Celebrating the Spread by Theresa Gooda

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This was originally posted at: https://www.nationalwritingproject.uk/blog-main/helping-the-spread


South Downs NWP Convenor and secondary English teacher, Theresa Gooda, shares her experience of writing as part of the UKLA Teachers’ Writing Group.


As we pass ‘Freedom Day’ and the heightened messages about ‘stopping the spread’, it has been wonderful to welcome a different sort of spread: the proliferation of teachers’ writing groups. It is heartening, in these troubled times, to know that the practice of teachers writing, the opportunity for personal reflection about writing, and the possibility of changing practice through regular dialogic conversations with colleagues about writing, continues to spread.  Because we know, of course, that voice (in writing as well as speech) is ‘created’, both unconsciously but also deliberately constructed, in dialogue with other voices (Bakhtin, 1986).

As well as being privileged to lead the South Downs NWP group, and recently been invited to be part of the wonderful UEA NWP group, I have also lately participated in a new venture at UKLA: their Teachers’ Writing Group, run by Ross Young at Writing 4 Pleasure. They share similar principles with NWP about being part of a community that promotes research-informed writing teaching, and about the importance of being a writing teacher generally. 

Like much of our lockdown and post-lockdown life, meetings are remote, via Zoom. In the first meeting, in early June, participants were invited to experiment with dabbling as an idea generation technique alongside the reading of a children’s book. 

In July’s meeting, the work of writer-teacher Peter Elbow was championed, and in particular the value of free writing. 

Mostly though, the group achieved that joyful, valuable thing we all need: of carving out space and time to write. I’m already looking forward to August’s meeting.

The DfE’s Reading Framework: Our Review And Implications For Teaching Writing


On the 10th of July 2021, the Department for Education published its 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 early reading and writing (p.78).

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.

Overall conclusion

If commercial scheme writers and 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 defies research recommendations. Not a single research paper relating to early writing development is cited. Therefore, 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). With this in mind, advocates of a ‘writing readiness’ ideology erroneously take the view that we must therefore focus on getting children to transcribe conventionally first before they are allowed to begin making and sharing meaning through writing. However, this is a serious instructional mistake (Snyders 2014; Rowe 2018). 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 for 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 ninety percent of children come to school on the first day believing they can write (Calkins 1994), and that actually children are ‘already ready’ to write (Ray & Glover 2008; Ackerman 2016; Bradford & Wyse 2020). 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.

Limitations:

  • Firstly, the withholding of meaningful writing opportunities until basic skills have been mastered defies research recommendations (Gerde et al. 2012; Graham et al. 2012).
  • 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). 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).
  • 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 each other and support each other’s acquisition. 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 never feels like it is going to come. 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.
  • 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 holds no value in children’s drawings contributing 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. 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). 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 to 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).

Where are the writing centres?

It’s such a shame that there is nothing mentioned about writing across the day or 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; Bingham et al. 2017, 2018; Bollinger & Myers 2020).

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.49)

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 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 mention how children’s letter formation develops through a recursive process of: drawings and scribbles; linear scribbles and 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.

(Byington & Kim 2017)

Confusion around spelling

Again, we praise the document for highlighting the importance of teaching children to encode during daily phonics instruction. We want children to learn how others can begin to understand the texts they make when they are not around to tell or explain them to their readers.

‘Teachers should encourage correct spelling’ (p.50). 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’). Indeed, children who receive phonics instruction orientated towards producing ‘sound spellings’ outperform children who don’t on a whole variety of writing and reading measures (Gerade et al. 2012; Rowe 2018). However, 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, teachers aren’t to model a strategy that the policy document wants children to use.

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, that 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 with it 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.

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). 

We support the paper’s focus on teaching encoding (spelling) and letter formation/handwriting through the context of high-quality and dedicated phonics instruction. However, the suggestion that ‘extra time to write is unnecessary’ and that being given time to write only results in cognitive overload and damage to motivation goes against everything we know about developing young writers. For example, the document neglects 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. It’s only from this meaning-sharing orientation that children want to learn more about how to form letters and encode words so they can better share their meanings (Louden et al. 2005; Wohlwend 2008; Hui 2011; Herste 2012; Graham et al. 2012; Dennis & Votteler 2013; Ouellette & Sénéchal 2017).

