Before we start, let me define what a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy is. Writing For Pleasure is actually nothing more than a synonym for world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2022, 2023a, 2023b). It’s a cohesive and carefully conceived evidence-based writing pedagogy based on 14 principles which represent the most effective teaching practice. These principles have a track record of raising standards and accelerating progress and are the result of 600 research studies, spanning over 50 years of scientific research. The principles are also informed by what case studies tell us the best performing writing teachers do in their classrooms which makes the difference.
I hate writing. An utterance that every teacher has heard and something every teacher dreads to hear. We all have students who have good days and bad days. Sometimes they write with inspiration, engagement and excitement. Other times, they are left frustrated, disengaged or upset. How children feel about writing affects how they learn about writing. This is because writing is something that is both personal and intensely social, both cognitive and emotive (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2022).
After years of frustration with my own writing teaching, I decided to focus on how we taught writing in our school and the connections that could be made between children’s affective needs, their academic progress, and the use of effective teaching methods. I quickly learnt that many of our students lacked confidence and they felt they lacked competence. The children said they had little agency or personal responsibility over their writing. They didn’t know why or for whom they wrote the things they did. They didn’t have strong emotional connections with the pieces they were writing. Writing and being a writer didn’t hold personal or social relevance for them. They didn’t have a desire to write nor did they identify as writers.
Instead, they simply produced writing because they were told to – because they were obligated to do so for their teachers’ (my) evaluation. With regards to writing, there was nothing in it for them and there was little of themselves in the writing. We realised that children were underachieving because of our lack of focus or interest in attending to their emotional (what you can call their affective) writing needs.
(Children’s affective writing needs as identified by Young & Ferguson 2021)
As a school, we got it pretty wrong. At the time, we thought you needed to attend to children’s emotions separately from their academic work. That they would simply transfer their emotional and affective development to the writing classroom. It was only when we accepted that children’s emotional and affective needs were interconnected within the writing classroom itself that a dramatic change happened. When we changed our writing curriculum to better serve children’s ‘emotional writing needs’, the impact was incredible. Not only did children’s enjoyment and satisfaction in writing increase, so did their academic performance and achievement.
A ‘whole-child approach’ to teaching writing. Here we can how the 14 principles of world-class writing teaching support children’s emotional and affective writing needs.
With my colleague Felicity, I wrote the book Writing For Pleasure to share our understanding of the connection between children’s emotions and their writing. For example, thanks to the work of neuroscientist Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, we now know that emotion and cognition are interconnected in neural processing (2016). She shares how it is difficult to remember things, engage in complex cognitive activities (like writing) and make meaningful decisions (about your writing) without emotion. According to Mary Helen, children don’t typically bother remembering things that don’t matter to them. This has important implications for our writing teaching.
This is why it’s important that pupils believe that writing matters and that their writing matters. It’s also important that, as teachers, we see that it is not just the children’s writing that matters but developing them as a writer (and as a human being) matters even more. Writer-teacher Donald Graves taught us this when he announced: ‘teach the writer – and then the writing’. When children care deeply about their writing, they are willing to work hard on developing themselves as writers. When they have an emotional connection to their own writing idea, they are determined that their writing be the best it can be.
But how do you create that desire in them for their writing to be the best it can be? I’m going to share with you eight of the best ways in which this can be done.
1. Ensure that when children write in your classroom, it matches how writing is undertaken out in the real-world.
Writer-teacher Donald Graves, nearly forty years ago, famously announced to educators that: ‘Children want to write. They want to write from their very first day at school. This is no accident. Before they went to school, they marked up walls, pavements, newspapers with crayons, chalk, pens or pencils… anything that makes a mark. The child’s marks say, “I am.”’ Graves said that in 1983 and we now know, in 2023 that this is physiologically correct. Neuroimaging shows that the same systems we used to survive in the harsh physical world of hunter-gather times are now the same systems we use to negotiate our well-being in the social world.
The feeling of enjoyment, pleasure and satisfaction that writing brings us comes from the same place as our need to survive.
