On the 11th of July 2023, the Department for Education published its revised non-statutory guidance document entitled ‘The reading framework: Teaching the foundations of literacy’. It purports to provide guidance for schools to meet existing expectations for teaching reading and writing.
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 is and could be, a crucial part of our work is analysing emerging governmental policy. It is therefore important that we issue a response to what this document has to say.
If commercial scheme writers or schools pursue the recommendations made in this policy paper in any kind of serious way, we run the very real risk of developing the most reluctant, listless and unmotivated writers for a generation. While some of the recommendations within the policy paper are welcome, it remains grossly incomplete. We therefore urge anyone interested in developing world-class writing teaching to read the cited research within this review before making any changes to their writing teaching or commercial offerings.
The ‘Writing Readiness’ Ideology
This policy paper routinely ignores research recommendations. Not a single research paper relating to writing development is cited. Instead, the majority of the recommendations come through the lens of writing occurring largely in phonics lessons. A subject as important as writing should never be treated simply as the servant of phonics. We can only conclude that the DfE has decided to promote an ideological position of ‘writing readiness’ rather than pursue an evidence-based and research-informed position.
Writing readiness is also referred to in research and literature as: a presentational skills ideology (Young & Ferguson 2021), a worksheet curriculum (Dahl & Freppon 1995), the fragmented and discontinuous approach (Dunsmuir & Blatchford 2004), mechanics-orientated teaching, didactic-only instruction, the bottom-up perspective, code-based teaching (Quinn & Bingham 2018), drill-and-skill-to-kill-the-will, piecemeal, sequenced and scripted, recite for writing, writing as a cognitive only matter (Johnston 2019), the transcribing speech orientation (Lancaster 2007), the component skills perspective (Harmey & Wilkinson 2019), formula writing (VanNess et al. 2013), the write ‘correctly’ like an adult perspective (Daniels 2014), the artificial approach (Thomas 2005), the systematic procedures perspective (Bruyère & Pendergrass 2020), the exercise approach (Håland et al. 2019), the ‘only conventional writing is real writing’ perspective (Bradford & Wyse 2020) or the ‘additive-cumulative’ view of writing (Tolchinsky 2017).
We know that children who don’t master the basic skills of writing early into their educational journey can go on to underperform and even experience school failure (Berninger et al. 2002; Abbott et al. 2010; Young & Ferguson 2021). Advocates of a ‘writing readiness’ ideology take the erroneous view that we must therefore focus on getting children to transcribe conventionally first before they are even allowed to begin making and sharing meaning through writing. However, this is a serious instructional mistake (Snyders 2014; Rowe 2018; Harris et al. 2023). This perspective is ineffective in achieving its own aims, and is most often suggested by those who are unaware of current research and best practice (Hall et al. 2015). The problem with such an approach is not so much what it includes but rather what it decides to leave out (Young & Ferguson 2021).
Advocates of this approach typically hold the view that for children to learn how to write, they must first be told that they can’t (Roser et al. 2014). They fail to see that children want to write from the very first day they attend school (Graves 1983), that the majority of children come to school on their first day already believing that they can write (Calkins 1994; Hall et al. 2019), and that actually children are ‘already ready’ to write (Ray & Glover 2008; Ackerman 2016; Bradford & Wyse 2020; Young & Ferguson 2022). Despite this, a ‘writing-readiness’ ideology asks teachers to position their pupils as ‘transcribers and dictators’ who must practise specific transcriptional skills until near mastery, before ‘earning their right to write’.
- Firstly, the withholding of meaningful writing opportunities until basic skills have been mastered goes against research recommendations (Fitzgerald & Shanahan 2000; Shanahan 2016; Gerde et al. 2012; Graham et al. 2012; Tolchinsky 2017; Graham et al. 2020b; Harris et al. 2023; Gerde & Bingham 2023).
- Policymakers shouldn’t confuse spelling and handwriting development with writing development. Spelling represents only a fraction of what we must develop in the youngest of writers (Tolchinsky 2017; Kemp & Treiman 2023). Through a ‘writing-readiness’ orientation, children learn only about transcribing. They can only learn about writing and authoring from instruction about writing and being a writer and through repeated daily meaningful practice. Slavishly copying out isolated letters and sentences is not writing (Ferreiro 1982; Zhang & Bingham 2019).
