster below showcasing the independents and what sorts of books they are looking to publish on their label. I’m now creating opportunities for the children to meet with the editors in question when they feel they have something to publish with them. They can meet and undertake a conference together and share any revision or editorial ideas they may have for the child’s manuscript before it goes to press. I’ll also be around to offer advice and an independent voice.  

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Here is our initial list of independent publishing houses which make up our community of writers at present:

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Delightful Disabilities People with disabilities have great abilities We are looking to publish: stories, poems, faction, memoirs and lots of other things about disabilities.

Paw Publishing Bring animals to life We are looking to publish high-quality texts which: have strong animals characters, have a strong environmental message.

Writing Is Life Writing that keeps you alive We are looking for memoirs that entertain, are well written and include lots of people and loads of info.

Horrible Horrors Bone-cracking books that will scare you to death We publish high-quality books that: are well written, that are powerful, have a meaning, which are scary, are entertaining and surprising.

Fantastic Feminism Books for rebel boys and rebel girls We want our books to include: an amazing girl! Something that the girl does to save the day, to be thoughtful, to have a moral.

Amazing Action Books that explode We publish high-quality texts that are scary with lots of action and are well written.

Poetic Poems Painting with words We publish high quality books that: are well written, very artistic, entertain readers, not boring, poems about the things you like.

Super Sports Super sliding swooping books We publish high-quality books that: are well written, about sport, are funny and are adventurous.

4RY Book Review Sharing the book love We publish high-quality reviews which inspire you to pick up a book and read.

Well, what I think…Publishing Sharing opinion, argument and discussion texts We publish opinion pieces on the things you think about and care about the most. We like topics which will create argument and reflection.

In terms of the writing for pleasure principles, the practice of setting up class publishing houses promotes the following principles:

  • Creating a community of writers – children are currently feeling empowered to create their own inclusive writing community.
  • Every child a writer all children can access the publishing houses and feel they have some to say and an identity within the classroom library.
  • Reading, sharing and talking about writing This is where I’ve seen the biggest changes. It’s been wonderful watching children gather around a text and discussing what its strengths are and what it might need before it can be published. Hearing children be both critical  and supportive friends and children working together to help a child pursue their personal writing projects has been inspiring.
  • Explicitly teach the writing processesIt has helped children better understand the the recursive nature  of the writing processes and what manuscripts have to go through before they are published.
  • Personal writing projects It has given a high status and created high expectations for personal writing projects.
  • Balancing composition with transcription –  It has ensured that children attend to both the composition and the transcription of their pieces before publishing. Revision and editing is now taken very seriously.
  • Pupil conferencing: meeting children where they are This process has helped me as a writer-teacher understand my role as a compositional editor and editor-in-chief of Banger Books Publishing.  The way I talk to the children about their projects has changed dramatically. Having the mission statement written up on display has helped hone in on exactly their pieces need in terms of revision. It will discuss and offer advice on endings, making the writing significant, development of characters in ways I simply wasn’t doing in the past. We are talking about the quality of their manuscripts on a much deeper level now.

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This blog post is another of a series of posts based on our Writing For Pleasure manifesto. 

The research used to inform our Writing For Pleasure manifesto revealed the significance of four themes within the teaching of writing and overall revealed fourteen key principles to teaching writing for pleasure. The themes include: building a community of writers, teaching children to be independent and self-regulating writers, being a writer-teacher and linking reading with writing. A pedagogy which promotes these four themes and the principles within them will provide an affective and effective environment in which children become successful and engaged writers.

Our Literacy For Pleasure website and the #WritingRocks community aims to build a vibrant movement of writing for pleasure teachers who can:

  • Engage with research and review their WfP practice.
  • Access practical materials to support WfP in their schools.
  • Develop research-informed practice and share examples of good practice with the rest of the community.
  • Participate in online monthly Twitter chats through our #WritingRocks account.

To join our ever growing, friendly and engaged community of writing for pleasure teachers, simply follow this blog by clicking ‘follow’ either on the right hand side or at the bottom of this article. You can also join us by following us on Twitter at @WritingRocks_17

If you want to support your school’s development of writing for pleasure, please check out our Writing For Pleasure manifesto and our other materials on The National Literacy Trust website.