Successful hunter-gatherers shared messages on walls and the ancient Egyptians designed hieroglyphs to survive in the social world that they had created. And so that strong need to write that Graves discussed is due to children’s desire to survive (and thrive) in the sociocultural world in which they find themselves. Children are quite literally wired to desire literacy. Spend even a small amount of time at a table, with some blank stapled picture books, in a Nursery or Reception classroom, and you’ll know what I mean (Young & Ferguson 2022b).
Children especially have a physiological compulsion to share experiences and expertise with you; to try and relate to and influence others; and to understand themselves and their learning. When children write, they put part of their identity out onto the paper or screen with the beautiful hope that it will be accepted by their readership. Their writing is an olive branch held out to the world. Writing for children is about trying to find their place in the world, make sense of the world, and impose themselves on the world (Young et al. 2022).
As a teacher, this is what makes teaching writing such an honour and privilege. In my opinion, it’s the greatest subject we get to teach. No other subject allows us to make deep human connections with our students. It’s also a massive responsibility. Children are trusting us to give them the tools to thrive in the world. A young writer’s identity cannot and should not be separated from their writer-identity. To do so, I would argue, is to remove their humanity and is nothing less than an act of linguistic and cultural oppression (Young et al. 2022). There is no lower expectation in education than to think a child has nothing to write about (Young & Ferguson 2022c).
It’s only when we show children that writing and being a writer is a vehicle that helps them make and share meaning with others in the world that they can flourish. This is where we have to start. It’s not the final destination. For example, our Writing For Pleasure schools set up their classrooms as genuine communities of writers. To such an extent that they create their own publishing houses from which children’s writing is published out into the world. At the beginning of the academic year, each class comes up with their own logo, strapline, and a mission statement for the types of writing they are going to try and publish throughout the academic year. Children start in Nursery. Every day, they come into school and learn how to make picturebooks (Young & Ferguson 2022b).
Our Writing For Pleasure classrooms run like a mixture of creative and innovative writer’s workshop but also have the rigour, organisation and behavioural expectations of professional publishing houses. The teacher’s role is twofold. One, to be a fellow and sympathetic writer-teacher who can be the children’s biggest advocate and cheerleader but second of all to be the class’ editor-in-chief; ensuring high-expectations and demanding that the children’s writing be the best it can be.
What higher expectation and level of respect can a teacher show a child than to believe that their writing can and should (albeit in a developmentally appropriate way) stand shoulder to shoulder with commercially published works? Children at Writing For Pleasure schools receive a genuine writer’s apprenticeship which matches how writers write. Children are writers for real and they are expected to write with serious intent. They live the writer’s life and learn the writer’s discipline by writing meaningfully for a sustained period. Every. Single. Day.
Children find it hard to apply themselves when we fail to convince them that they will want to use what we are teaching them about writing. Luckily, you don’t see this in Writing For Pleasure schools where children are taught in such a way that they are in a constant state of composition. When they are not writing, they are thinking about writing. They take their personal writing journals with them everywhere they go. You see them taking them onto the playground and into the lunch hall. They even set up secret writing societies in abandoned computer rooms – true story. And alongside their reading books, they take their writing journals to and fro between home and school every single day (Young & Ferguson 2021b). They are receiving a genuine and rigorous writerly apprenticeship.
Ensuring children are living the writer’s life is essential. It’s the only way children will convert our lessons about writing into long-term writerly knowledge (Young & Ferguson 2022). It’s the only way they can convert learnt skills, strategies and processes into an internalised writer’s discipline. To understand and breathe the writer’s discipline, children simply must receive instruction and write meaningfully for a sustained period every single day. There is no other way.
