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’.
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.
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.
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.
“We must not delay! Upon the speedy provision of elementary education depends our industrial prosperity. It is of no use trying to give technical teaching to our artizans without elementary education….If we leave our workfolk any longer unskilled, notwithstanding their strong sinews and determined energy, they will become over-matched in the competition of the world. If we are to hold our position among men of our own race or among the nations of the world we must make up the smallness of our numbers by increasing the intellectual force of the individual.”
In 1870, an Education Act was passed which paved the way for the achievement by the end of the century of compulsory free state education for children between the ages of five and thirteen. The driving force behind the Act was clearly articulated above by W.E. Forster in his speech to the House in February of that year. The education of the masses came also to be seen as a possible and desirable solution to problems of social unrest and rising crime, and to carry the important function of socialization, to be achieved through the inculcation of such moral values as piety, honesty, industry and, significantly, obedience. These principles are surely held good in schools today, though promoted in a different vocabulary.
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).
This half term we focused on the teaching of advocacy journalism. Advocacy journalism is when you advocate for something. It means you champion it, support it and try and stand up for it.
In our first week, we discussed this genre using our genre-booklets. To make the writing truly purposeful, the school contributed a charity grant fund worth £150 to a JustGiving page and invited the community to top this up, which in the end raised well over £300.
So, over half term, we asked the children to talk with their families and choose a local charity, organisation or cause that was worthwhile or important to them. They then had to research details of the charity and bring their information into school. They even had to phone up their charity on the phone to try and get a quote – some of them did remarkably well with this.