- According to both Johnston (2019) and Young & Ferguson (2021), policymakers are right to give their attention and focus to the cognitive dimensions of learning to write, but their limitations lie in their failure to see or care that this cognitive development is also emotionally and affectively loaded and therefore needs to be embedded in motivating, social and meaningful practice.
- Expertise in composition and transcription influence and support each other (Harris et al. 2023; Kim 2023). Therefore, to somehow ban meaning-making until full transcription is achieved is tremendously harmful and counter-productive.
- This policy document is essentially asking children to prepare for an apprenticeship that feels like it is never going to materialise. For example, Håland et al. (2019 p.70) notes that ‘it is unclear whether students understand for what purpose they are exercising’. As a result, children quickly become uninterested in writing (Clark et al. 2023).
- According to Mackenzie & Veresov (2013), a ‘writing readiness’ perspective can disrupt children’s natural text construction process by underestimating or denying the significance of drawing as part of children’s writing process. Indeed, this policy paper sets no value on the power of children’s drawings to contribute to their writing development.
- If children are allowed the opportunity to share meaning, it’s suggested that teachers step in and write the message on that child’s behalf by getting the child to dictate what it was they wanted to say. Children aren’t trusted to do it for themselves. As a result, children don’t learn how they could write without a teacher present. Indeed, under this conception, teachers are being asked to assume all cognitive responsibility for the writing activities that take place in the classroom, leaving children passive and actually learning very little.
- This policy paper supports linear planning and a one-size-fits-all teaching practice. However, according Boyle & Charles (2010), good early writing teaching involves responsive teaching and a great deal of individualised instruction.
- The recommendations in this policy document will train a generation of children to be dependent rather than independent writers. For example, according to Jacobson (2010 p.2), ‘story starters or writing prompts, fill-in-the-blank sentences or waiting until January to begin writing (“when the students know their letters”) are just a few of the ways we communicate to students that they are not capable of writing and thinking on their own’.
The importance of talk and play
We are pleased that the policy paper acknowledges the importance of high expectations, rigorous routines, and clear organisation. For example, teachers with the most engaged and best performing pupils are also superb classroom managers (Wharton-McDonald et al. 1998; Zhang & Bingham 2019). There are few disciplinary encounters because the students are so engaged with their writing. Children know what to do and how to do it. They also know what to do when they don’t know what to do (Young & Ferguson 2021).
However, the document wrongly suggests that a ‘noisy’ classroom is an unproductive one. Talk and play are essential for developing children as writers if they regularly occur in calm, rigorous and well organised learning environments. The document fails to see that writing develops in an active, dynamic and highly social way. Children only understand what writing is, what it is for, and what it means to be a writer, if they write in a social and cultural context that matches what writers actually do (Lamme et al. 2002; Kissel 2009; Kissel et al. 2011; Tolentino 2013). For example, empirical evidence shows that talking and playing while writing can initiate ideas, promote revising and encourage more cohesive, logical and structured texts; elaborate plots; action; dialogue and descriptive settings (McQuitty 2014). In addition, when children write together, they engage in more sophisticated writerly behaviours, write longer pieces and write in a wider variety of genres (McQuitty 2014).
Oral language and listening comprehension
It’s important for the DfE to recognize that oral language development in the context of the writing classroom goes beyond simply asking children to ‘rehearse a sentence’ before they write it, though this is one of a number of essential strategies for early writers to internalise (Young & Ferguson 2022). Instead, children’s development as talkers relies on ‘a conversational context’. Children’s language develops when they are given the cognitive responsibility to use it. Ultimately, children must be the ones to construct their own speech and writing, otherwise, as the evidence shows, they learn little (Latham 2002; Timperley & Parr 2009; Chuy et al. 2011; Avineri et al. 2015; Allal 2019). The acquisition of language is a dynamic and creative process, not the passive reciting and copying of someone else’s model.
So how important is the role of oral language in children’s writing development? Case studies of the best performing writing teachers argue that it is transformative (Pressley et al. 1997; Medwell et al. 1998; Langer 2001; Gadd & Parr 2017; Young 2019). A child’s writing and their language development benefit each other when they are invited to craft writing alongside their teacher and peers every single day. Indeed, engaging in daily and meaningful talk and writing is one of the best ways to develop children’s language (Mercer et al. 1999; Rojas-Drummond et al. 2008; Green et al. 2008; Parr et al. 2009; Fisher et al. 2010; Dix 2016; Reedy & Bearne 2021). This is in keeping with The Science Of Writing, and the DfE rightly acknowledges its importance.