The document essentially provides no guidance on how to develop the orange circle in the figure below:

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.50), 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 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 meaningful 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 meet the needs of the 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

References

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Reluctant Writers: Where Do We Start? By Ellen Counter

@EllenCounter

Whenever I walk into a classroom, or if I’m teaching a writing lesson, the first questions I tend to ask myself are “where’s the enjoyment here?” and then “where’s the purposeful writing?” And if I don’t see it or feel it then I know something probably needs to change. First and foremost, if a child doesn’t want to write and/or feels that they aren’t very good at it – that’s usually the biggest hurdle to their development as a writer. As a teacher, it’s our job to listen – and I mean really listen – to our children and, before we do anything else, find out how they feel about writing and about themselves as writers. And in doing so, we need to ask ourselves the same question.

Between 2009-2010 I had the privilege of working with Teresa Cremin, who was working with a group of teachers in Newham as part of a UKLA ‘Teachers as Writers’ project1. During our first session, she asked us to create ‘writing rivers’ – thinking about our range of experiences of writing from the earliest point in our lives up to adulthood. And in doing so, to consider how we felt about that writing and why. I quickly realised that, in contrast to my childhood, I no longer wrote for enjoyment or pleasure. I wrote for purely functional purposes – to send an email or create lists of tasks. No feedback, no creativity, no joy. And what message about writing was I giving to my pupils? Well, here I came to the depressing, embarrassing realisation that I too was sucking the joy from their writing lives. When I met Teresa, I was teaching in year 5 and in my second year of teaching. At the time, my school used a literacy scheme which followed a formulaic pattern of looking at an extract or passage of text, answering questions about it, teaching an element of grammar or punctuation (out of context) and then asking the children to write the same genre with the same content or context, using aforementioned grammar/ punctuation (and often in just a day or two).  I was the gatekeeper who decided what they would write about, how and when2 – and there was never any choice or discussion about this.  At this point I should probably add that I am an English Literature graduate, and I just accepted that this was the way the subject was taught at school. Not once had I really questioned it, but at the same time I knew that the children didn’t really enjoy their English lessons – and I didn’t enjoy teaching them.

In fact, judging from their answers to a writing survey, over half (56%) of my pupils did not feel positively about writing at all. One child, we’ll call him Jason, was refreshingly honest in his responses

I could feel his “Oh god do we have to” in the way he sat in his seat every day; the way he came into the classroom, looking at his feet and barely saying “Hello”. I could feel it from the way he scowled at other children whenever they asked him what book he was reading; the way he rolled his eyes when he was asked to pull in his chair. Jason was described to me on numerous occasions as ‘lazy’ and ‘rude’. Most teachers seemed to have dismissed him as a child who couldn’t be bothered, and by the time he arrived in year 5, Jason was falling far behind his peers. Highly unlikely to get the required level 4 by the time of SATs, his needs were no longer a priority, and he knew it. Looking back at his handwriting, it seems to say that he was trapped by a lack of fluency – unable to join his letters and write freely; he was stuck. He would often spend ages writing the date or a learning objective and barely get around to writing anything else before the lesson ended. His “Oh god do we have to” reflected exactly how Jason felt every single day. I admired his honesty hugely, and Jason’s admission has stayed with me ever since. Because in the ten years since then, all too often in the children I have met and taught, these struggles with writing go hand-in-hand with similar struggles in communication, behaviour, self-expression and self-esteem. It makes sense really – if you think you can’t write, does that mean you’ve got nothing to say? And if you’ve got nothing to say, what worth do you have?

After analysing the children’s feedback from their writing surveys, I decided to implement Teresa’s suggestions with gusto – clearly something had to change and it was going to start with me. We had talked about teachers writing alongside the children, writing the same thing we had asked the children to write. At first I’ll admit I felt very sceptical – and anxious – about this concept. Surely the children would all be talking and not know what to do if I sat down and wrote alongside them? Surely they’d need me to help them when they were writing? I couldn’t believe what actually happened when I announced that, from now on, I would go on the same writing journey as them. At the time, we were writing our own narratives based on a hazardous journey, such as that of Michael from ‘Kensuke’s Kingdom’. I was also going to write an opening to my story. A silent respect followed an initially surprised reaction – they were far more quiet than usual and stayed that way for the rest of the lesson. They occasionally looked up to watch me as I chewed my pen, referred to the thesaurus, asked a child next to me to read a sentence to check it made sense to them. To my surprise, I found out that as long as they knew what resources they had at their disposal, they were quieter, more focused than usual and produced some wonderful writing. As well as doing my own writing, I would spend longer talking to the children, having in-depth conversations with children about how it felt to write, the process of writing and giving advice using tips and tricks that I had been relying on in my own writing process. We talked about how their writing made me feel as I read it, and whether that was their intention or not. I suddenly understood how it felt to feel that same frustration and vulnerability when staring at an empty page and the words don’t come. I would share that vulnerability by talking aloud as I wrote in front of the class – circling words that ‘didn’t feel right’ or underlining parts that felt boring or needed reworking. That day started a process that I have tried to stick to ever since. In my classroom, we all write – we are a community of writers, all working towards a common goal of publishing something we are proud of.

