The Education Endowment Foundation’s Improving Literacy In KS2 Guidance Report: Our Review And Implications For Teaching Writing

On the 26h of November 2021, the Education Endowment Foundation published its revised guidance report entitled ‘Improving Literacy In KS2’. It purports to be updated with the latest research and provides guidance for schools to help them deliver evidence-informed literacy provision that improves outcomes for all.

The mission of The Writing For Pleasure Centre is to help all young people become passionate and successful writers. As a think tank for exploring what world-class writing teaching is and could be, a crucial part of our work is analysing emerging guidance reports such as the one provided by the Education Endowment Foundation. It is therefore important that we issue a review of what this document has to say.

What we concluded from our review of the document

The recommendations made in the EEF’s report are timely and generally welcome. However, we at The Writing For Pleasure Centre believe we can provide more detail, guidance and examples for teachers and schools. We urge anyone interested in developing world-class writing teaching to read the cited research at the end of this review before making any changes to their writing teaching or commercial offerings. The EEF’s report supports many of the research recommendations related to the 14 principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2021a). For example, there were recommendations related to the following principles:

  • Build a community of writers.
  • Read, share, think and talk about writing. 
  • Pursue purposeful and authentic writing projects.
  • Be reassuringly consistent.
  • Teach the writing processes.
  • Set writing goals.
  • Teach mini-lessons.
  • Balance composition and transcription.
  • Be a writer-teacher.
  • Pupil conference: meet children where they are.
  • Connect reading and writing.

We will reflect on these in more detail.

Teach writing composition strategies through modelling and supported practice

To develop pupils’ ability to write… it can be helpful to think of writing as a task made up of five stages: planning, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing. Children can be taught, through modelling and scaffolding, strategies which support them to undertake each of these stages of the writing process
EEF p.28

(EEF’s Improving Literacy In KS2. p.31)

We are pleased to see the EEF highlight one of the key principles of world-class writing teaching: teach the writing processes. However, as we know, writing is not the linear process the EEF’s illustration might, perhaps inadvertently, suggest. Firstly, it is better to use the term writing processes. This is because there isn’t a single writing process. Each writer’s approach to the process of writing is different and they will use these processes in different ways and in different combinations. We can see that in the different writing habits that are discussed with children in Writing For Pleasure schools:

The writing habits below come from our book Real-World Writers. Writing habits are our own way of doing things. You might be an Adventurer, who likes to draft first then use it as a plan for a second draft. Perhaps you’re a Planner, writing a tight plan to precede your draft.

(Young & Ferguson 2020 p.60)

Many people are Vomiters, quickly drafting from a plan and attending later to revising and editing. Others are Paragraph Pilers, only drafting the next paragraph when they have revised and edited the one before. And there are Sentence Stackers, who perfect a sentence before moving on to the next. I have always identified myself as a dedicated Sentence Stacker, whereas my writing partner is a confirmed Vomiter. It’s totally amazing that we get our writing done together without too much pain. You can have great conversations with children about what kind of a writer they think they are, and they love giving themselves a writerly label and seeing how their friends identify themselves too. 

Of course children can and will chop and change their writing habits depending on the type of writing they are doing or indeed the type of mood they find themselves in on that particular day.

The purpose of this type of lesson is to tell children that they can experiment with different writing habits, and to invite them to try one out in their writing today. Point out that this will help them find their own preferred one in time. Show them examples from your own notebook where you have tried some different ones out, perhaps according to the type of writing you were doing.

The process of producing writing can also be different depending on age and experience. For example the process of writing can look like this in The EYFS:

(Young & Ferguson 2021b)

And like this in KS1:

(Adapted from Young & Ferguson 2021c)

Before looking something like this in KS2:

(Adapted from Young & Ferguson 2020)

When teaching the writing processes is combined with two other key principles, namely: teach daily mini-lessons and be a writer-teacher, we see powerful instruction in our writing classrooms. For example, in our Writing For Pleasure schools, we see teachers explicitly teach and model a single writing strategy or technique before inviting children to use it for themselves during that day’s writing time. This happens every single day.