The youngest of writers develop their ideas for writing in the same way as they produce their speech (Bereiter & Scardamalia 1987). They draw on what they know about discourse-level talk. For example, how to tell a good story or how to tell others about the things you know in a way that is engaging. This is one reason why a developmentally appropriate writing process, one which involves plenty of talking and sharing, is so important in the early years of writing.
A recommended recursive writing process for the EYFS (Young & Ferguson 2022)
According to Kim & Schatschneider (2017, 2022), an ability and opportunity to tell their writing has the largest direct effect on young children’s writing. Essentially, discourse-level talk involves children being given time and opportunity to talk about their whole text. In the context of the earliest writers, this should involve children in the EYFS and KS1 having an opportunity to talk as they write every day. In addition, children should talk about their drawings as this is another way to engage them in discourse-level talk (Mackenzie 2011). In the older years, this remains true too. For example, children should feel free to talk at the discourse level by sharing and discussing their plans with their peers (Young & Ferguson 2023d).
There are a variety of different talking strategies children use as they craft texts. Children talk with one another before they write, as they write and after they write. These interactions occur in different ways and can include:
- Idea explaining – Children share what they plan to write about during the session with others.
- Idea sharing – Children work in pairs or small ‘clusters’ to co-construct their own texts together.
- Idea spreading – One pupil mentions an idea to their group. Children then leapfrog on the idea and create their own texts in response too.
- Supplementary ideas – Children hear about a child’s idea, like it, and incorporate it into the text they are already writing.
- Communal text rehearsal – Children say out loud what they are about to write – others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
- Personal text rehearsal – Children talk to themselves about what they are about to write down. This may include encoding individual words aloud. Other children might listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
- Text checking – Children tell or read back what they’ve written so far and others listen in, comment, offer support or give feedback.
- Performance – Children share their texts with each other as an act of celebration and publication.
Encouraging children to talk and collaborate together during writing time is an evidence-based research recommendation (Graham et al. 2012; Grossman et al. 2013; De Smedt & Van Keer 2014), and the opportunity to talk as they write improves children’s final written outcomes (McQuitty 2014). Children who talk as they write go on to write richer and more sophisticated texts (Wiseman 2003; Vass et al. 2008). This may be because talk gives children more working memory for writing (Latham 2002; Cremin & Myhill 2012; Young & Ferguson 2021) or because talk between children assists them in deciding what to say and how to encode it (Davidson 2007; Whittick 2020).
A classroom rich in talk, where children are encouraged to tell others about events in their own lives, the knowledge they bring into school, and the imaginative ideas their minds conjure up is the foundation of any high-quality writing program (Lamme et al. 2002; Daniels 2014; Rowe 2018; Young & Ferguson 2021, Young et al. 2022). Your class can have more stories and ideas for writing than you’ll ever know what to do with as long as you’re willing to give time for talking and sharing (Young & Ferguson 2022b). Children regularly rely on talk for guidance, a model, expertise, assistance, and instruction (Wohlwend 2008; Kissel 2009). This isn’t a negative thing as it shows children’s commitment to being independent through what’s called co-regulation (Young & Ferguson 2021).
According to The Science Of Writing, vocabulary knowledge is one of thirteen cognitive resources children need to draw on to write well, and the DfE spends a lot of time discussing it. Here is how children’s vocabulary typically develops:
|Age||Typical language milestones|
|Eighteen months old||At eighteen months old, children already have a vocabulary of around fifty words.|
|Two years old||By two years old, most children produce utterances of two words. These utterances are crafted by the child and are not the parroting back of an adult model. Speech and thought come together by the age of two.|
|Two and a half||Can utter sentences of three words.|
|Between three and four years olds||Begin speaking in full sentences. Children can say an infinite number of original sentences – sentences that they’ve never said or heard before.|
|Five years old||Children are able to use language with a capacity close to that of an adult. For example they use language for the following purposes: to persuade, influence or command others; to share and understand information; to tell stories (both real and imagined) and use language imaginatively and playfully. Children can typically say and write sentences of around five words.|
|From seven years old||Children usually acquire a full and accurate knowledge of their first language.|
As you can see, every child brings a great deal of language learning into the classroom on their very first day of school. This is something the DfE often fails to appreciate. Indeed, this learning is too often underestimated or overlooked by many who work in education (Avineri et al. 2015; Sperry et al. 2019; Cushing 2020; Burnett et al. 2020’ Young et al. 2022). However, research shows that children are more likely to succeed in schools that use and value their existing knowledge and build on it (Johnson 2015; McQuillan 2019).
