The power of children requesting their own writing lessons

By Inka Vann

Why invite your class to make requests and suggestions about their writing lessons? When children are invited to actively participate in how their writing classroom is run, it can improve both their motivation and their writer identity. We know that for children to get the most out of their writing lessons, they need to feel like they have some agency and ownership over what they write and how they write it (Young & Ferguson 2021).

Considering themselves as writers

Last week, I asked my class to think about how they can ‘help me to help them’ by making suggestions and requests for writing lessons. We talked about how the suggestions they make benefit both them and I as fellow writers, as I can build mini lessons, author’s chair sessions and our writing station around their writerly needs.

Spending time considering what might be an appropriate request was important in guiding the class to make manageable suggestions; I didn’t want them to make impractical requests that would potentially need to be denied. In this case, we agreed that all suggestions should be polite, fair, and specific.

Suggestions for Author’s Chair

It helped that prior to this lesson, my class had already partaken in a mini-lesson called ‘The Rights & Responsibilities of the Author’s Chair’.

Reproduced with permission from Young and colleagues (2021 p.40)

This meant that they had already considered what the purpose of an author’s chair session really was and could now think more critically about how they thought that time could be most profitably used. It was interesting to see how, independently of each other, many pupils wanted very similar things from our author’s chair sessions! 

The most popular suggestions were:

  1. For me to participate in an Author’s Chair session, so that they could learn more about how to receive feedback from others.

The girl who suggested this said that it would be ‘good to hear what you say when people give you advice.’

  1. For us to have special guests during Author’s Chair, so a wider range of feedback can be heard.
  1. To hold an Author’s Chair session with new audiences – e.g. other classes or year groups.
  1. For separate Author’s Chair sessions to be held for Class Writing Projects and for Personal Writing Projects.
  1. For us to ensure that Author’s Chair sessions are fair. Some children felt we needed to ensure that a wider range of participants joined in.

This allowed me as a writer-teacher to reflect on my class’ writerly needs. Now that they are building their confidence as writers, they evidently want to share their writing with wider audiences. This was great news. 

Suggestions for lessons

Children needed a little more prompting when suggesting mini-lessons to me. I think they are so used to it being me who decides what they need instruction in most. Generally speaking though, their requests fell into two categories:

  1. Mini-lessons on particular writing processes they struggle with. Interestingly, planning seemed to be the most popular request and, incidentally, this is the stage of our Class Writing Project that many of them are currently at!
  1. Mini-lessons related to our current Class Writing Project, Flash Fiction. I could see that they had internalised our product goals for this project, as some of the requests related specifically to how to achieve these. 

One boy had recognised from our product goal list that the key moment of our Flash Fiction stories needed to be ‘slowed down’ – he also shared with me that this was something he recognised needing to do in his writing more generally.

From these particular requests, I could tell that my class had developed a strong sense of what our next mini lessons should be in relation to where we were at with our Flash Fiction pieces. However, as well as receiving these more pertinent suggestions, some children made requests that were quite general or not well articulated, revealing their relative inexperience as reflective writers.

Other suggestions

Many children were enthusiastic about the idea of writing competitions, again, informing me that they would like to widen the audiences of their writing.

A few students suggested that we undertake ‘group conferences’, where I work with a small group of them who have a similar need.

Finally, pupils who have developed their own smaller publishing houses for personal projects were keen for opportunities to collaborate with one another.

Moving forward 

This mini-lesson allowed me to develop a much greater understanding of my class as writers and what they see as important in writing sessions, namely: the option of sharing their developing pieces with wider audiences regularly and mini-lessons that attend to their most pressing writing needs.

In terms of understanding individual writers, this mini-lesson also gave me the opportunity to see which children were not well-versed in articulating their needs and understanding the bigger picture of our writing projects.

By Inka Vann

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