‘Real-World 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-World Literacy below:
What you are about to read has come about because, like you, 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-World Literacy is so named because children can and will write as writers do in the real world, using their own (real) words. Many writing units or approaches are narrow and fragmented. Very few integrate purpose and audience with the content of the curriculum. Yet it is this kind of integration which adds tremendous value, breadth and balance to writing teaching. Without such teaching, it is easy for writing to concentrate on one aspect of writing without taking into account the links and support other aspects. Our approach is highly-interconnected.
Teachers who use Real World Literacy recognise that what is offered to children in school must be culturally relevant and meaningful to them if they are to learn well. Like you, they are concerned that too few children are realising they can do more with writing than simply imitate adults. They understand that Real World Literacy calls attention to the importance of children’s lives outside the classroom as valued and legitimate sources of knowledge. As teachers we know that, when these experiences are acknowledged and celebrated as valuable subjects for writing, children will be motivated to engage with every aspect of the writing process. Children will write 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, empowering them to see that their writing can connect them with others and that they are being listened to and understood. Real-World Literacy will help you to do this. It is interesting to read that this year, children were reporting that they saw writing only as a school based task. This may be why children’s motivation to write has gone down sharply in recent years as well writing done outside of school(The National Literacy Trust, 2016).
To create communities of motivated and effective writers, we propose four interrelated practices. We begin with teaching genre through Talk-For-Writing (in lower Key Stage 2) and 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. Writing Study provides the means of engaging children in critical analysis of all aspects of 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 will be encouraged to take the lead in their own learning. They will be 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-World 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 fulfils all the expectations of the National Curriculum (2013) and is supported by the influential author and educational commentator Michael Rosen.
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. Children learn that their ideas matter because they matter. 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 but to 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 actually been properly reflected on. 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.
Why Do We Write?
Language merely reflects our way of trying to make sense of the world. – Frank Smith
Frank Smith (1982) says ‘writing touches every part of our lives‘.
- One of the first reasons we write is because it is a tool for communication within a culture. It gives us the ability to share information over time and space with multiple individuals (explaining, recounting & opinion).
- It can also be used as a permanent record or as a statement (e.g. in history, geography & science genres).
- The third cultural aspect for writing is artistry (narrative and poetry).
- Finally, there is also the personal aspect to writing. Writing allows us all to reflect, imagine, express our perceptions of self, to socially dream, or to be critical (memoir and poetry).
By writing, we find out what we know; what we think. Writing is an extremely efficient way of gaining access to that knowledge which we cannot explore directly. – Frank Smith (1982, p.33)
For us, writing is a relationship between thought and language. When we write a first draft, we rehearse what is otherwise on our minds – whether we are conscious of this or not. Writing simply provides us with an opportunity to discover and then revise these thoughts in ways that we could not have imagined ourselves capable of when we first began our writing pursuit. We, but also children, use writing to separate ourselves from our ‘work’ and so become more objective. Alternatively, we can use writing to do things that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. – this is what Gutierrez (2008) calls ‘social dreaming’.
Ultimately though, writing is a means for us to express ourselves in the world, make sense of the world and impose ourselves upon it.
Writing does more than reflect underlying thought, it liberates and develops it. – Frank Smith
The Purpose Of This Writing Curriculum
So why do children write at school? For the four reasons outlined above? – Not often. But why not?
There is a massive discrepancy between the writing done in the real-world and that of the classroom. Why is this so? Is it the case that we are just doing what has always been done and never reflected on the purpose of writing and thus the teaching of writing?
Donald Graves says ‘all children want to write‘. It is just a case of allowing them to write about the things they are interested in. As Frank Smith says, ‘all children can write if they can speak it.‘ If they can talk about it, they can write it down. Most current writing pedagogies at present seem to withhold this true purpose of writing. We believe teachers need to increase their consciousness, and the consciousness of their pupils, of how language contributes to their lives.
Language is socially developed and is always developing. This fact is all too often underestimated in schools at present. Real-World 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,
- The view that English is just a formal system to be learnt,
- The overuse of task-orientated writing,
- Overemphasis on after-the-event written feedback,
- The formal rather than the functional teaching of grammar.
These examples embody ‘commonsense’ assumptions which claim an authority which is supposedly natural and unshakeable. Through current writing pedagogies, schools are perpetuating the idea that we as teachers know, while children do not; that we as teachers are in a position to determine, while children are not, and that children should simply comply, adapt to or cooperate with writing tasks set by the teachers.
Therefore, 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, children’s 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. Schools are producing writers as consumers (or at best imitators) when really they need to be encouraging a generation of producers. Producers who know early on in their lives that they have a writing-voice and know how best to use it. Helping children develop their voice through writing is a vital seed we need to plant as soon as possible.
Real-World Literacy 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 and accurately. These two concepts are dialectically related.
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 an 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. Most approaches to writing concentrate on just one or two ways of considering breath in writing. Very few (if any) are able to fully integrate concepts like purpose, pleasure, creativity and attention to audience with the content, organisation and genre of writing. This kind of integration adds valuable breadth and balance to your writing curriculum. Without such an approach it is easy to fragment the act of writing and so miss out on the essence of what it means to write in the real world.