2. Invite children to use a writing idea they have an emotional connection to and teach ‘projects’.
It’s every child’s minimum entitlement to go to school to learn how they can express themselves and share what they know through writing. One thing Writing For Pleasure teachers do is spend time helping each individual child find a relevant idea that they have an emotional investment in writing about (Young & Ferguson 2022c). They also ask their classes to consider who they would like to write for and how and where their writing will be published at the end of a project (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022). And I do mean project. I don’t mean work or unit or activity. I mean projects. Projects are about crafting. They are about ‘making’ writing. Children like the idea of working on something over time and making ‘something’ for someone. They come into class every day and look forward to continuing their important work. A project is something you still think about when you are away from your desk. Children have always liked the idea of ‘projects’. As a teacher, they help you put the craft back into writing.
This idea of class writing projects is part of what we term a ‘sincere writing curriculum’ where the needs of the child as a writer are able to successfully meet the needs of your curriculum objectives.
(Young & Ferguson 2021 p.113)
Children are expected to fully apply the requirements of the curriculum but in a way that meets their needs as independent agentic young writers. I want to be clear that this pedagogical decision isn’t made for ideological reasons. It’s not suggested just because it’s seen as a humane thing to do (though it certainly is!). It’s suggested, ultimately, because it means children write better texts. A sincere writing curriculum helps children see for themselves the relevance and usefulness the academic material you’re teaching them has on their ability to create and share meaning with others. They are encouraged to engage with the academic material in a way that makes sense to them as authors and thinkers. In the process, they apply what they’ve learnt in a significant way and on a deep level (Young & Ferguson 2021d). This is learning.
3. Don’t let your own tastes and preferences influence how you assess the quality of children’s writing.
Your role as a teacher of writing, when assessing a child’s portfolio of manuscripts, is to make an assessment on their ability to apply the skills the curriculum requires (Young & Ferguson 2021d). You’re there to assess their abilities to craft great texts – not the ideas they use to showcase their abilities. What I mean is you’re not there to pass judgement on the worthiness of their topic choice. To be a great writer-teacher, you have to check your ego. You can’t constantly get in the way of the child and their ideas. Instead, you’re there to teach them powerful writing craft to make that idea the best. You’re there to champion them and their ideas and you’re there to make a judgement on the quality of their writerly technique.
Let me just say, the writing curriculum does not require children to write about adult-chosen subjects. They don’t need to be given lofty, worthy, middle-class topics to be deemed a good writer (Young et al. 2022). For example, did you know the curriculum allows a child to write about Spiderman if they wanted to? That is allowed, you know. The point is – have they written about him well? Have they written about him with clarity and elegance? Have they written about him with voice and artistic flair? That’s what we’re there to judge. And that’s what we are there to teach – the writer’s craft.
Too often we see teachers or scheme writers taking cognitive and emotional responsibility for children’s writing ideas. As a result, children fail to receive a complete writerly apprenticeship. Teachers or scheme writers who formulate writing ideas on children’s behalf would appear to be making a serious instructional mistake (Young & Ferguson 2022, 2023a). One of the problems is that children don’t have equal access to these imposed 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’ (Young et al. 2022). When we choose children’s topics for them, we make writing even harder than it already is. We force them to negotiate a topic which they are unfamiliar with. I suspect everyone here knows that – and yet so many schools do it.
In contrast, when children are allowed to choose and access a topic they are familiar with and then emotionally connected to, their writing performance can improve and they produce higher quality texts (Young & Ferguson 2021c, 2022, 2023a).
For example, as a teacher, you know how to write an essay. However, if I forced you to write an essay about quantum mechanics, I suspect you’d struggle in ways you wouldn’t if I let you discuss something you like. The same goes for the children in our writing classrooms. Teachers regularly force their pupils to write about something that is most likely not stored in their long-term memory.
Writing is already the most cognitively demanding thing we ask children to do when they are at school (Young & Ferguson 2022). They desperately need their working memory to be available for negotiating the writing processes. They don’t need us making it even more demanding by asking them to juggle a topic for which they have limited knowledge and (most likely) limited motivation in writing about.
As a writer-teacher, I have absolute belief and faith in children. I think they are really funny, original, interesting, thoughtful, and super smart. We have 30+ beautiful and unique people in our writing classrooms – all ready to tell us things through writing. They really don’t need us to give them crappy writing ideas taken from the internet. Let’s make their writing lives easier by allowing them to tap into something that they are already familiar and motivated to write about. Let them generate their own writing ideas.
