How Important Is Talk For Writing?


Writing floats on a sea of talk – James Britton

How important is the role of talk in children’s writing development? Case studies of the best performing writing teachers would argue that it is transformative (Pressley et al. 1997; Medwell et al. 1998; Langer 2001; Gadd & Parr 2017; Young 2019). A child’s writing and their language development mutually benefit when they are invited to craft writing amongst their teacher and peers every single day. Indeed, engaging in daily and meaningful talk and writing is one of the best ways to develop children’s language (Mercer et al. 1999; Rojas-Drummond et al. 2008; Green et al. 2008; Parr et al. 2009; Fisher et al. 2010; Dix 2016; Reedy & Bearne 2021).

Encouraging children to talk and collaborate together during writing time is an evidence-based research recommendation (Graham et al. 2012; Grossman et al. 2013; De Smedt & Van Keer 2014) and an opportunity to talk as they write improves children’s final written outcomes (McQuitty 2014). For example, children who talk as they write go on to write richer and more sophisticated texts (Wiseman 2003; Vass et al. 2008). This may be because talk gives children more working memory for writing (Latham 2002; Cremin & Myhill 2012; Young & Ferguson 2021) or because talk between children assists them in deciding what to say and how to encode it (Davidson 2007; Whittick 2020).

A classroom rich in talk, where children are encouraged to tell others about events in their own lives, the knowledge they bring into school, and the imaginative ideas their minds conjure up is the foundation of any high-quality writing program (Lamme et al. 2002; Tolentino 2013; Daniels 2014; Rowe 2018; Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021). Your class can have more stories and ideas for writing than you’ll ever know what to do with as long as you’re willing to give time for talking and sharing. Children regularly rely on talk for guidance, a model, expertise, assistance, and instruction (Wohlwend 2008; Kissel 2009). This isn’t a negative thing as it shows children’s commitment to being independent through what’s called co-regulation (Young & Ferguson 2021).

Children talk their texts into being. Talk is vital at all parts of a young writer’s process. Firstly, talking with peers helps children generate ideas for what it is they want to write about. Talk also supports pupils to plan what it is they want to write down. It helps them draft fluently, to revise, and to proofread with a readership in mind. Finally, talk is an opportunity to publish or perform for others (Young & Ferguson 2021).

Children talk with one another before they write, as they write and after they write. These interactions occur in different ways and can include:

Idea explaining Children share what they plan to write about during the session with others.
Idea sharing Children work in pairs or small ‘clusters’ to co-construct their own texts together.
Idea spreading One pupil mentions an idea to their group. Children then leapfrog on the idea and create their own texts in response too.
Supplementary ideas Children hear about a child’s idea, like it, and incorporate it into the text they are already writing.
Communal text rehearsal Children say out loud what they are about to write – others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
Personal text rehearsal Children talk to themselves about what they are about to write down. This may include encoding individual words aloud. Other children might listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
Text checking Children tell or read back what they’ve written so far and others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
Performance Children share their texts with each other as an act of celebration and publication. 

(Young & Ferguson in press)

Through our own talk with pupils during writing time, we teach children how to respond to other’s writing, ask questions, and how to give advice and instruction. Children begin to copy us. By hearing and participating in pupil-conferences, children become sociable and knowledgeable writer-teachers too (Ferguson & Young 2021).

This article looks to highlight the importance of talk in writing. Children can write all the words they can say. However, if we put words in children’s mouths, they end up not as writers but reciters. Duplicators of someone else’s voice. If we want to develop children’s language and writing alongside each other, we must give them time to talk and write together everyday. We must keep in mind that dictating and reciting texts isn’t talking or writing. Dictation and recitation are practices associated with a presentational-skills (Young & Ferguson 2021) or ‘writing readiness’ (Young 2021) ideology towards early writing development. Both of which are fundamentally flawed.

Neither scientific research nor the case studies of the best performing writing teachers recommend the slavish and repetitive learning of a text. It’s not in children’s best interests to spend their time engaged in long-winded ‘barking out of a text’. Instead, we must put talk and language development where it belongs – at the heart of the writing process.