The next step was to focus on the writing process of the children. The time it was taking for Jason to meticulously write the date and LO before getting down to any writing was bothering me. What was the purpose of that anyway? Teresa wanted us to introduce writing ‘journals’ with the children. They could write whatever they wanted to in the journals; it wouldn’t be marked and they could share their writing only if they wanted to. Again, this felt like a risk. There were no rules about the journals, other than if you chose to draw or doodle you had to write about it in some way. I wondered to myself: What if a child didn’t choose to write at all? What if they had nothing to write about?3 As it turned out, as long as I kept the profile of the journals in the highest esteem, and they were given time to generate their ideas and we used them every day, this was never a problem. The excitement about the notion that they didn’t have to write the date, or cross out with a ruler, and they could draw on the front cover and doodle in the margins – in fact wherever they liked – was incredible. Never before had the children been provided with autonomy over their work in this way, or been provided with this level of trust. I also felt a little upset about their reaction – how sad that my pupils were so excited about a doodle and not having to write a date. What had it come to when I kept being asked: “But are you sure, Miss? We don’t have to underline the LO?”; “Won’t I get in trouble if I draw?” and “Can I really use a pen now?” or “Can we really write about what we want?” with a mixture of disbelief, excitement and anxiety.

In case you need any reassurance about the drawing element – the children’s drawings were an essential part of their writing. They provided a counterpart to their ideas and a process with which to visualise what they wanted to say and inform their word choices4. We would talk about their drawings and use them to consider impact on audience, the pictures we wanted our reader to see when they read our words. Jason took to his journal like a duck to water. He loved it. So much so, that when it came to ‘sharing time’5 he started to jump at the opportunity to share what he had written. I began to see a change in him on the day when he wanted us to read part of a setting description he was writing for a story based on a desert island (our reading of ‘Kensuke’s Kingdom’ was filtering into his own writing decisions). As he read his work, we all stopped at a phrase he had written and were unanimous in our praise. I still remember it now:

As I stepped into the soft, settling sand…

“Wow”, I said, “Jason – you’re a writer.” His reaction will never leave me. I don’t think I’d seen him smile like that before. Days after that, we could see the other children borrowing his phrase and it cropped up in some of their poetry after discussing alliteration – all referring to ‘Jason’s trick’. Jason began to start offering advice to other children; he wanted another journal to take home with him. He started writing stories with his mum.

After the year (and the ‘teachers as writers’) project had ended, I asked the children to complete the same survey. I was shocked by the change in their responses.  You may remember that 56% of my pupils had felt negatively about writing.  This had dropped to 12%, as now 88% of the children had a positive reaction to the thought of writing.  Before we started the project, 74% of the class did not or rarely wrote anything at home.  This had reduced to 16%, as 84% were now continuing their writing at home or creating their own writing projects6.  Jason’s responses were some that stood out the most:

I often wonder now about how Jason is getting on. Does he still write? Does he think he’s a good person? Is he happy? When I was delivering some training about writing for pleasure recently, I started talking about him and cried. He’ll never know what an impact he’s had on me; but his words will stay with me forever.

***

1 This project formed part of the UKLA ‘Ideas in Practice’ book, Teaching Writing Effectively:  Reviewing Practice, published in 2011.

2 Harold and Connie Rosen wrote in The Language of Primary School Children (1973), p.92:  “The question of children using written language for their own purposesand of maintaining confidence in their own ‘voices’ is one that presents itself not only in the introductory stages but all through primary school.”  I had not thought about this before the ‘Teachers as Writers’ project. 

3 I have heard this a lot – the assumption that children have no ideas and nothing to write about. I’m ashamed to admit I thought the same. I would now argue that if a child says they have nothing to write about, it’s because the idea that they have a choice in what to write is such an alien concept by.  By the time they’re in KS2, they truly believe they can only write something based on the content or context their teacher has provided for them. I can assure you – give a child the time to generate their own ideas and build back the trust that we, as adults and educators, value what they have to say and will listen to them, and they will have enough ideas to keep them writing into adulthood.