When we push our own tastes or preferences down onto children, it’s the children who don’t match our preferences that suffer – and the reality is that it’s usually the children who are least like us who we penalise most in our judgements. I should add that I can be as guilty of this as anyone. I have to continually check myself and keep an eye on my own writing prejudices (Young et al. 2022).
4. Invite children to contribute towards the goals for a class writing project.
When students are invited to be involved in setting the goals for a writing project, they become clearer about the objectives for the project and become far more invested in, and attached to, using and applying the goals (Young & Hayden 2022). In Writing For Pleasure classrooms, everyone (children and teacher together) wants to write the best texts that they can. Teacher and children together come up with a list of ‘goals’ they want their writing to achieve. A teacher will first often ask her class: What can you tell me that’s going to help us write the best stories in the whole entire world? Afterwards, she will ask: What do you think these mentor texts can tell us about writing the best stories in the world too? She will then go on and ask questions like the following:
- What interesting things have the authors done that we could do too?
- What cool craft moves have the authors used that we could use too?
- What’s the best thing about this text?
- What might you try and copy in your text?
- What makes these texts so good?
- What are your favourite bits? What has the author done? Can we steal their techniques for our own texts?
- What sorts of things do you think I need to teach you so you can write pieces like this?
- What makes these the best texts in the whole entire world ever..?
- What are we going to have to do or include to write the best texts ever?
- What can we learn from these texts?
- What have you learnt about writing from these texts?
- What techniques might you steal for your text?
- Why is that part so good? What’s the writer done there? Can we do that in ours too?
- Why does that part work so well? What craft move has the writer used? What should we call that move?
Here is a wonderful example of a writer-teacher ‘bathing their children in mentor texts’ for a fairytale writing project. Her mentor texts include commercial books, a fairytale she’d written, and the mentor texts we provide as part of our Class Writing Project material. In the middle, we see the list of goals the children and teacher want to achieve when they write their own fairytales.
This participatory approach instils in children a sense of ownership and community knowledge construction which helps everyone remain motivated over the course of a writing project. When we invite children to work with us to construct the goals (success criteria, toolkits, ingredients whatever you want to call them) they apply the needs of the curriculum to their own chosen ideas to a high level of sophistication.
In Writing For Pleasure classrooms, children can use their own language to describe the elements of style and good craft they are spotting in the mentor texts they are studying (Young & Hayden 2022). The responsibility for this communal knowledge construction rests not only on the teacher but on the children as well. Children actually understand the ‘success criteria’ because it’s in their language. It’s then our job to translate that success criteria into powerful writing instruction which matches the needs of the curriculum (Young & Ferguson 2021d; Young & Hayden 2022). Our role is essentially to be the middleman between the children and the curriculum for the benefit of both.
In Writing For Pleasure schools, children apply the objectives of the curriculum in a way that best capitalises on their own strengths and preferences and everyone wins. The child, the teacher, SLT, the STA and writing moderators (Young & Ferguson 2021d).
This becomes particularly clear when you see how our teachers set process goals (the thing that need to get done or be achieved during that day’s writing time) in conjunction with their students. These process goals are set in direct response to the needs of the class. If some children need more time to write their very best texts, our teachers are responsive and factor that into the process goal they set for that day. For example:
- Today, our goal is to plan our stories using the Story River technique.
- Today, our goal is to write the opening chunk of our story.
- Today, our goal is to draft five lines – and only five lines!
- Today, I just want us to draft our stories for 10-15 minutes then we’ll call it a day.
- Today, our goal is to write the second page of our Information Books.
- Today, our process goal is to draft the end chunk to our discussion texts.
- Today, our goal is to make the final page of our picturebooks.
- Today our goal is to check our writing against our Revision Checklist.
- Today, our 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 our use of tense.
- Today, our process goal is to check punctuation – specifically our speech punctuation.