References

  • Cremin,T., and Myhill, D. (2012) Creating Communities of Writers London: Routledge.
  • Daniels, K., (2014) Cultural agents creating texts: a collaborative space adventure Literacy 48(2) pp.103-111
  • Davidson, C. (2007). Independent writing in current approaches to writing instruction: What have we overlooked? English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 6, 11–24
  • De Smedt, F., and Van Keer, H. (2014). A research synthesis on effective writing instruction in primary education. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 112, 693–701.
  • Dix, S. (2016).Teaching writing:A multilayered participatory scaffolding practice. Literacy, 50(1), 23–31.
  • Ferguson, F., Young, R. (2021) Pupil-conferencing With 3-11 Year Olds: Powerful Feedback & Responsive Teaching That Changes Writers [https://writing4pleasure.com/a-guide-to-pupil-conferencing-with-3-11-year-olds/]
  • Fisher, R., Myhill, D., Jones, S., and Larkin, S. (2010) Using Talk to Support Writing. London: Sage.
  • Gadd, M., and Parr, J. (2017). Practices of effective writing teachers. Reading & Writing 30(6), 1551–1574.
  • Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D’Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., Olinghouse, N. (2012) Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice  guide (NCEE 2012–4058). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education
  • Green, J., Yeager, B., and Castanheira, M. (2008). Talking texts into being: On the social construction of everyday life and academic knowledge in the classroom. In Exploring Talk in School: Inspired by the Work of Douglas Barnes, Mercer, N., and Hodgkinson, S. (Eds.) (pp. 115–130). London: Sage.
  • Grossman, P.L., Loeb, S., Cohen, J., and Wyckoff, J. (2013). Measure for measure:The relationship between measures of instructional practice in middle school English language arts and teachers’ value-added scores. American Journal of Education, 119(3), 445–470.
  • Kissel, B. (2009) Beyond the Page: Peers Influence Pre-Kindergarten Writing through Image, Movement, and Talk, Childhood Education 85:3 pp.160-166
  • Langer, J.A. (2001). Beating the odds:Teaching middle and high school students to read and write well. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 837–880.
  • Lamme, L., Fu, D., Johnson, J., Savage, D. (2002). Helping kindergarten children move towards independence. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30(2), 73-79.
  • Latham, D. (2002) How children learn to write: Supporting and developing children’s writing in schools London: Paul Chapman
  • McQuitty, V. (2014) Process-oriented writing instruction in elementary classrooms: Evidence of effective practices from the research literature. Writing & Pedagogy, 6(3), 467–495
  • Medwell, J., Wray, D., Poulson, L., and Fox, R. (1998). Effective Teachers of Literacy. A Report Commissioned by the UK Teacher Training Agency.
  • Mercer, N.,Wegerif, R., and Dawes, L. (1999). Children’s talk and the development of reasoning in the classroom. British Educational Research Journal, 25, 95–111.
  • Parr, J., Jesson, J., and McNaughton, S. (2009). Agency and platform:The relationships between talk and writing. In The SAGE Handbook of Writing Development. London: Sage.
  • Pressley, M.,Yokoi, L., Rankin, J.,Wharton-McDonald, R., and Mistretta, J. (1997). A survey of the instructional practices of grade 5 teachers nominated as effective in promoting literacy. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1(2), 145–160.
  • Reedy, D., Bearne, E. (2021) Talk for teaching and learning: the dialogic classroom Leicester: UKLA
  • Rojas-Drummond, S.M.,Albarr’an, C.D., and Littleton, K.S. (2008). Collaboration, creativity and the co-construction of oral and written texts. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 3(3), 177–191.
  • Rowe, D. (2008) The Social Construction of Intentionality: Two-Year-Olds’ and Adults’ Participation at a Preschool Writing Center Research in the Teaching of English 42(4) pp.387-434
  • Tolentino, E. (2013) “Put an explanation point to make it louder”: Uncovering Emergent Writing Revelations through Talk Language Arts 91(1) 10-22
  • Vass, E., Littleton, K., Miell, D., Jones, A. (2008) The discourse of collaborative creative writing: Peer collaboration as a context for mutual inspiration Thinking Skills and Creativity pp.192-202
  • Whittick, L. (2020) Write a little – share a little [Online].Available: [https://writing4pleasure.com/write-a-little-share-a-little/]
  • Wiseman, A. (2003) Collaboration, Initiation, and Rejection: The Social Construction of Stories in a Kindergarten Class The Reading Teacher 56(8) pp.802-810
  • Wohlwend, K. (2008) From “What Did I Write?” to “Is this Right?”: Intention, Convention, and Accountability in Early Literacy, The New Educator, 4:1, 43-63
  • Young, R. (2019). What is it ‘Writing For Pleasure’ teachers do that makes the difference? The University Of Sussex:The Goldsmiths’ Company [Online] Available: http://www.writing4pleasure.com.
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2020) Real-World Writers: A Handbook For Teaching Writing With 7-11 Year Olds London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021) Writing For Pleasure: Theory, Research & Practice London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (in press) Real-World Writers: A Handbook For Teaching Writing With 3-7 Year Olds