4 More information about children’s writing journals can be found in the UKLA Minibook (35) Children’s Writing Journals by Lynda Graham and Annette Johnson.  As they state:  “..the drawings children include in their journals are the visual counterpart to the written choices they are making.  For children, illustration is a natural expression of their literacy, a means to communicate and transform their ideas and insights.”  (2012) p. 16.

5 Sharing time is vital to the success of writing for pleasure (see Ross Young & Felicity Ferguson’s Real-World Writers pp. 71-72).  It gives children the opportunity to see each other’s work and provide feedback, based on the intention of impact on reader (from the writer) and whether this has been successful or not. A visualiser is key here too – seeing the writing is as important as hearing it. Sometimes we can spend ages debating whether a particular verb has the right effect or not – this is where the magic happens.

6 According to Clark, C. and Teravainen, A. (2017) in Writing for Enjoyment and Its Link to Wider Writing, (London: National Literacy Trust) children who write at home are seven times more likely to write above the expected writing standard.


The Wrong Way to Teach Grammar By Michelle Navarre Cleary

I recently came across this article by Michelle Navarre Cleary and I just had to share it. I think it’s brilliantly written with astute remarks made throughout. These include:

‘…We know that grammar instruction that works includes teaching students strategies for revising and editing, providing targeted lessons on problems that Students immediately apply to their own writing, and having students play with sentences like Legos, combining basic sentences into more complex ones…’

‘…Students are victims of the mistaken belief that grammar lessons must come before writing, rather than grammar being something that is best learned through writing…’

‘…Once students get ideas they care about onto the page, they are ready for instruction—including grammar instruction…’

‘…If 30 years later, you or your child is still being taught grammar independent of actually writing, it is well past time to demand writing instruction that is grounded in research rather than nostalgia…’

I can highly recommend reading the whole article. You might also enjoy reading our view on grammar teaching and you might be interested in our ebook: Grammar Mini-Lesson For 5-11 Year Olds

Teachers’ Talk Radio Interview

Teachers Talk Radio

Ross Young recently spoke with Meera Chudasama at Teachers’ Talk Radio about all things Writing For Pleasure pedagogy. He was joined by his colleague Year Four writer-teacher Tobias Hayden.

They spoke about what a Writing For Pleasure classroom looks and feels like and what the research says about world-class writing teaching.

You can listen to the interview at the link here.

*NEW Minibook* Pupil-conferencing With 3-11 Year Olds: Powerful Feedback & Responsive Teaching That Changes Writers

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The power of feedback

We know, and research confirms, that feedback is an essential part of teaching and learning. Research specific to the teaching of writing demonstrates that consistently clear, timely and meaningful feedback delivered to individuals, most often through a pupil conference, leads to academic improvement and high attainment on a long-term basis (Young & Ferguson 2021). The affective impact on pupils of this kind of feedback is also highlighted in the research, which shows that it contributes in great measure to feelings of confidence and motivation, helps create a positive self-belief and the willingness to persevere, and gives the writer a sense of happiness and well-being.

Research also suggests that verbal feedback given when children are actually engaged in writing is more effective than written marking after the event (Young & Ferguson 2021). A teacher conferencing with a pupil is in a unique position to give constructive feedback and relevant instruction based on what the pupil tells them about their goals and intentions for their writing that day.

What is pupil-conferencing?

Conferencing with a pupil while they are engaged in writing is an idea and a practice which gives you the perfect opportunity to make a rich response to their writing, and to combine high-quality, direct, individualised and relevant instruction with the kind of feedback which moves the child on in their development as a writer. During each conference you will be giving them a little more ‘real writer’ knowledge to take forward into new writing projects – and, importantly, into their present and future lives beyond the school gates. The interactions you have with the child in a conference enable you to make a formative assessment and then begin responsive teaching. And what better way than regular conferencing to get to know each child as a writer?

We know from research that pupil conferencing is one of the fourteen principles of world-class writing teaching. In our book Writing for Pleasure: Theory, Research and Practice, we identify conferencing as an essential part of a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy and describe how teachers carry it out.

We would like to give special thanks to our teacher-affiliates Sam Creighton, Marcela Vasques, Benjamin Harris, Nicola Izibili and Tobias Hayden for their time, expertise and examples of practice. Thank you.