- Today, our goal is to check our common word spellings.
- Today, our process goal is to correct our ‘temporary spellings’.
These sorts of goals might strike fear into some teachers’ minds but they need not worry. Children in Writing For Pleasure schools know that once they’ve finished the goal for that particular writing session, they are free to then work on their own personal writing project (Young & Ferguson 2021e). This way, all children, at all times, are engaged in meaningful writing. This simple pedagogical adjustment ensures every single child has their very best opportunity to write their very best text. No one is left behind or rushed unnecessarily. Unlike in most writing pedagogies, there is no loser here. No one is disadvantaged. No one suffers. No child’s spirit is denied or killed simply because the scheme’s weekly lesson plan says it must be so.
5. Don’t teach writing artificially.
If what we do instructionally achieves the instructional end – A learns X – we have succeeded instructionally, but if A hates X and his teacher as a result, we have failed educationally – Nel Noddings
I love this quote. Highly prescriptive approaches that aim to corral children through a set of artificial procedures only result in children looking like they’ve produced writing. These approaches (that I won’t name but I’m sure you all know the ones I’m talking about) lack humanity, and as such children rarely want to (or do) produce their very best compositions. These are low-expectation pedagogies. The lowest of the low. You see children putting in minimal effort and therefore you see minimal outcomes produced. It’s only through sustained, repeated and meaningful practice that the craft of writing – and being a writer – is learnt and understood. This is the only way powerful writerly knowledge is remembered, understood deeply to mastery, and applied in versatile and refined ways. Dare I say, in ‘greater-depth’ ways (Young & Ferguson 2021d). From the perspective of wanting to develop extraordinary writers, artificial procedures which may appear efficient and effective are actually utterly inefficient and ineffective. Children leave such classrooms with no idea how they can take a germ of an idea and see it through to successful publication or performance independently. Greater-depth writers – they are not.
Instead, they’ve been used up and spat out. Most upsetting for me is that they’ve been cheated out of their chance to live an independent writerly life. And I can tell you – it’s a truly intoxicating and satisfying life to have. One that should be offered to all children.
Teachers who use the decontextualized writing activities and grammar drills some schemes provide complain that children don’t transfer these skills well when they are (eventually) invited to write ‘for real’. This is to be expected because the best place to teach children about writing is in the context of writing (Young et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022e, 2022f) – just as the best place to teach a child about tennis is on a tennis court.
Writing isn’t the rational intellectual and mechanical activity these sorts of schemes and exercises wish it was (Young & Ferguson 2022). Instead, writing involves the real-world; things like purpose, audience and emotion can’t be removed from it. If you remove these things from the writing classroom, you’re teaching something (perhaps dictation, recitation, structural linguistics or even compliance) but it’s not the craft of writing you’re teaching. All the grammar PowerPoints, exercises and worksheets in the world won’t help a teacher develop a writer who can take a germ of an idea and see it through to publication independently and successfully. Only scaffolded, repeated and meaningful practice in the craft of writing and being a writer will do that.
I don’t want to be misunderstood here. This isn’t me saying children can simply develop naturally and without instruction. No. We know a naturalistic approach to teaching writing doesn’t work (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2023b). I want instruction. I want high-quality instruction. Indeed, The Writing For Pleasure Centre advocates for 14 principles of world-class writing instruction (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2022). What I’m saying is children should know that their teachers are always orienting their instruction towards helping them write their very best texts out into the world. It’s simply not right to train and herd children through an artificial procedure that gets them to mechanically produce what can only be called a writing ‘trick’. A pedagogical perverse ‘sleight-of-hand’ that is designed to last just long enough for the teacher to extract something that looks like writing out of their class for evaluation. I’m not criticising teachers here. However, I’m certainly willing to criticise any consultants or resource providers who encourage and design such procedures.
Ultimately, the aim of the very best writing teachers is for their students to be able to write successfully outside the context of their school and their teacher’s instruction. I might add that this is what the assessment requires too.