If we boil down our approach to teaching the craft of writing, it is as simple as:

Teach, then Invite

  • Teach. Provide explicit and direct instruction to your class on an aspect of writing you feel they need a better understanding of.
  • Invite. Invite children to try it out during that day’s writing time.

For more information on teaching grammar, sentence-level instruction, and other craft knowledge, please see the following mini-books:

  • The WfP Centre’s BIG BOOK of writing mini-lessons: Lessons that teach powerful craft knowledge for 3-11 year olds [LINK]
  • The WfP Centre’s grammar mini-lessons for 5-11 year olds [LINK]
  • The WfP Centre’s sentence-level instruction for 3-11 year olds [LINK]

Setting process goals

Ms Howarth may want to consider how to make… writing less daunting for her class. This could be done by initially focusing on one element of the writing process in each session, for example, planning or drafting, with shorter, regular sessions over which the children can complete their [writing project]. Breaking a [project] down in this way and teaching pupils strategies for approaching each stage of the writing [project] will also allow children to have time to reflect on and understand the writing process[es].
EEF p.28

Here we can see another principle of world-class writing teaching being suggested by the EEF: the setting of a process goal (also known as a writing deadline), the thing children need to get done in that particular writing session. Here are some examples of what process goals can sound like in Writing For Pleasure classrooms:

  • Today, our goal is to fill out our planning grids. 
  • Today, our process goal is to let the last few people finish their planning grids.
  • Today, our goal is to write our second section.
  • Today, our goal is to write about your third topic.
  • Today, our process goal is to write our endings. 
  • Today, our process goal is to write our introductions.
  • Today, our goal is to write one of our sections.
  • Today, our process goal is to write our conclusion.
  • Today, our goal is to think about our character description.
  • Today, our goal is to try out writing some suspense into our pieces. 
  • Today, our process goal is to finish our drafts if we can.
  • Today, our goal is for the last few children to finish their drafts.
  • Today our goal is to check our writing against our revision checklist.
  • Today, our process goal is for the last few children to finish revising their pieces.
  • Today, our process goal is to check for capitalisation. 
  • Today, our goal is to check for our use of vocabulary.
  • Today, our process goal is to check our punctuation.
  • Today, our goal is to check our spellings. 
  • Today, our goal is for the last few children to have time to check their spellings.

Obviously, once children have a secure understanding of the writing processes and the strategies they can use to negotiate their way through these processes, teachers can begin to set more open-ended writing deadlines (process goals). For example:

  • Today is our first writing day. You have 14 writing sessions in total. Use your time wisely!
  • What do you want to get done today? Make sure you’ve set yourself a process goal.
  • What do you want to get done today? Remember, we’ve got 8 more writing sessions left before our publication deadline.
  • Can I check where everyone is at? Who is drafting? Who is revising? Who is proof-reading? Who has handed in their manuscript?
  • We’ve only got a few more days left before our publishing deadline. You need to make sure your manuscripts are nearly ready.
  • We’ve got a couple of days left. You need to make sure you’re proof-reading now. These manuscripts need to be ‘reader ready’. 
  • This is our last day. I need all your final manuscripts in. They must be full proof-read. If they’re not, you better work with some friends to get them sorted. 
  • OK, I can see that despite our best efforts, loads of us aren’t quite ready yet. I’m therefore going to extend our final deadline by a few days. This is to give you all the very best chance of producing your best pieces. For those who are finished, please enjoy a few more days of personal project time.

Whilst many teachers appreciate how this kind of instruction can help children navigate their way through a writing project successfully, many rightly bemoan the fact that children will finish what they are required to do at different times. That’s why we highly recommend that, once children have finished what they’ve been requested to do as part of the class writing project for that day, they know they can continue working on their personal writing projects (Young & Ferguson 2020). This ensures that all children are engaging in meaningful and productive writing practice throughout the whole writing session, what we call being in a ‘constant state of composition’ (Young & Ferguson 2021a). For more information on how to set up personal writing projects in your classroom, please see our dedicated mini-book on the subject.