With this said, there are a number of things teachers can do to further develop children’s vocabulary in the context of the writing classroom:
- Teachers can actively teach word choice strategies during writing lessons. E.g. word-level functional grammar lessons (Young & Ferguson 2021b), writing-study lessons devoted to literary techniques (Young et al. 2021) and use of word-choice strategies like Cracking Open Boring Words (Young et al. 2021).
- Teachers can set aside specific sessions within a class writing project for children to attend to their vocabulary choices prior to publication (Young & Ferguson 2023c).
Where are the writing centres?
It’s deplorable that there is nothing mentioned about writing across the day or about the use of Writing Centres despite the fact that they are both essential to children’s writing development (Mayer 2007; Rowe 2008; Tolentino 2013; Quinn et al. 2016, 2022; Bingham et al. 2017, 2018; Bollinger & Myers 2020). This relates directly to our concerns around the recommendation that children should only ever write at a table (p.58). This would be an instructional mistake and would go against research recommendations (Rowe & Nietzel 2010; Hall et al. 2015; Gerde et al. 2015). We want children to have opportunities to write in many varied situations in and out of the classroom. However, we’d certainly recommend that any dedicated letter formation or handwriting instruction be done at a table.
Letter formation and handwriting
|Learning to form letters and spell words requires considerable effort and attention… Schools, therefore, should consider the advantages to children of delaying the teaching of joined handwriting. Nearly all the headteachers in the schools Ofsted visited for its ‘Bold beginnings’ survey did not teach a cursive or pre-cursive script in Reception. They told inspectors that they believed: |
… it slowed down children’s writing, at a point when they already found manual dexterity tricky and the muscles in their shoulders, arms and hands were still developing.
(The Reading Framework p.54-55)
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 2010; 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 happy to see the policy paper support this position.
We are also pleased that the policy paper highlights the importance of letter formation and handwriting instruction as being absolutely essential, that it needs to occur daily, and that it is best practised in connection with daily phonics instruction (Rowe 2018; Graham et al. 2018). However, what the document ignores is how important it is that teachers invite children to use all that they’ve learnt about letter formation during a daily ‘writing workshop time’ and/or through their daily play in the Writing Centre. The document also fails to acknowledge that children’s letter formation develops through a developmental process of: drawings and scribbles; linear scribbles; mock handwriting and letter-like symbols. This then progresses to: random but real letter strings; letters that represent key sounds learnt; spaces that indicate separation between words; ‘sound spellings’ using phonics knowledge before finally spelling words conventionally. You can see this represented in the table below:
Confusion around spelling
Again, we praise the document for highlighting the importance of directly teaching children to encode during daily phonics instruction. Of course, this needs to be extended to the writing classroom too (Young & Ferguson 2022). We want children to experience the thrill of watching others understand their texts and for people to be able to read them when they are not around to tell or explain them.
‘Teachers should encourage correct spelling’ (p.55). A strange and developmentally inappropriate suggestion, especially when you consider the report’s own recommendation that teachers should praise children’s attempts at spelling in ‘phonetically plausible ways’ (also known as using their ‘sound-spellings’ or ‘invented spellings’). The DfE do not seem to be aware of important research findings which show that children who receive instruction orientated towards producing ‘sound spellings’ outperform children who don’t on a whole variety of writing and reading measures (Jones et al. 2010; Harste 2012; Ouellette & Sénéchal 2017; Gerde et al. 2012; Rowe 2018; Morin & Pulido 2022). The DfE also peddles the myth that by modelling ‘sound spellings’ as a strategy children will learn mis-spellings. The Science Of Early Writing has shown this to be simply untrue (Sénéchal et al. 2023). Rather confusingly, the paper then suggests that teachers shouldn’t model ‘sound spellings’ despite the fact that children are being asked to adopt the strategy for themselves when writing independently. In summary, it seems that teachers aren’t to model a strategy that the policy document wants children to use.
This observation relates to the deep concerns we have about the recommendation that children should only write using the grapheme/phoneme correspondences they’ve been taught so far (p.55). This would be an instructional mistake and also fails to understand the importance of children working through the stages of prephonological writing shared in our earlier section (Gerde et al. 2012; Byington & Kim 2017; Rowe 2018; Gerde & Bingham 2023; Kemp & Treiman 2023). For example, under such circumstances, you’d have the ridiculous situation where a great number of children wouldn’t be permitted to write their own name for months or even years (Bloodgood 1999; Both-de Vries & Bus 2008; Zhang & Treiman 2020).