6. Celebrate the fact that you’ll receive 30+ different pieces.
Writing is a social goal-orientated problem-solving activity. The goal or problem being how to share your meaning in the best way possible (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2022). When teachers in Writing For Pleasure schools introduce class writing projects to their students, they are presenting their class with a problem to solve and with a goal to achieve. In response, children approach the ‘problem’ of the class writing project from a variety of perspectives. Not only are children invited to bring their strengths to bear on the project by choosing their own topics to place within the parameters set, they also transform the project into something new and unexpected. Allowing children to choose their own topic for writing within the parameters of a class writing project is about giving all children equal access to writing. This is what makes teaching writing so brilliant. No class writing project is exactly the same every year because that year’s cohort bring themselves to bear on it. For some teachers, this is horrifying – at least at first. While for others, it’s the most exhilarating part of their school day and their professional lives. In the writing classroom, there are an infinite number of ways in which children can meet the same ends and answer ‘the problem’ set. For example, look at this writing project undertaken in Year Four & Year Six at Elmhurst Primary School.
7. Teach one thing about the writer’s craft each day and invite children to use it in their developing composition.
We assume that isolating writing skills from meaning making will somehow make it more accessible to children and easier for them to understand. Actually, separating skills from the context in which they are meant to be used – as so often happens in grammar-teaching – makes it impossibly hard. That’s why writing instruction in Writing For Pleasure schools typically ends with the teacher inviting the children to use what they’ve just learnt about in their actual real-life writing that day. Our teachers follow a very simple rule. Teach, then invite (Getting Writing Instruction Right).
Children sit on the edge of their seats or lean in on the carpet because they know they are about to receive an interesting ‘tip, trick or secret’ of the writer’s craft from their very own writer-teacher. A lesson that’s hopefully going to make the composition they are working on that day even better.
Writing For Pleasure teachers like introducing children to a type of writing and then every day they teach them one thing to help them write a great one of their own. They will model and share aspects of writerly knowledge with their fellow apprentice writers each day. This might be a grammatical or literary feature. It might be a writerly strategy or technique. Alternatively, they might want to model writerly behaviours and dispositions. For example, how to read and discuss your manuscript with other writers. Whatever it is, the lesson will be modelled directly, explicitly and efficiently. Importantly, the teacher will talk about why they use the lesson themselves as a writer-teacher. They’ll share anecdotes and talk about its benefits in a genuine way – before inviting the children to use it too. They act almost like a sales-person, selling the technique they are teaching. Selling its benefits to the children. It’s this kind of instruction that makes writing feel attainable (Young & Ferguson 2023a). We know from the research and case studies that it’s this kind of instruction that takes a competent writing-teacher and makes them truly exceptional (Young & Ferguson 2023b). And it’s this kind of instruction that makes children feel confident, competent and motivated when they leave the carpet to go and work on their own pieces.
8. The writing environment and atmosphere you create matters.
Our emotions steer our intellectual and social endeavours and interests, such as our curiosity to make and discover, our desire to emulate role models, and what we decide to dedicate our recreational and professional lives to doing. The writing environment has such a huge influence on how children feel and perform (Young & Ferguson 2021).
We see this in teachers too. Many teachers (particularly pre-service teachers), for far too long, haven’t been enjoying themselves in their own writing classrooms. Research has shown that many of us have been let down badly. From our own experiences of learning to write at school to our initial teacher education. We enter the writing classroom nervous and unsure. We are scared of writing and we don’t enjoy it and this rubs off on our students (Young & Ferguson 2023b).
However, create the right writing environment and children will do the things their writer-teachers do. When the environment gives off signals of: interest, inspiration and compassion, children feel it and want a piece of it. When the environment is hostile, judgemental or competitive, children feel it and they become it. If children’s previous experiences have led them to conclude that writing is a painful, confusing and isolating activity for which they feel they have a track record of failure and incompetence, that stays with them. Importantly, if you as a teacher have had previous experiences that have led you to conclude that writing is a painful, confusing and isolating activity for which you feel you have a track record of failure and incompetence, that stays with you too (Young & Ferguson 2021).
