National Education Union: Advice for teaching Writing For Pleasure remotely

This article originally appeared on the National Education Union’s website.

By Ross Young and Felicity Ferguson, founders of The Writing For Pleasure Centre and convenors of The United Kingdom Literacy Association’s ‘Teach Writing’ research group.

Last June, a National Literacy Trust survey recorded that, during lockdown, children were writing of their own volition and for pleasure at home like never before. It was cheering to hear from children themselves about how writing could make them feel better in such difficult times.

What is really telling in the findings is how children welcomed the conditions for writing created by lockdown: time, space and freedom. Time and space to think and write at your own pace and in your own way. Freedom to generate your own idea, to express it in whatever form you like, to write according to your own desires and wishes. This is exactly the position taken up by the UKLA’s Viewpoint On Writing: to develop as writers, children need to see writing as an act of social meaning making, a creative and communicative act of personal agency, and an extension of their identities.

The survey begs a serious question: how can we support children’s writing at home through our online learning provision? Well, let’s identify the essentials:

  • We want children to be taught something interesting and important about writing every day.
  • We want children to be writing meaningfully every day.
  • We want to find out how children are getting on and what they need instruction in next.

How are these three aims best and most easily achieved under current circumstances? We suggest a reassuringly consistent and daily routine of:

Mini-lessons: Teach children something about writing. Keep your instruction short. Concentrate on teaching just one thing before inviting children to try it out in their writing that day.

Writing time: Children need to be crafting meaningful writing every day. They also need to be set realistic but flexible deadlines. Deadlines should be set which give children ample time to generate ideas, plan, draft, revise, proof-read and publish and perform their compositions.

Class sharing: Children need an opportunity to talk about how their writing is going and to share it with you and their classmates. They also need to be able to tell you what they feel they would like instruction in next.

Top Tips

  • Ask children what they would like their class writing projects to be and who they would like to publish or perform their writing for. Generate writing ideas together and let children choose their own writing topics for a project.
  • If you can, deliver a mixture of live and pre-recorded mini-lessons. Keep these very short and very specific,10-15 minutes at most. You’ll know you’re teaching a good mini-lesson if, at the end, you can invite children to try out what you’ve taught them during that day’s writing time.
  • Early into a class project, share mentor texts with your class that match the type of writing they are trying to craft for themselves.
  • Make sure your mini-lessons change as children work their way through the writing processes. Focus your mini-lessons on generating ideas and planning at the beginning of a project before shifting your focus towards drafting, revision and proof-reading lessons.
  • Sometimes it might be nice to offer an opportunity for the whole class to have ‘writing time’ together online. You can be writing too. That way you can share any writing tips, talk together as you’re writing, answer any questions, give advice and even receive advice from your pupils too!
  • Give children plenty of opportunities to discuss, share, and get advice from their peers and from you in regular class sharing sessions. This could be done using live video calls and through commenting functions like Google Docs.
  • Move to a responsive teaching model. Don’t plan too far ahead and don’t plan too much. Put a mechanism in place where children can share what they think they need mini-lessons in most to write well at home, and then deliver these lessons to them.
  • Let children develop their compositions over many writing days and weeks. • Alongside their class writing projects, encourage children to pursue their own personal writing projects too.
  • You could also involve parents in writing projects by sharing The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Be Together, Craft Together, Share Together initiative with them.

Examples Of Practice

‘Anyone wanna collab?’: Personal writing projects go online! An example of practice from Marcela Vasques and Tobias Hayden.

Read about how teacher Ben Harris sets up his class as a community of writers using Google Classroom.

Read about how Billy Bean manages being both a teacher and a parent writing at home.

Read about how writer-teacher and NEU member Tobias Hayden has been teaching Writing For Pleasure with his class during lockdown.

Read about how Marcela Vasques has used Google Docs to create a community of writers.

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