If you have an example of good writing for pleasure practice which you think could be shared with the rest of the community, then please contact us here.

Response to: How ‘knowledge about language’ for schools could be so much better, by Michael Rosen

Response to: How ‘knowledge about language’ for schools could be so much better, by Michael Rosen

Michael is right when he says the government and the DfE should have spoken to practitioners like us. Phil and I, for example, are both in the very fortunate position of being applied linguists, teachers and two people who know about writing pedagogy.

Our passion for our work has resulted in our producing materials which we would argue begin to address the idea of teaching ‘knowledge about language.’ Our Real-World Literacy approach is built around the idea that children imitate, investigate, play and repeatedly practise writing and writerly behaviour alongside direct instruction from a sympathetic writer-teacher. We also agree that this kind of ‘knowledge about language’ teaching is helping and always has helped children to write well.

Michael’s first definition of ‘function’ is the one the DfE seem to advocate for. It is a fine description of ‘formal’ grammar teaching, which research tells us does not help improve children’s writing or their writerly behaviours. Michael’s second definition of function is completely in keeping with how we’ve always understood the term ‘functional’ in a Hallidayan sense – that the function of language is utterly related and connected to the social goals of the writing being produced. This is the side of functional grammar that seems neglected. Michael Halliday states that ‘the mastery of language…is not simply the ability to say what one means; rather, it is the ability to mean’.  This is what ‘function’ really means.

It was because of this realisation that Phil and I produced our Functional Grammar Table a few years ago. It was an attempt to persuade ourselves (and eventually other teachers) to move away from the temptations of teaching grammar in a formal way, which we felt was too far removed from the social decisions apprentice writers consider when using grammar for effect.

After considering grammar, we began reflecting on the same issue but on a genre level. From what we’ve observed, teachers, when teaching a form or genre, will often skip straight to the lexical features of a genre. They will focus on word-level items that might be an indicator of a certain type of writing. Sometimes these teachers will drift into some aspects of stylistics – for example types of sentences or sentence length – but it largely stops there.

Our Genre-Booklets are our attempt to counteract such teaching. Taking a top-down approach to teaching about forms/genres, our booklets start with the typical reasons someone might want to write in a certain form; what purpose the form can serve a writer like themselves; what enjoyment or satisfaction it might bring them and what are the potential audiences for such writing. It’s only after this kind of discussion that we even begin to consider what ‘fields’ (meaning topics/themes) can be placed in such a genre by us as a community of writers. Our focus on the tenor (the relationship between writer and reader) of typical genres touches lightly on Michael’s point about narratology, but certainly on reflection this is something we want to think deeper about and is quite an exciting idea. For example, when reading Michael’s reflections on narratology, it reminded me of a girl I taught last year:

She had many difficulties with writing. She found organising the sheer size of her ideas on the page really hard to do and her sentences were often jumbled and hard to follow. However, one day she asked to read the opening of a personal writing project she was working on and it was fascinating. She had decided to address us directly as a Native-American chief. He was speaking to us from beyond the grave and was reflecting on the events that were about to unfold in the story that followed – introducing the narrator at the end of what I can only really describe as a ‘preface’. This kind of understanding and play with narration – something I had certainly never explicitly taught – was a showstopper for the class when they received it.

Anyway, back to our work with our Genre-Booklets. An often justified criticism of genre-theory and the teaching of it is that it can be restrictive. That’s why we always encourage children to consider genre-hybridising and otherwise investigate and play with the genres they know and turn them on their heads. This includes encouraging intertextuality but also ideas like ‘faction‘, ‘fan fiction‘ and ‘metafiction‘.

 

We invite people to contribute to this discussion, and we thank Michael for extending our thinking – as he always does.

**By Phil Ferguson**

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You can find the article below amongst others in ‘Why Write? Why Read?

Original Article:

How ‘knowledge about language’ for schools could be so much better

By Michael Rosen

 

If you think of language as a whole, then ‘knowledge about language’ is made up of anything and everything that describes language or can explain why and how we use it in the ways that we do.