What happened to generating ideas as its own distinct writing process?

One aspect of the EEF’s guidance that was disappointing was to see that the most important writing process fails to receive the attention it deserves: generating ideas. Idea generation is a process which happens before writers begin planning, and indeed is a process which informs how one decides to plan. Too often we see teachers or scheme writers taking cognitive and emotional responsibility for this part of the writing process and as a result children fail to receive a complete writerly apprenticeship (Young & Ferguson 2021a).

Teachers or scheme writers who formulate writing ideas on children’s behalf are making a serious instructional mistake (Young & Ferguson 2021a). One of the problems is that children don’t have equal access to writing topics. For example, when teachers or scheme writers choose topics for writing derived from their own personal interests and cultures, they are only ever helping children who are most ‘like them’. Writing on a topic chosen by someone else also makes the task of writing more cognitively difficult (Stein 1983; Heller 1999). In contrast, when children are allowed to choose and access a topic they are familiar with and emotionally connected to, their writing performance improves and they produce higher quality texts (Bruning & Horn 2000; Kellogg 2001, 2008; Graham 2006; Purcell-Gates et al. 2007; Flint & Fisher 2014; Behizadeh 2014, 2018; Fletcher 2016; Young 2019; Harmey 2020).
If teachers are interested in teaching their students strategies and techniques for generating their own ideas within the parameters of a variety of written genres, consider looking at our BIG Book Of Mini-Lessons: Lessons That Teach Powerful Craft Knowledge For 3-11 Year Olds which includes over 70 such techniques.

Let’s have an ideas party

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas – Linus Pauling

Generating ideas is one of my favourite things about teaching young writers. Children have a wonderful ability to come up with unique and original ideas in a way that I can’t. When you gather children onto the carpet with some flipchart paper next to you, write ‘things we can write about’ at the top and then invite them to come up with ideas for the class writing project, it’s like a creative bomb goes off. This is especially true with children who have had a long apprenticeship with the principles of a contemporary writing workshop approach (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a). The best thing about generating ideas in a social way with others is that often other people’s ideas spark your own ideas off too. You can pin these lists up around the room so children can refer to them over many days if they want to. With the youngest of children, you may want to draw diagrams of the things they suggest, as opposed to writing it down.

Here we see the Nursery children in Marcela Vasques’ class being invited to have an Ideas Party.

An example of what an Ideas Party can look like in KS1

An example of what an Ideas Party can look like in KS2. Here the teacher asked the children to come up with a variety of short story ideas for each of the themes in the middle of the paper. The children worked together to ensure they had ideas evenly spread across the different themes by keeping a tally chart. After around twenty minutes, the class had generated around 200+ story ideas. 

Taken from Young and colleagues (2021)

Teach writing composition strategies through modelling and supported practice: Balance composition and transcription

It is important to promote the basic skills of writing (handwriting, typing, spelling and sentence construction) — skills that need to become increasingly automatic so that pupils can concentrate on writing composition.
EEF p.30

This is good advice. However, you rarely hear these two components of advice being reversed. For example, if we teach children (through repeated, daily, meaningful practice) about composition, they have more cognitive energy to focus on skills like transcription. Indeed a daily, meaningful and sustained period in which to write is one of the best ways of ensuring automaticity of not only transcriptional skill but also compositional competence (Dahl & Freppon 1995; Hall 2019; Roitsch et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2021a).

Developing handwriting accuracy and fluency

It’s well known that early writers should focus their efforts on ‘automaticity’ and fluency of handwriting rather than on the adherence to any particular style (Graham et al. 2012; Santangelo & Graham 2016). The main aim at this age is for children to write quickly, accurately and effortlessly. The fact is children who write with automaticity go on to perform very well in their later years and produce higher-quality pieces (Puranik & AlOtaiba 2012; Malpique et al. 2017, 2020). We are therefore pleased to see the EEF’s guidance supporting this position.