Developing children’s abilities to respond to dictation is not the same as developing their abilities to write
The DfE rightly acknowledges the profound role spoken language plays in the development of children’s encoding and spelling abilities. Thoughts and ideas have to be encoded into oral language (whether publicly by speaking them aloud, or privately in the mind) before being transcribed into written texts. This is aided by children’s ability to use their listening comprehension skills (Kim 2022). Unfortunately, despite their own emphasis on spoken language, they recommend that children engage in dictation exercises before they are allowed to ‘earn the right to write’.
|Talking||The ability to express one’s own thoughts, ideas and feelings.|
|Dictating||The transcription of someone else’s already composed text.|
|Encoding||The process of listening to the sounds in words and transcribing their associated symbols to paper or screen.|
|Writing||The activity or occupation of generating and composing your own ideas and text for publication (i.e. for someone to read and understand). |
For the youngest of writers, this typically involves generating an idea, talking/planning/drawing, drafting (encoding), revising (making changes), proof-reading (checking for accuracy/conventions) and publication or performance.
|Transcriptional Development||Developing children’s abilities to form letters, handwrite with fluency, and encode quickly and happily.|
|Writing Development||Children’s growing abilities to transcribe, generate ideas and compose their own texts for publication.|
|Developing children’s language||The development of children’s own communication using speech and writing.|
Administering dictation exercises is one way for children to practise their transcriptional skills. However, we know of another way – writing. In poorly designed Early Years classrooms, you’ll see children being given many opportunities to practise dictation, reciting and encoding. However, there is a big difference between this and developing children’s writing. Unfortunately, ineffective Early Years classrooms don’t always have a clear programme of study which helps develop children’s transcriptional skills alongside composing their own texts (Latham 2002; Timperley & Parr 2009; Chuy et al. 2011; Avineri et al. 2015; Allal 2019; Kim et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022).
It’s important to remember that, in their own ways, children can write down all the words they can say (Ray & Glover 2008; Byington & Kim 2017; Young & Ferguson 2022). However, if we always put the words in children’s mouths, they actually write nothing. Instead they become reciters and reproducers of their teacher’s voice, thoughts and ideas. The first writing teacher a child ever meets can be their most important one. The messages they send out about what writing is and what it is for are profound.
We must keep in mind that dictating and reciting texts isn’t talking or writing. Classrooms which become overly consumed by dictation exercises are ones associated with a ‘presentational skills’ or ‘writing readiness’ ideology towards early writing development, both of which are fundamentally flawed (Young & Ferguson 2021). That’s why sharing, playing and talking about their own writing is such an important part of a child’s writing process. This includes participating in translanguaging (Young et al. 2022; Ferguson & Young 2023). Indeed, a classroom rich in talk, where children are encouraged to tell about events in their own lives, the knowledge they bring into school, and the imaginative ideas their minds conjure up is the foundation of any high-quality writing program (Lamme et al. 2002; Barratt-Pugh et al. 2021; Young & Ferguson 2022).
The importance of drawing
Alongside talking and oral rehearsal, drawing is young children’s most appropriate planning technique. It’s important to give time to drawing because, when children are encouraged to draw as part of their writing process, they create more meaningful texts and with deeper complexity than they would without drawing (Horn & Giacobbe 2007; Christianakis 2011; Hui 2011; Mackenzie 2011; Mackenzie & Veresov 2013; Olshansky 2014).
The document doesn’t appreciate the early signs, marks, symbols and drawings children put down on screen or paper as being writing (a way of making and sharing meaning). People did not create a transcriptional system first and then decide to share meaning afterwards (Lancaster 2007; Wyse 2017). Under this guidance, children will unfortunately learn that, if you are to write, you must essentially write conventionally and like an adult, or not at all.
Reading in the writing classroom
We were pleased to see the DfE highlight the small but significant positive effect of inviting children to write about their reading in reading lessons (Koster et al. 2015; Graham & Hebert 2011; Graham et al. 2018b, 2018c). The DfE rightly suggests caution too: ‘If the reading in [reading] lessons is merely transactional, undertaken only because it leads to writing or illustrates how a language feature works, the short-term goals are in danger of jeopardising the longer-term benefits of sustained reading’ (p.112).