Over the last few years, ‘knowledge about language’ in the hands of the government, the DfE and Michael Gove has been reduced to ‘grammar’ and ‘grammar’ has been reduced to one model, one form of what ‘grammar’ might be – a so-called ‘structure and function’ model.

This single model of ‘grammar’ (treated as if it’s the only model) and enforced through the Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test, then holds sway over primary education, and primary aged children.

First, to be clear, there are other models of grammar, which, say,  treat that word ‘function’, not as how words ‘function’ inside sentences (e.g. this noun is the subject of the sentence) but as social functions (e.g. why have so many of us started saying ‘So…’ at the beginning of our utterances).

For some reason, this form of grammar was not the one implemented and enforced.

There is, though, an even more important criticism to make. ‘Knowledge about language’ is a massive subject and can’t be reduced to ‘grammar’ of any kind. Since the time of Aristotle, linguists have tried to examine language, describe it and explain it. Aristotle was particularly interested in the ‘effects’ of particular uses of language and did a damned good job of it. We all know, for example, what ‘catharsis’ is, thanks to him, but he did more than that in his book ‘Poetics’.

Over the last 150 years, a huge amount of work has gone into examining how the many different uses of language work and have created disciplines such as narratology, stylistics, pragmatics and intertextuality. Though these are mostly written about in very academic ways, they can be broken down into very accessible (and enjoyable) ways for children and school students to use. To be clear: these are also ‘knowledge about language’, and because they are tied very closely to ‘language in specific uses’ and not ‘abstract ideals’, they are especially useful in helping children speak and write.

Narratology, for example, enables us to examine how stories (or any kind of writing) are ‘told’: e.g. who narrates? how does the narration change? what kind of narrator is narrating? what devices does the narrator use to ‘talk’ to us?

Narratology can help us look at how the narration enables us to know how characters think. There are several very different devices that have grown up, all the way from ‘she thought’ to the ‘free indirect discourse’ favoured by Jane Austen and many writers of children’s books.

Narratology can help us look at ‘foregrounding’ and ‘point of view’ – how these shift, favouring one or more characters and why?

Narratology is very useful at helping us with time frames which often change via flashback, flash forward and invocations of continuous time or continuous existence.

Stylistics can take us into how texts ‘sound’ (prosody) – showing us how repetition of structure and letter sounds make rhythms in texts.

Stylistics can draw attention to sentence length, sentence complexity or simplicity, how paragraphs are constructed across texts, why and how these change as the need to express different things change.

Stylistics can draw attention to ‘register’ – how informal/formal a text is? How much does it draw on modes of text from which sources – does the writing empty speech modes? Are there deliberate attempts to ‘borrow’ language from specific sources e.g. from a field different from the one in the text, e.g. from science in a novel?

Stylistics can draw attention to which class of words are repeated e.g. many adjectives, many adverbs – or none?

Pragmatics can draw attention to how dialogue is structured and where the narrator dialogues with the audience/readership. Dialogue can be structured in many different ways in fiction and pragmatics can help us make distinctions.

Intertextuality can help us with the matter of ‘borrowing’ that I mentioned earlier. In essence, all writing is borrowing in that it borrows the sounds, structures and meanings that have gone before in order to do whatever it does. However, some borrowings are more obvious than others and/or more significant. This can be at the level of a whole genre e.g. Hamlet as ‘revenge tragedy’ or at the level say of using literary motifs or tropes e.g. ‘the pathetic fallacy’. Or again allusion to writing or speech that comes before (as Dickens does in the opening pages of ‘A Christmas Carol’) and so on.

If the government and the DfE had been really interested in a holistic view of language and ‘knowledge about language’ it would have talked to applied linguists about all this, and then got hold of people who know about pedagogy and asked them to produce materials which applied this ‘knowledge about language’ in age-appropriate ways, using imitation, and practice and investigation as much as description and direct instruction, so that this ‘knowledge about language’ could have been applied directly to helping children write well.

But they didn’t.

The main reason why they didn’t is because the Bew Report of 2011 imposed the SPaG test instead. This was because Michael Gove told them to.