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Are you for real? Bringing purpose and authenticity into the writing classroom 

For Teach Reading & Writing Magazine

Writing for a purpose means writing for real. It’s reasonable to assume that every act of writing undertaken out in the world is underpinned by a reason to write it, by the writer’s impulse to make their mark on the world with some kind of purpose and intention. Yet although we know from research that, if writing is done in school for a real purpose, children’s pleasure in writing is increased, and that writing for and with pleasure means they write better texts, it appears that we often don’t think of bringing authentic purposes  into the writing classroom.

The whole issue of what could make writing authentic in school, including what a real purpose and audience for writing would look like, is well worth thinking about. Research studies on the subject express a broad but compelling consensus of opinion, agreeing that, to be authentic, a writing project must connect both with children’s own lives and with how and why writing is undertaken in the world outside the school gates. If these factors are missing from the practices of writing teachers, writing cannot be taught in an authentic way. And when it isn’t taught in an authentic way, when teaching isn’t informed by what writers in the wider world do and the processes they go through, and when children are not encouraged to bring their own funds of knowledge into the writing classroom, the result is that in school they are rarely given the chance to write authentically.

The serious barrier to children having the opportunity to write with genuine purpose and for a genuine audience is that decisions about the genre, the topic, the purpose and the audience for a writing project are almost always made by the teacher, who then assigns the project to the children to complete. Projects are often harnessed, in what seems to be quite an arbitrary way in terms of the teaching of writing, to a current topic or to the particular class novel under study. Teacher-chosen audiences and purposes are typically artificial and manufactured, having little or no connection to purposes and audiences in the real world, which means- bizarrely- that children are effectively being asked to pretend at writing. This may happen particularly in a literature-based approach to writing teaching: for example, children might be asked to write a letter to a book character, or a newspaper article about a dragon’s egg appearing in the playground or about the day the chairs all left the classroom and how they had to be persuaded by letter to return. Such projects may seem seductively attractive  and motivating on the surface, but they will have only a short-lived effect on children’s development as writers. You could say it’s rather like experiencing a sugar rush – high energy, but only for a brief space of time. And, in the context of assigning a writing ‘task’ attached to a topic, teachers inevitably find themselves receiving thirty very similar versions of, for example, a biography of Queen Victoria, or the much-favoured newspaper article about the opening of Tutankhamun’s tomb, written for no purpose other than to have children repeat the given information, and with no defined audience beyond themselves and therefore no reason to be published. Hence the inauthenticity of so many writing projects.

However, we can avoid this scenario because, in actual fact, it’s easy to create authentic and motivating projects with a real purpose and audience by the simple expedient of setting a genre as a parameter for writing, discussing who they are going to write it for, and then giving children agency over their own writing topic. If children have been taught idea generation techniques, they can learn about the conventions of the genre for the class writing project and then go on to choose what they want to write about, using their own funds of knowledge and identifying their own genuine purposes and audiences. To give some simple examples: write an information text, but choose a subject you know a lot about and which you think others would be interested to learn about too. Write a persuasive letter to someone in the community who might have the power to act on your request. Or, in a narrative genre, generate your own playful or imaginative idea and write it as a story, poem or as a piece of ‘faction’, with the aim of entertaining readers and showing your artistry by painting with words. These reasons to write do, of course, mirror real-world writing purposes, and the writing that springs from them is as authentic as the writing that takes place in the world outside school. 

In summary, writing in school can be undertaken with genuine purpose if it matches the reasons why writers write in the outside world; if the topic is chosen by the child and is therefore relevant to their own lives; if it can be published and put to work in the world as entertainment, as a record, as an opinion or an attempt to influence, as a reflection or as an explanation about something. It will have an authentic outcome only if it has a real envisioned audience, whether that audience is close or distant, known or unknown, but is certainly not Dumbledore, a collection of chairs, or Paddington Bear, and is not the teacher whose own purpose is primarily to read the writing for evaluation or assessment.

If genre is taught well in class writing projects and children are allowed to write authentically, finding their own reasons for writing and using the genre for their own purposes and in their own way, they will be experiencing a sincere curriculum which simultaneously attends to their emotional needs as young writers and fulfils official objectives. They will also be part of a process which not only helps them write better texts but gives them the opportunity to write for real, with purpose, power and pleasure.