We were also delighted to see the DfE acknowledge the power of asking children to read and discuss authors’ craft moves in the writing classroom. (Graham et al. 2020a, 2020b; Young & Ferguson 2023a). However, we were then utterly confused when, on the same page, the DfE contradicts its own guidance by explaining that: ‘pupils would often gain more simply by reading or listening to a rich text… rather than by spending time analysing its grammatical features or using it as a model for writing’ (p.112). Part of the confusion, we suspect, is the DfE’s inability to differentiate between an explicit reading lesson and an explicit writing lesson. Instead, they assume that lessons can only be ‘English’ lessons. While reading and writing share many similarities and instruction should occur in both classrooms – it’s important to remember that reading and writing need to be taught explicitly too (Kim et al. 2023).
In the context of the writing classroom, their recommendations are simply untrue. Reading mentor texts and discussing authors’ craft moves before being invited to use them for themselves are essential and highly effective evidence-based practices (Purcell-Gates 2007; Martin & Rose 2007; Rose 2008; Graham & Hebert 2011; Graham et al. 2012; Koster et al. 2015; Graham et al. 2018b, 2018c; Young & Ferguson 2023a).
Pupils who need support
The DfE claims, amazingly without evidence, that pupils who need support might find writing too hard and so shouldn’t be required to do so (p.79). Delaying children’s opportunities to engage in writing is unnecessary, damaging, and would fly in the face of research recommendations. There are many ways in which all children can be supported to be writers (Young & Ferguson 2023b).
What’s it all for?
‘Let us be clear. If children do not learn and internalise the essential transcriptional skills involved in crafting writing – spelling, handwriting, and punctuation – then their attempts to share meaning with others may be compromised or even fruitless… therefore, any call to teach fundamental writing skills is always welcome. However, it is not intended that transcriptional skills be taught in isolation, away from the craft of meaning making and sharing (Young & Ferguson 2021 p.177).
The most disappointing thing about the DfE is how they fail to see how instruction in letter formation, handwriting and encoding (spelling) should, as far as children are concerned, serve their daily sustained and meaningful opportunity for writing. After all, it’s from this meaning-sharing orientation that children really reallywant to learn more about how to form letters and encode words so they can better share their meanings with others (Louden et al. 2005; Wohlwend 2008; Hui 2011; Herste 2012; Graham et al. 2012; Dennis & Votteler 2013; Ouellette & Sénéchal 2017; Zhang & Bingham 2019).
The document essentially provides no guidance on how to develop the orange circle in this figure:
Instruction in letter formation (handwriting) and spelling during phonics sessions should be there to serve children’s daily opportunities to make and share meaning through writing.
It’s critical that teachers promote and give instruction in all three of the above components. These three dimensions need to develop alongside one another in order for children to understand the world of being a writer. Despite the fact that the report acknowledges the importance of composition (p.55), the paper focuses exclusively on letter formation and children’s ability to spell and spends no time discussing how to teach children to be writers and how to teach compositional techniques, procedures and strategies. According to research and the case studies of the best performing teachers, this is a grave error (Poulson et al. 2001; Pressley et al. 2001; Block et al. 2002; Louden et al. 2005; Jones et al. 2010; Graham et al. 2012; Dombey 2013; Kent et al. 2014; Puranik & Lonigan 2014; Hall et al. 2015).
When children are invited to compose meaningful texts every day, their opportunities to practise letter formation and spelling are naturally supported within an authentic and motivating context. Teachers who teach writing through a contemporary and rigorous ‘writing workshop approach’ have children who perform just as well in the ‘basic skills’ of letter formation and spelling as those teachers who make these components their sole instructional priority (Dahl & Freppon 1995; Hall 2019; Roitsch et al. 2021). This is because children are encouraged to use what they learn about letters, words and sentences, to create and share meaning. They acquire useful knowledge about transcription (spelling, letter formation, handwriting), when they are invited to use it meaningfully rather than through exercises, skills and worksheets. When children enact the processes that real writers do (but in a developmentally appropriate way), they produce writing products which can easily meet the demands of the current curriculum (Wiseman 2003; Harmey & Wilkinson 2019; Managhan 2020; Barratt-Pugh et al. 2021).
It is this balance between explicit and direct instruction and meaningful practice which makes for world-class writing teaching.
Ross Young & Felicity Ferguson
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