Developing compositional fluency

Although accurate spelling, grammar, and handwriting are important, at this stage [planning, drafting] they are not the main focus.
EEF p.33

Many Writing For Pleasure classrooms will help children to focus on their composition whilst drafting and will also support children’s writing fluency by giving them the drafting advice below. Getting children to draft quickly, fluently and happily is essential to their writing success. It’s while drafting that children discover, perhaps for the first time, what it is exactly they want to say. This is no easy task and we can often make this process even harder by inundating children with additional burdens. While meaning well, we are directing children to focus on the wrong things at the wrong time. Children simply must be allowed to draft freely. They can attend to additional demands like success criteria when they are revising and transcriptional accuracy when they are proof-reading.

Drafting advice

(Taken from Real-World Writers Young & Ferguson 2020)

It’s a good idea to give this drafting advice at the beginning of the year. It’s also useful to share it across a whole school, and a poster on the working wall is helpful. For this lesson, it’s good to show children a piece of your own writing where you’ve applied the advice. Let them ask you questions about your writing process too. Over time, you’ll find children beginning to develop their own idiosyncratic ways of drafting.

Developing children’s ability to attend to and correct their spellings

Writing ‘Sp’ beside spellings pupils are unsure about and then checking spellings using a dictionary.
EEF p.30 

Our Writing For Pleasure schools take proof-reading extremely seriously. The expectation is that children are to prepare their manuscripts for genuine publication beyond just teacher evaluation. As a result, they are explicitly taught how to proof-read and are given multiple sessions to get their manuscripts ‘reader ready’ prior to publication (Young & Ferguson 2020). Part of proof-reading is obviously attending to your spellings.

Children are taught to circle any ‘temporary spellings’ (also known as unsure spellings, invented spellings or ‘sound spellings’) when drafting (Young et al. 2021). This reminds them to look up the conventional spelling when it comes time to proof-read. However, dictionaries are probably one of the worst places to go if you are trying to look up a spelling you don’t know, since their main function is to supply definitions for words. Instead, we recommend children use:

  • Word walls (a list of common words children should know how to spell are up on the wall).
  • Common word lists (x10, x100, x1000).
  • Their friends.
  • The book they are reading.
  • Electronic devices (such as computers or tablets) which include speech facilities like Siri or Google.
  • Electronic spell checkers.
  • Phonic dictionaries like ACE.

Teach writing composition strategies through modelling and supported practice: Set writing goals

[Use] checklists to support…writing and monitor progress towards goals. Over time, pupils can be prompted to develop their own checklists before starting to write, instead of using checklists provided by their teacher.
It is important that pupils learn to modify their writing according to the audience for whom they are writing, which includes selecting an appropriate form or genre. Pupils need to learn the features and conventions of different genres. Exposure to a rich range of genres and identification of key features can support this.
EEF p.30-31

It’s really great to see ‘setting goals’ and ‘genre study’ being mentioned in the report. However, this could do with a little more unpacking. Firstly, we know that goal setting can be one of the most effective practices for teachers to employ in their writing classrooms (Young & Ferguson 2021a). Goal setting includes:

  • Establishing a publishing goal for a class writing project. Who is going to receive the writing at the project’s end (beyond teacher evaluation).  
  • Product goals. These are things you might need to do or include to write ‘the best piece in the whole entire world’. 
  • Process goals. These are process deadlines: things you need to get done on the road to final publication or performance.

Here we can see the variety of mentor texts which have been discussed and studied as part of an information text class writing project. The class have studied other children’s successful texts from previous years, commercially published texts which match the kind of writing the children are expected to make, and their teacher’s own exemplar text.

Genre-study is a significantly effective teaching practice (Graham and Perin 2007; Purcell-Gates et al. 2007; Rose 2008; Graham et al. 2012 Olinghouse et al. 2015; Koster et al. 2015; Young & Ferguson 2021a). Writers learn about writing by studying the texts of their heroes. These can be called mentor texts. If I asked you to write a film review and you’d never written one before, I suspect your first thought would be to read a few. The same is true in our writing classrooms. We want teachers and children to study the kind of writing they are about to embark on in their class writing project. These texts need to match the kind of writing you’re expecting children to make themselves. If children are writing short information texts, read short information texts. If you’re writing poetry, read poetry. As you’re discussing and studying these mentor texts, you need to make a list of ‘product goals’ (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a, 2021g). These are the things you’re going to try and do to write ‘the best texts in the whole entire world ever…’

For example:

Here we can see a list of product goals children and their teacher have identified whilst discussing and studying a variety of fairytale mentor texts. These will inform the teacher’s future writing lessons.

