What do I do when my class hates writing?

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Welcome to the WfP Helpline series. This is where we try to answer your most pressing questions about teaching writing. If you’ve got a question or problem you’d like help with, please leave a comment at the bottom of this post or drop us an email. This week we are answering the question: What do I do when my class hates writing?

According to our own research (Young & Ferguson 2021), there are lots of reasons why children can ‘hate’ writing. It can be due to negative past experiences, a lack of success, or low levels of self-belief. It can be because writing feels utterly unnatural, alien and confusing. They don’t know what they are meant to be doing or how to do it. They may also think writing is boring and pointless.

Writer-teacher Donald Graves, famously said ‘children want to write’ and I agree. I’ve yet to meet a child who actually hates writing. I’ve only met children who hate how they are taught to write.

To help combat these negative feelings, you can focus on using teaching practices which directly tackle these common issues. Our own research study looked to understand what it is the best teachers of writing do that makes the difference. We found that these teachers focused on instruction which increased children’s motivation, confidence, independence, metacognition and levels of agency and ownership.

Here is a quick list of the things these teachers were doing that was making the difference:

  • They ensured children were writing, publishing and performing for reasons beyond teacher evaluation. They took time to explain why children were undertaking the class writing project and where their writing was going to be seen, heard, or read at its end. As a class, they discussed the audience who was going to receive their writing (Young & Ferguson 2020).
  • They convinced the class that they were going to learn something valuable about writing by participating in the class project. They asked the children for their thoughts, ideas and reactions to the writing project.
  • The teacher and children together set the goals that needed to be achieved if they were going to produce excellent writing products. This meant the children knew what to consider and include if their writing was to be successful and meaningful. Importantly, they knew how to include it. This happened through daily writing-study and functional-grammar mini-lessons (Young & Ferguson 2020)
  • They talked regularly about the things they had done in previous writing projects and how that was going to be helpful to them in this project.
  • Children were regularly told that they are achieving writing goals and hitting milestones on the road towards publication and performance.
  • Through daily mini-lessons, children knew how to undertake the different writing processes. The children were able to use a writing process that suited them best. They were able to write at a pace that suited them – within a framework of loose writing deadlines (Young & Ferguson 2020).
  • Children were given time to choose what they wanted to write about.

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