How can we improve children’s motivation to write?

Motivation (also related to ideas around goal theory; self-determination; engaging instruction; writer attitude and interest, and value theory) is closely associated with the concept of writing for pleasure (Young & Ferguson 2021).

Teachers should give special attention to practices which foster a positive disposition; children need to feel the relevance and importance of writing because, as Bruning and Horn (2000) rightly say, motivation is often what gets them through this cognitively demanding act successfully.

A possible hierarchy of children’s affective emotional writerly needs as articulated by Young & Ferguson 2021

The body of research looking specifically into children’s motivation to write is strong and growing (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2023). A lack of motivation can often be at the heart of writing underperformance, and attending to this is just as important for academic attainment as focusing on cognitive learning. Empirical findings consistently show how motivational factors are positively and directly related to students’ writing performance and achievement (Young & Ferguson 2021, 2023).

There are many different types of motivation that can be felt in the writing classroom. They all involve children knowing the value of writing and of being a writer. They are also about children knowing for themselves why they are making the writing they are crafting.

  • Attainment motivation – feeling a sense of wanting to write the best text they can.
  • Utility motivation – feeling a sense that learning about writing will be important in the future.
  • Intrinsic motivation – feeling a sense of personal enjoyment and satisfaction from producing the writing they are working on.
  • External motivation – feeling a sense of external pressure or punishment if they don’t produce their best writing. Alternatively, knowing a reward will be given for producing the best writing they can.
  • Situational motivation – feeling a sense of excitement about writing from those around them in class. This is about feeling part of a community of writers.

Teachers can help improve children’s motivation by employing the following strategies:

  1. Develop yourself as an enthusiastic writer-teacher (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a).
  2. Pursue purposeful and authentic class writing projects (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2023).
  3. Establish publishing goals for class writing projects (LINK).
  4. Show children mentor texts which match the kind of writing they are about to make (Ferguson & Young 2023).
  5. Establish product goals (success criteria) for a class writing project with your class (Young & Hayden 2022). Discuss how these goals are orientated towards helping the class produce their very best writing.
  6. Let children generate their own writing ideas within the parameters of a class writing project. Let children write on topics they are knowledgeable and/or passionate about (Young & Ferguson 2022, 2023; Young et al. 2022).
  7. Teach writerly techniques and processes through self-regulation strategy instruction. Ensure you explain why the technique will be useful to children before inviting them to use and apply the technique in the context of their developing composition that day (LINK).
  8. Setting clear process goals for writing sessions (LINK).
  9. Ensure children have opportunities to pursue their own personal writing projects at school and at home (Young & Ferguson 2021b).
  10. Show enthusiasm for children’s compositions through your daily pupil-conferencing. Make sure you always celebrate quality craft (Ferguson & Young 2021).
  11. Give children an opportunity to check their drafted piece against the goals established for the class project (Young & Hayden 2022).
  12. Break proof-reading down into short, small and manageable chunks (Young & Ferguson 2022b).
  13. Organise a ‘publishing party’ to celebrate the end of a class writing project (LINK).

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