Teach writing composition strategies through modelling and supported practice: Pursue purposeful and authentic writing projects

It’s great to see the EEF acknowledge that writing is a cognitively demanding activity which requires children to engage in daily practice which is meaningful, motivating and engaging; writing that is orientated towards writing for purpose and genuine audiences. ‘Consideration of purpose and audience can support effective writing. Like adults, children may benefit from having a reason to write and someone to write for’ (p.31).

Being moved to write
The EEF suggests that there are four purposes for writing: to describe, to narrate, to inform and to persuade. Readers might find it interesting to know that our curriculum and resources are developed around the idea that there are six common reasons we are moved to write. These include:

One way to get the children to reflect on their own writing and ideas is to ask them to think about: Why do writers write? They can then also reflect on why they write, what they like writing about and the purpose behind their writing and other writers’ writing. You can create a poster for your class or the children can create and generate ideas in their books. When I taught this lesson, it was good to have the display that the children had created because we kept referring to it, during conferencing and other writing lessons. They knew and could readily tell me why they were writing, with a definite increase in confidence and motivation.

We want writing in classrooms to match (as closely as possible) the reasons people are moved to write out in the world. This is what purposeful and authentic writing is all about. Class writing projects should therefore be written for an audience beyond just teacher evaluation. Children’s writing should find its way into people’s hands, into their ears and across their screens. We make this recommendation not only for its affective and motivational benefits but also because it helps children write higher-quality texts (Boscolo & Gelati 2019; Bruning & Horn 2000; Gadd & Parr 2016; Hickey 2003; Young & Ferguson 2021a). However, teachers can often struggle to plan authentic writing projects. This is why we provide a host of example projects on our website for teachers to download and use. Teachers could also consider how they can adapt their existing projects to make them more authentic. For example:

Less authenticcould becomeMore authentic
Writing x30 pseudo-authentic letters to a collection of chairs which have left the classroom, asking them to return
Writing x30 pseudo-authentic letters as an evacuee in World War 2
could becomeWriting a letter to someone you admire. [LINK]Writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper about an issue of concern. [LINK]Writing a letter to someone in the family or community with a little power or influence, making a request for change. [LINK]
Writing x30 pseudo-authentic  newspaper articles about the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb
Write x30 pseudo reports about a spaceship landing in the playground
could becomeWriting a class newspaper full of different articles, opinion pieces and features.Writing advocacy journalism articles about local charities. [LINK]
Writing x30 pseudo diary entries as the Iron Mancould becomeWriting a personal memoir to share with family and friends. [LINK]
Writing x30 copies of pseudo instructions for a robot to make a jam sandwichcould becomeWriting some instructions on how to do something you’re really good at so you can teach others. [LINK]
Writing x30 copies of Queen Victoria’s biographycould becomeWriting x30 different biographies of people in your families or the local community. [LINK]
Each child turning a video they’ve watched into a playscript they never get to performcould becomex30 short sketches which could be swapped with other classes. Children could then be invited to perform them for one another.    
Writing x30 copies of the same story idea for teacher evaluationcould becomeWriting x30 different stories as an anthology to go in the waiting room of the local doctor’s surgery. [LINK]Writing x30 different picture books for the class libraries in KS1. [LINK]
Writing x30 pseudo information texts about a made-up animalcould becomex30 different information texts on something they are knowledgeable and passionate about. These information texts could be put together to create a class encyclopaedia of knowledge. [LINK]
Writing x30 reports of the same science experimentcould becomeWriting a variety of reports in response to different scientific inquiries and questions children wanted to find an answer to. [LINK]

Alternatively, a class (teacher and pupils together) can identify a genuine purpose and audience for any class writing project themselves by using our Publishing And Performance Menu.