  • Cremin,T., and Myhill, D. (2012) Creating Communities of Writers London: Routledge.
  • Daniels, K., (2014) Cultural agents creating texts: a collaborative space adventure Literacy 48(2) pp.103-111
  • Davidson, C. (2007). Independent writing in current approaches to writing instruction: What have we overlooked? English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 6, 11–24
  • De Smedt, F., and Van Keer, H. (2014). A research synthesis on effective writing instruction in primary education. Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 112, 693–701.
  • Dix, S. (2016).Teaching writing:A multilayered participatory scaffolding practice. Literacy, 50(1), 23–31.
  • Ferguson, F., Young, R. (2021) Pupil-conferencing With 3-11 Year Olds: Powerful Feedback & Responsive Teaching That Changes Writers [https://writing4pleasure.com/a-guide-to-pupil-conferencing-with-3-11-year-olds/]
  • Fisher, R., Myhill, D., Jones, S., and Larkin, S. (2010) Using Talk to Support Writing. London: Sage.
  • Gadd, M., and Parr, J. (2017). Practices of effective writing teachers. Reading & Writing 30(6), 1551–1574.
  • Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D’Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., Olinghouse, N. (2012) Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice  guide (NCEE 2012–4058). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education
  • Green, J., Yeager, B., and Castanheira, M. (2008). Talking texts into being: On the social construction of everyday life and academic knowledge in the classroom. In Exploring Talk in School: Inspired by the Work of Douglas Barnes, Mercer, N., and Hodgkinson, S. (Eds.) (pp. 115–130). London: Sage.
  • Grossman, P.L., Loeb, S., Cohen, J., and Wyckoff, J. (2013). Measure for measure:The relationship between measures of instructional practice in middle school English language arts and teachers’ value-added scores. American Journal of Education, 119(3), 445–470.
  • Kissel, B. (2009) Beyond the Page: Peers Influence Pre-Kindergarten Writing through Image, Movement, and Talk, Childhood Education 85:3 pp.160-166
  • Langer, J.A. (2001). Beating the odds:Teaching middle and high school students to read and write well. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 837–880.
  • Lamme, L., Fu, D., Johnson, J., Savage, D. (2002). Helping kindergarten children move towards independence. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30(2), 73-79.
  • Latham, D. (2002) How children learn to write: Supporting and developing children’s writing in schools London: Paul Chapman
  • McQuitty, V. (2014) Process-oriented writing instruction in elementary classrooms: Evidence of effective practices from the research literature. Writing & Pedagogy, 6(3), 467–495
  • Medwell, J., Wray, D., Poulson, L., and Fox, R. (1998). Effective Teachers of Literacy. A Report Commissioned by the UK Teacher Training Agency.
  • Mercer, N.,Wegerif, R., and Dawes, L. (1999). Children’s talk and the development of reasoning in the classroom. British Educational Research Journal, 25, 95–111.
  • Parr, J., Jesson, J., and McNaughton, S. (2009). Agency and platform:The relationships between talk and writing. In The SAGE Handbook of Writing Development. London: Sage.
  • Pressley, M.,Yokoi, L., Rankin, J.,Wharton-McDonald, R., and Mistretta, J. (1997). A survey of the instructional practices of grade 5 teachers nominated as effective in promoting literacy. Scientific Studies of Reading, 1(2), 145–160.
  • Reedy, D., Bearne, E. (2021) Talk for teaching and learning: the dialogic classroom Leicester: UKLA
  • Rojas-Drummond, S.M.,Albarr’an, C.D., and Littleton, K.S. (2008). Collaboration, creativity and the co-construction of oral and written texts. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 3(3), 177–191.
  • Rowe, D. (2008) The Social Construction of Intentionality: Two-Year-Olds’ and Adults’ Participation at a Preschool Writing Center Research in the Teaching of English 42(4) pp.387-434
  • Tolentino, E. (2013) “Put an explanation point to make it louder”: Uncovering Emergent Writing Revelations through Talk Language Arts 91(1) 10-22
  • Vass, E., Littleton, K., Miell, D., Jones, A. (2008) The discourse of collaborative creative writing: Peer collaboration as a context for mutual inspiration Thinking Skills and Creativity pp.192-202
  • Whittick, L. (2020) Write a little – share a little [Online].Available: [https://writing4pleasure.com/write-a-little-share-a-little/]
  • Wiseman, A. (2003) Collaboration, Initiation, and Rejection: The Social Construction of Stories in a Kindergarten Class The Reading Teacher 56(8) pp.802-810
  • Wohlwend, K. (2008) From “What Did I Write?” to “Is this Right?”: Intention, Convention, and Accountability in Early Literacy, The New Educator, 4:1, 43-63
  • Young, R. (2019). What is it ‘Writing For Pleasure’ teachers do that makes the difference? The University Of Sussex:The Goldsmiths’ Company [Online] Available: http://www.writing4pleasure.com.
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2020) Real-World Writers: A Handbook For Teaching Writing With 7-11 Year Olds London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021) Writing For Pleasure: Theory, Research & Practice London: Routledge
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F. (in press) Real-World Writers: A Handbook For Teaching Writing With 3-7 Year Olds

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