But, if we can just change this cycle. If children’s experiences can lead them to conclude that writing is an utterly natural, enjoyable, satisfying and socially rewarding activity for which they have a track record of repeated success and competence – that can stay with them for life. In essence, children’s emotional reactions to the very idea of writing and being a writer control the writerly decisions they choose to make in the classroom and beyond into adult life.
Children copy the behaviours of those who they respect and look up to (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2023b). If you’re a passionate writer-teacher, that rubs off on your students. I’ve seen it dozens of times in my career. However, children don’t just copy your writerly behaviours and aspire to ‘be a writer like you are’. The truly magical thing about being a Writing For Pleasure teacher is that children also bring their own cognitive and emotional preferences, cultural knowledge and predispositions into your classroom too (Young et al. 2022)!
You get to learn as much about writing and being a writer from your students, as they do from you. I have to say that these exchanges with child writers have been some of the greatest privileges of my professional life. I’ve never been able to successfully describe it. You have to just experience it for yourselves. But I can’t thank the children I’ve written with enough for making me a better writer and teacher of writing. They’ve also made me a better reader of writing and a better listener to children.
In 2017, I was given a research grant by The Goldsmiths’ Company to go out and investigate what it was some exceptional writing teachers were doing in their classrooms that was making the difference. To participate in the study, the teachers had to show a track record of securing exceptional academic progress and achieving high levels of enjoyment and feelings of satisfaction from their young writers.
What we found out was profound and you can read about it for free on our website. The affective and effective were utterly intertwined in the teachers’ practice. When children are taught using research-based teaching methods, they not only achieve better than peers who do not receive such teaching, but they write with more desire, pleasure, and enthusiasm (Young & Ferguson 2023b).
What we found was that the most effective writing practices are also the most positively affecting practices too. Writing For Pleasure teachers are able to connect the affective needs of young writers with 14 principles of world-class writing instruction and bring them together as a cohesive whole. Let me put it plainly and simply: attending to children’s emotional needs in the writing classroom is the most effective practice you can employ.
I’ve had time to think about this research since 2017. I’ve come to the conclusion that there are probably two types of Writing For Pleasure teacher (or school):
- The first type looks to use world-class writing practices to help raise standards – and in the process – almost by accident – finds that these practices also support children’s emotional needs and so children begin to enjoy and gain a greater satisfaction from their teacher’s pedagogy.
- The other type is focused first and foremost on attending to children’s emotional needs – and in doing so – starts to use some of the most powerful and effective writing instruction research knows. Their focus on being responsive to their pupils’ needs results in their academic progress and performance improving dramatically.
Neither of these two types of teacher is going about it in the wrong way. However, what I would say is that there is a deeper learning taking place for the teacher or school who looks to attend to the emotional needs of their students first (this as opposed to simply employing a list of instructional strategies on the recommendation of The Writing For Pleasure Centre). A teacher or school learns plenty more when they have to respond to what their kids are screaming out for. In the process of wanting to make writing easier and better for our pupils, we naturally respond by employing effective writing practices – perhaps without even knowing it.
Before I end, I would like to ask a few reflective questions:
- What do you want children to experience or feel when they are in your writing classroom?
- Will they write as a means to make and share meaning with others out in the world?
- What will children learn and pick up from you and the environment you’ve created?
I’d also like to ask: Will there be a moral purpose to your writing teaching? In Writing For Pleasure schools, we believe children should know how to successfully live a writer’s life after they leave school and into their future lives. 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.
I hope what I’ve discussed here gives you some inspiration to design a writing classroom which responds to the needs of your students. What I’ve described as a humane and sincere curriculum or as a ‘whole-child’ approach.
As writer-teachers, I think we’ve got to continue engaging in responsive writing teaching. We’ve got to engage in assessment-based writing practices. However, it’s not just assessment of children’s writing products that is important. We’ve got to start assessing how our writers are getting on when they are in the process of making writing – and most importantly, how are they feeling (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2022)?