Choose something delicious from the publishing menu

Publishing is like stuffing a note into a bottle and hurling it into the sea. Some bottles drown, some come safe to land, where the notes are read and then possibly cherished, or else misinterpreted, or else understood all too well by those who hate the message – Margaret Atwood

At the beginning of a new class writing project, I always give out what I call my ‘publishing menu’. It’s a place where children can see all the different options for where our writing could go when we publish at the end of the project. We talk about the menu options. We discuss their pros and cons. This kind of discussion inevitably leads to us talking about the possible audience for our writing too. 

By the end of this lesson, we will have chosen from the menu where our writing will end up. This publishing menu can be found in any of our class writing project resources. However, I can highly recommend making your own – and ask your class what they think could go on the menu too. Children have great ideas about where their writing can end up.

Finally, the EEF rightly points out that ‘combining reading and writing instruction can support children’s development in both’ (p.31). However, we need to be careful. This is what we currently know, from educational research and from case-studies of exceptional writing teachers, about the interconnections between writing and reading in the classroom:

  • When young writers read, ideas for writing occur.
  • Children learn much about the craft of writing and develop an ‘inner ear’ for language if they are given regular, sustained and wide opportunities to read. 
  • Children who read and listen to high-quality texts include more literary features and write better texts.
  • Children who read poetry include more imagery and other poetic devices in their own writing. 
  • Young writers often develop strong affective bonds with the things they have read and use aspects of these texts in their own writing.
  • Children who write in response to the texts they have read significantly enhance their comprehension of those texts.
  • Children having ample time to read is fundamental to their writing development. 

(Young & Ferguson 2021a)

We argue that learning to be a writer is one of the best ways children learn to read. However, we also encourage teachers and commercial providers to reflect on the limitations a literature-based approach can have on children’s writing development.

Developing children’s language capabilities: Pupil-conferencing

Pupil-conferencing is one of the principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2021a). We therefore welcome the EEF’s recommendation that schools ‘design a school feedback policy that prioritises and exemplifies the principles of effective feedback’ (p.34). This is because it gives pupils and teachers an opportunity to engage in quality talk. We see aspects of good pupil-conferencing shared in the EEF’s report too. For example:

Teachers can increase the quantity and quality of classroom talk by:

asking open questions, such as questions that require pupils to explain, reason, or argue;
probing with follow-up questions that require pupils to expand on their answers;
building on pupils’ responses to move the dialogue forward;
encouraging pupils to ask their own questions;
ensuring every pupil has opportunities to articulate their ideas and be listened to.
EEF p.13 

For more information on assessment-based responsive teaching, please see our Writing Development Scales & Assessment Framework and Pupil-Conferencing Mini-Book

Developing children’s language capabilities: Read, share, think and talk about writing

We know that writing and being a writer is a personal and intensely social undertaking which is both cognitive and emotive. One of the principles of world-class writing teaching is to ensure that children read, share, think and talk about their writing. We ensure that children learn that they can articulate and develop their ideas with their peers prior to writing them down. 

You can read about how Writing For Pleasure teachers have created a classroom culture that encourages dialogue by reading the examples of practice below:

  • You can read about how Benjamin Harris incorporates opportunities for dialogue into daily writing sessions through the Author’s Chair [LINK].
  • You can read and listen to how writer-teacher Sadie Phillips taught her children to peer-conference [LINK].
  • You can read about how Tobias Hayden talks with his class about what writing instruction they feel they need most [LINK].
  • You can also read our article about how to develop children’s talk for writing [LINK].

Developing children’s language capabilities: Expanding pupils’ vocabulary

Explicitly teaching and modelling strategies writers use to consider their word choices is an important part of receiving a well-rounded writerly apprenticeship. There are a number of mini-lesson designed to help establish good habits when it comes to considering vocabulary in the Word Choices section of our BIG book of mini-lessons. For example:

‘Cracking open’ boring words

We all do it. In our excitement to get our thoughts down, we will write the words that come to mind immediately. This is fine and is a good way of drafting fluently. However, it is always worth revising your draft afterwards to notice just how often you may be using the same words. Sometimes I use my Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words & Phrases to help me, but online thesauruses are excellent too. Otherwise, I will ‘crack open’ the word by drawing a circle around it and writing alternatives.

