The Common Misconceptions Of Writing For Pleasure Debunked

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Writing For Pleasure, as a pedagogy at least, is fairly new ground. It’s an exciting movement to be a part of. I love hearing from other practitioners who tell me about how they are taking it on and the really positive results they are seeing in their classrooms.

However, I also hear a lot of things said about the pedagogy which are simply untrue. With this is mind, I hope this article can attend to some of the most common misconceptions I hear about a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy…

Writing For Pleasure just means giving children ‘free-writing’ time.

  • ‘Free-writing’ is actually a compositional technique popularised by Peter Elbow (1998) in which writers write whatever comes to mind for 10 minutes before mining the writing for any interesting or fruitful topics which might be worth further exploration. Alternatively, the topic is already known to the writer and they simply write freely on the subject for 10 minutes before working on it as a composition. A Writing For Pleasure pedagogy, however, is a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to teaching writing and does not have the restricted meaning described above.

Writing For Pleasure is a hippie free-for-all. It means no teaching. No direct instruction. You just hope children naturally develop.

  •  A Writing For Pleasure approach is a cohesive and carefully conceived pedagogy based on 14 principles of effective practice. These principles are the result of three literature reviews, spanning 50 years of scientific research and teacher case studies. It involves well over 300 pieces of literature and research on the subject of teaching writing.
  • Writing For Pleasure pedagogy does not advocate for a naturalistic approach to the teaching of writing (Hillocks 1986). Quite the opposite. It requires continual and skilful direct instruction from expert teachers of writing.

Writing For Pleasure should be seen as separate from the school’s curriculum.

  • Some teachers believe that children should be given some ‘free-choice’, ‘personal writing’ or ‘golden writing’ time and that this can be referred to as writing for pleasure. It is stipulated that this kind of writing must be quite separate and distinct from ‘class’ writing.  Thus, an artificial wedge is driven between ‘class writing’ and ‘writing for pleasure’, to the detriment of both. In fact, the two should work in rich combination, as our Writing for Pleasure manifesto and pedagogy has made clear. Every class writing project should yield the children enough fruit in their own terms for it to feel pleasurable and satisfying. And ‘personal writing’ projects must be seen to be as valid and as important as class writing projects. Children should be allowed freedom of choice about how they wish to interpret a class writing project, and be given time to pursue personal writing projects.
  • Writing For Pleasure pedagogy should definitely replace a school’s curriculum if that curriculum is not serving the needs of children as genuine apprentice writers. All writing that takes place in a classroom should attend to children’s affective needs, such as a sense of enjoyment and a feeling of intrinsic satisfaction in the writing projects they undertake. This means that children’s completed class writing projects can ‘get to work’ and serve legitimate purposes and a variety of audiences.

Writing For Pleasure doesn’t care about the quality of children’s written products.

  • Whilst a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy advocates for children discussing and generating their own ideas for class writing projects, it simply doesn’t follow that Writing For Pleasure teachers will accept low standards in terms of a final written product. Quite the opposite. Because these projects are serving real audiences, they must be of the highest quality. This means teachers sharing their own and others’ writing and identifying what the class will need to do to ensure that their pieces are successful and meaningful. For example, collaboratively discussing and setting product goals is extremely useful. Children are encouraged to write in such a way that they are motivated for their writing to be the best it can be, both in terms of composition and accurate transcription. 

Because Writing For Pleasure lets children choose their topics, they only ever write about trivial stuff like television characters and their friends! 

  • This might happen at first, usually because children have never before been given such freedom to choose their ideas for writing projects. It soon changes once generating their own ideas becomes the norm. Besides, nothing children write about is ever trivial if you actually talk to them about it, and if you have high expectations for the writing . For more information on this issue, we recommend reading Ralph Fletcher (2012) or Anne Haas Dyson’s (2014) work.

If you’d like to find out more about Writing For Pleasure, you can download our research report here.

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