‘Real-Word Literacy’ is our document outlining and explaining our unique approach to teaching writing.
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To give you some idea of what we do and why we do it – you may wish to read our opening letter and brief introduction to Real-Word Literacy below:
What you are about to read has come about because we are dedicated to helping children write well. The approach we describe here will provide you with a strong teaching model and a rigorous, structured and highly individualised literacy curriculum for the children in your class or school. Real-Word Literacy is so named because children can and will write as writers do in the real world, using their own (real) words.
It is this perspective, of language being socially developed and developing, that is all too often missing in schools at present. Real-Word Literacy takes the view that teachers and schools need to help change the current educational leanings which include: the transmission of narrow decontextualized writing skills; that English is just a formal system to be learnt, the insistence on task-orientated writing and the formal rather than functional teaching of grammar. The result of this, we believe, is that schools (albeit unconsciously) are supporting the devaluing and neutralising of most children’s identities. The theories and pedagogies that perpetuate these practices often feel to us contrived and irrelevant.
Writing in classrooms, at present, isn’t seen by children as important work. It fails to speak to the real needs pressing on the young. It doesn’t currently answer the burning questions which day-to-day experiences force upon their young minds. At present, experiences encountered outside school walls are treated as peripheral, when in truth they should be central. The current effect of making writing abstract – subject centred, external to individual longings, fears, experiences and questions, is to render children listless and indifferent.
Real-Word Literacy however, argues that children engage in language awareness. That children should be conscious of the different genres which can bring about change and how to use grammar functionally to achieve their social goals effectively. The main reason for this choice of focus is of course due to its current relevance, given the major changes in educational policy and practice as outlined above. Thus we now more than ever need to provide children with the freedom to write about subjects which matter to them whilst also raising their consciousness of how they can share it effectively. These two concepts are related.
The point of language education is not awareness for its own sake, but awareness as a necessary accompaniment to the development of the capabilities of children as producers and interpreters of writing. We hope to give children the tools that will allow them to challenge, break through and ultimately transform the dominant forms of writing as opposed to simply being consumers and imitators of them.
Children’s experiences + the teaching of language awareness & providing opportunity for purposeful writing = language capability potential.
Developing children’s language potential depends on the partnering of language awareness and practice through purposeful writing. Purposeful writing comes if we provide children with ‘language awareness’ in which they can build on their experiences. Language awareness includes the teaching of the writing process, functional grammar activity, genre study and genuine publication to the outside community.
This realisation all started when we were trained in Talk-For-Writing by Pie Corbett & Julia Strong. We are convinced that exposing children to the linguistic features of certain genres is one of the best ways to improve children’s writing. Like many of you, we had considerable success. However, we were aware that, no matter how independent the independent phase of Talk-For-Writing was, it still had a certain feeling of ‘writing exercise’ about it. For us, it didn’t feel like Talk-For-Writing went far enough, in the sense that children were often not being given the opportunity to go on to use these newly acquired genres in writing about what they personally know, love and care about.They didn’t ever get to use the genre for their own purposes and after all, this is what writing is all about. We searched for a potential solution to this problem. We found it by producing Genre-Booklets and using them to support the principles of Process Writing.
As we will go on to explain, Process Writing allows children to express whatever they choose and are motivated to write about in a genre they know will most suit their needs. Even though pupils aren’t conscious of it, they bring to us interesting and complex questions about their texts, their chosen genre and the grammar they want to use. As a response to these questions our Genre-Booklets aid children in writing an effective, meaningful and accomplished text. We also found ourselves teaching grammar in a new way, a functional way, showing children how to use it in their real writing rather than through the completing of exercises.
This text is not intended to simply teach others. Our hope is that it will encourage all of us to seize an opportunity to develop these ideas and together research further into writing. It is also an opportunity to examine traditional practices and question whether they are ‘unexamined wallpaper’. Practices that are so entrenched in school culture that their effectiveness has never been properly reflected upon. Are the current activities and assessments you undertake accomplishing your intended goals, or are they simply what has always been done?
We hope that what you read here is a proposition for you to get excited about. Excited about the children in your class busily writing different pieces across many genres. We know from our own experience how good it feels to be able to look forward to reading such a variety of interesting and authentic pieces of writing at the end of the school day, knowing that children are practising the craft and skills used by real life writers.
Purpose Of This Writing Curriculum
Real Word is a pedagogical approach to literacy. It is based on the recognition that what is offered to all children in school must be culturally relevant and meaningful to them if they are to learn well. Real Word Literacy calls attention to the importance of children’s lives outside the classroom as valued and legitimate sources of knowledge. When these experiences are acknowledged and celebrated as valuable subjects for writing in school, it is our belief that children will be motivated to engage with every aspect of the writing process, writing in their own voice about what concerns, interests or inspires them, finding a form or a genre which serves their purposes, and understanding that attention to grammar and transcription is essential for the communication of meaning. This kind of writing has the important social function of helping children position themselves with regard to the outside world in both the texts they produce and the texts they receive.
To meet this challenge we propose four interrelated practices. We begin with teaching genre through Talk-For-Writing (in lower Key Stage 2) or Genre-Booklets. Both provide an excellent way of socialising learners into the communicative writing activities in which they are expected to become competent. Alongside our Genre-Booklets, Functional Grammar Lessons give learners explicit instruction in the various linguistic resources they can use to make their meaning clear. Genre & Writing Study provide the means of engaging children in critical analysis of both genre and the writing process. The knowledge and skills developed in these learning opportunities form the basis of Process Writing, which is the central part of the curriculum. Here, learners are encouraged to take the lead in their own learning. They are given the freedom to make their own personal writing choices, utilise their new understandings of genre and grammar, and create new contexts for self-expression and connecting with others via the publication of their own authentic pieces. Real-Word Literacy is influenced by contemporary educational research and pedagogy, and its principles are endorsed by Ofsted (2011) & the DfE’s (2012) own analysis of writing research. The content of the approach supports all the expectations of the National Curriculum (2013) and is supported by the influential author and educational commentator Michael Rosen.