The best thing to do with this lesson is to show children how you have used this technique yourself in your writer’s notebook. You can explain how you went about it and answer any of the children’s questions. You can then invite your young writers to have a go for themselves in their own writing that day. This lesson is most effective when the majority of your class are revising their pieces.
Taken from Young et al. 2021

Teaching spelling and recognising types of spelling error

We recognise the EEF’s frustrations at the lack of high quality evidence about how to teach spelling, but agree that the evidence we do have points towards spelling being actively taught rather than simply tested (Adoniou 2014; Alves et al. 2019; Young & Ferguson 2022).

Harold Rosen once famously said to Donald Graves that any idiot can tell a genius they’ve made a spelling mistake (Graves 1983 p.188). We are sure there are many who have experienced ridicule or been made to feel unintelligent simply because they were unable to spell conventionally. Unfortunately, these negative views still persist in society and have serious long-term consequences for an individual’s confidence and desire to write.

Ways in which teachers can improve children’s spelling include:

  • Prolific opportunities to write.
  • Prolific opportunities and time to read.
  • Explicit instruction in how to proof-read.
  • Explicit spelling instruction. It is suggested that children be exposed to a balanced approach to instruction which includes teaching phonology, morphology, orthography and etymology in combination and at the earliest of stages.

Taken from Young & Ferguson 2021a (p.181)

Sentence construction

At The Writing For Pleasure Centre we’ve recognised the need to take sentence-level instruction seriously and to teach children about sentences in a way that helps them write what they mean. We know that formal grammar instruction has always had a negative impact on children’s writing development (Kolln 1996; Fearn & Farnan 1998; Andrews et al. 2006; Weaver et al. 2006; Wyse & Torgerson 2017; Hudson 2017; Myhill 2018; Young & Ferguson 2021). However, like the EEF, the types of sentence-combining instruction suggested within the pages of our Sentence-Level Instruction Mini-Book are far more promising (Keen 2004; Graham & Perin 2007; Limpo & Alves 2013; Saddler 2019; Walter et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2020). We believe work around sentences should be in the service of developing children’s style as writers. We describe sentence-level instruction, and by extension instruction on style, as being about helping children:

  • Share their writing voice and identity.
  • Achieve the purpose they have for their writing. 
  • Write with clarity and simplicity.
  • Develop, elaborate on and embellish their initial ideas.

Our mini-book breaks this instruction down into three categories:

  • Focused sentences
  • Balanced sentences
  • Developed sentences

Target teaching and support by accurately assessing pupil needs

Formative assessment can be integrated into classroom teaching strategies to help ensure that pupil needs are identified and teaching is appropriately targeted. Formative assessment involves eliciting evidence of learning from pupils on an ongoing basis and adapting teaching to meet pupils’ needs.
EEF p.39

The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Writing Development Scales And Assessment Toolkit is written predominantly to support our affiliate schools who pursue the principles of Writing For Pleasure. Assessment is at its most powerful, and most useful, when it is aligned to a school’s curriculum and what teachers and students are doing in class every single day. However, we believe any school can use this material if they appreciate the need for children to:

  1. Receive direct and explicit instruction in the craft of writing every day (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2021d; Young & Ferguson 2021e).
  2. Be given an opportunity to write meaningfully and for a sustained period every day (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2022).
  3. Receive additional responsive teaching through daily pupil conferencing (Ferguson & Young 2021).
  4. Develop their artistry, narrative, opinion and non-fiction writing over time (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2022).

