DIY CPD for Writing For Pleasure 1.   Being a writer-teacher

This is the first of a series of blogs, written by a teacher for teachers, aimed at helping you prepare yourself as a Writing For Pleasure practitioner.  This particular blog asks you to think about your relationship with writing and being a writer-teacher.

The last half term of the academic year is usually my favourite. Not just because of the upcoming summer holiday, but also because I usually feel exceptionally proud. Proud of myself for getting through the year, no matter what challenge presented itself; proud of the children I have taught, how they’ve grown and learnt new things. And always that little bit anxious; anxious about my new class – having to start the cycle all over again and try my best to teach thirty entirely different children with very different interests and needs.

I imagine that, like me, during the months of June and July, you’ll want to start thinking about what you’re going to be teaching next year and how you’re going to do it. How you’re going to teach your class to write will inevitably form a huge part of that thinking, as well as the children’s writing needs.  Perhaps you’re also reading this because you’re not entirely happy with how you’ve been teaching writing so far, or because you are keen to find out more about Writing For Pleasure and what this means for you and your pupils. Either way, I hope that the advice below will enable you to be a better and more confident teacher of writing, and will put you in a good position to introduce Writing For Pleasure from September. The plan is to make this a series of blogs which can each act as a small piece of CPD. Each blog will provide you with a ‘task’, with approximate times for completion (I realise we are all incredibly time-poor as teachers). I want them to be manageable and achievable, and, most importantly, to have the potential to bring about significant change in the way you think, write and teach.

The best place to start is to think about yourself as a writer.

Getting to know yourself as a writer and teacher of writing

Questions to consider: Reflections on yourself as a writer:

The questions below are adapted from the UKLA’s Teachers As Writers project. It was a project conducted by Teresa Cremin and I was extremely fortunate to participate in the project. For more information, see the UKLA’s publication Teaching Writing Effectively: Reviewing Practice.

You can choose to undertake this task privately or with colleagues.

  • What is your overall feeling or sense of yourself as a writer?
  • What types of personal writing activities do you carry out regularly at home?
  • Out of these activities, which gives you the most satisfaction/pleasure – and why do you think that is?
  • What are your earliest memories of writing? Are they positive/negative – why?
  • What feedback (positive or negative) had the biggest impact on you and how you felt about writing? Why do you think that is?
Task 1Create your own writing river. 20-30mins.  Use the questions above and your own writing memories to create a Writing River. Divide your river into three sections: early and primary years; secondary & university years; and adult life.  For each section, consider and write down (i) the different writing tasks that you remember doing that really stick in your mind (for whatever reason, negative or positive); (ii) the type of feedback that you received and from whom; (iii) the purpose of your writing. What do you notice?  When you think about your childhood writing experiences, how might this relate to the experiences your pupils have?

When I did this, I remembered that I actually hid a lot of my writing from my teachers when I was at school. I wrote lots of poetry and stories at home that never made it into the classroom. We had a creative writing teacher who banned the word ‘nice’ and told me off for using it once in class. I hated her lessons ever since and would never talk to her about my writing. Thankfully my parents encouraged me to write and provided me with lots of opportunities to celebrate my endeavours. But, what if I hadn’t had that experience at home? I also thought about how controlling I had become in my own teaching and felt terrible about it. I was in danger of becoming just like my old creative writing teacher, even down to banning words from the classroom and being obsessed with checklists of punctuation.  Something needed to change in my classroom – the subject I loved (and wanted my pupils to love) was not at all pleasurable to teach or to be a part of.

Questions to consider: Reflections on yourself as a teacher of writing:

  • Do you and your pupils see you as a writer inside or outside of school?
  • How regularly do you think out loud and model the different processes of writing?
  • How often do you write pieces for your pupils to enjoy and learn from?
  • How often do you discuss the future readers for your writing when you’re teaching?
  • How often do you explicitly teach about the craft of writing, such as the strategies and techniques that writers might use at different stages of the writing process (Young et al. 2021)? 
  • How often do you write alongside children, taking part in the same class project that they are undertaking?
  • How regularly are the children given choice over things like purpose, genre, content and audience for their writing?

Don’t let this activity make you feel anxious if you’ve answered ‘no’ or ‘hardly ever’ to these questions. If that’s the case, then great! You’ve got something to work with. Remind yourself that this is the starting point for making a number of positive changes.

By Ellen Counter. Ellen has been a primary teacher for the past 15 years, working in three different London boroughs.  She has enjoyed teaching every age group during that time – from Nursery to Year 6. She completed her MA in Children’s Literature in 2013. Ellen is currently the Strategic English Lead in a seven-form primary school in East London.

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