We also need to look at the principles of assessment. For example, our toolkit is as much about assessment-based responsive instruction as it is about assessment itself. Assessment isn’t about data. Data has never helped a child write better. Assessment is about obtaining valuable information to make your teaching more effective and efficient. Assessment-based instruction is about:

  • Children finding out what makes a piece of writing successful and meaningful.
  • Children being involved in setting writing goals for class projects.
  • Teachers providing daily writing lessons that are responsive to what their class needs instruction in most (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2021d; Young & Ferguson 2021e).
  • Teachers providing individualised feedback, through pupil-conferencing, that is responsive to what their pupils need instruction in most (Ferguson & Young 2021).
  • Children crafting their writing because they have an emotional investment in it being the best it can be (Young & Ferguson 2021a).

What next?

Is there a moral purpose to teaching writing? At The Writing For Pleasure Centre, we believe children should know how to successfully live a writer’s life after leaving school. We want them to write well for educational purposes (to pass exams and to share what they know with skill and precision).  We also hope they would know how to live the writer’s life for economic reasons (the ability to write with authority, daring and originality is great currency). We hope they could live the writer’s life for political or civic reasons – sharing their knowledge and opinions with clarity and imagination. We also hope they would write for personal reasons – as an act of reflection or recording. Finally, we would want them to know how to write for reasons of pure pleasure and recreation – feeling a sense of joy and accomplishment in sharing their artistry, identity and knowledge with others in ways that are profound and confident.

The thing that’s disappointing about the EEF’s guidance report is its lack of a clear vision of what writing is and what being a writer should mean. As we have said, writing and being a writer is personal and intensely social, and is both a cognitive and emotive undertaking (Young & Ferguson 2021a). However, the EEF’s report draws heavily on a theoretical framework which fails to fully appreciate this. The model used to influence the report was originally called The Simple View Of Writing. This view of writing is now outdated and has required repeated revisions in recent years. Academics have recently noted how The Simple View Of Writing leaves out major aspects of how children develop as writers.

The simple view originally suggested that writing is made up of only two components: ideation and transcription (Juel, Griffith, & Gough 1986; Berninger et al. 2003) and later a third component of ‘executive function’ was added in 2006 (Beringer & Winn 2006). One problem with this framework is that it treats writing as a simple marriage between transcription and ideation, when really it involves numerous highly interconnected components. Another issue is that interpretations of this theoretical framework regularly result in flawed pedagogical recommendations being suggested and adopted by policy-makers, commercial providers and teachers, namely in the form of a ‘presentational skills’ orientation towards writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2021a). Thankfully, we don’t believe this is the case with the EEF’s report. Finally, despite The Simple View Of Writing influencing policy and practice for many decades, we still see profound underachievement in writing across England where it has been highly influential. This underachievement is rightly recognised as a major issue in Professor Francis’ forward to the EEF’s report.
As we’ve said, the Simple View Of Writing cited in the EEF’s report has since been revised and its limitations highlighted. Below, we provide references to the latest thinking around The Simple View Of Writing for people’s interest. However, whilst these revisions are making the framework better all the time, they are, in our view, still limiting and incomplete.

  • Kim, Y., Schatschneider, C. (2017) Expanding the developmental models of writing: A direct and indirect effects model of developmental writing (DIEW) Journal of Educational Psychology 109(1) 35-50 
  • Kim, Y,. & Park, S. (2019) Unpacking pathways using the direct and indirect effects model of writing (DIEW) and the contributions of higher order cognitive skills to writing Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 32, pp.1319–1343

This isn’t just a problem for the EEF. The Writing For Pleasure Centre is also in the process of trying to devise an alternative conceptual framework which can better encapsulate what it means to develop children’s writing and themselves as writers. There is no doubt teachers and commercial providers need an alternative framework which can fully acknowledge the complex social, cognitive and emotive nature of writing and being a writer, alongside pedagogical and instructional recommendations that centre around helping children write the most accomplished texts that they can. Our early work suggests a need for us to move towards a ‘whole-child’ approach. Please note that our use of the phrase ‘whole-child’ shouldn’t be confused with a child-centered or naturalistic approach to writing teaching. As we’ve already discussed in previous writing, this would not be our recommendation (Young & Ferguson 2021a).

A whole-child approach to teaching writing and developing writers. Adapted from Young & Ferguson (2021a)

Ross Young & Felicity Ferguson


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