Sidebar

If authenticity means not pretending, then we should remember to:

  • Give children a say in deciding on the purpose and audience for a writing project in a particular genre. As a class, have an ‘ideas party’ – collect ideas on flipchart paper for what they would like to write about and to whom, and then collaboratively agree on both.
  • Alternatively, set a genre as the parameter and then give children individual agency over the writing topic. Teach idea generation techniques to help them find their own topic and then take a ‘writing register’.
  • Let children use their own funds of knowledge and identity in their writing in school. They need to write their own worlds and express who they are. 
  • Give children the chance to find reasons to be moved to write, and be who they want to be in their piece – maybe entertainers, biographers, poets, storytellers, teachers or advisers. Show them how they can mix elements of different genres together to do this.
  • Ensure that the mentor texts you provide include authentic and legitimate examples from the world outside school.
  • Make discussions about publishing possibilities an initial and important part of a class writing project.

By Felicity Ferguson. Felicity helps run The Writing For Pleasure Centre. Their aim is to help all young people become passionate and successful writers.

NATE: What can we learn from Writing for Pleasure teachers? for Primary Matters magazine

Authors Ross Young and Felicity Ferguson share their compelling research, equipping teachers with the knowledge to reshape their teaching of writing in transformative ways and help children become empowered writers who write with purpose, power, precision and pleasure.

What Is It Writing For Pleasure Teachers Do That Makes The Difference? (Young 2019) was a one-year research project funded by The Goldsmiths’ Company and supported by The University Of Sussex which investigated how Writing For Pleasure teachers secured outstanding academic achievement from their pupils whilst also attending to children’s affective needs (positive dispositions and feelings towards writing and being writers). This research comes at a time when we are seeing profound underachievement in writing
coupled with an increase in young people’s indifference to or dislike of writing (Young & Ferguson 2021).

It was a requirement that the practices of the teachers participating in the research should be based on what studies tell us are the most effective writing teaching, associated with high levels of pupil motivation, confidence, agency, independence, desire, writer-identity, enjoyment, satisfaction and pleasure. Teachers were also required to provide evidence and a track record of exceptional academic progress among their pupils.

From a rich literature review, we were able to identify the fourteen enduring and interconnected principles of world-class writing teaching. These practices have, for a long time, been associated with high levels of student achievement and feelings of pleasure in being a young writer. The literature review was based on:

  • Extensive research into the most effective writing instruction including meta-analyses of multiple studies.
  • Existing case studies of what the best performing teachers of writing do that makes the difference.
  • Research summaries from reputable literacy charities and associations.
The 14 Principles Of World-Class Writing Teaching
– Build a community of writers
– Treat every child as a writer
– Read, share, think and talk about writing
– Pursue authentic and purposeful writing projects
– Teach the writing processes
– Set writing goals
– Be reassuringly consistent
– Pursue personal writing projects
– Balance composition and transcription 
– Teach daily mini-lessons
– Be a writer-teacher
– Pupil-conference
– Connect reading and writing
– Interconnect the principles

(Young & Ferguson 2021)

So what can we learn from these teachers? Below we share what it was they were doing in their classrooms that was making the difference, including: the creation of a social environment and a positive culture for developing as a writer; high-quality teaching to produce authentic, confident, and independent writers; teachers writing, teaching, and giving feedback as writers, and teachers connecting writing with reading.

Create A Community Of Writers

  • Children saw their teachers as extraordinarily positive, caring, strict, fun, calm and interested in their lives and development as writers. 
  • Their classrooms felt like a rich mixture of creative writers’ workshop but also had the sharp focus of a professional publishing house (Young & Ferguson 2020). 
  • The teachers supported and encouraged children to bring and use their own ‘funds of knowledge’ into their writing projects, meaning that children could write from a position of strength (Young & Birchill 2021).
  • Classrooms were a shared and democratic space. 
  • The children talked of feeling confident and knowing that their teachers wanted them to try their best, take their time and to focus specifically on making their written pieces the highest quality they could be for their future readership.

Treat Every Child As A Writer

  • The teachers held high achievement expectations for all their writers.
  • All children felt like independent writers who were achieving writing goals with regularity. They were praised for the goals they achieved in the writing lesson.
  • The teachers ensured that all their writers remained part of the writing community.

Read, Share, Think And Talk About Writing

  • Children were given ample opportunity to share and discuss with others (including their writer-teacher) their own and others’ writing in order to give and receive constructive criticism, writerly advice and celebrate achievement.
  • Writing was seen as a social act, and dialogic talk was important at all stages of the writing process. 
  • Children were encouraged to talk about the content of their writing, their writing processes, and to share any techniques or strategies they thought were working particularly well for them. 
  • Whilst talk was an integral part of any writing time, so was maintaining a low level of noise to avoid disturbing fellow writers (Whittick 2020).

Purposeful & Authentic Writing Projects

  • Teachers and children together considered the purpose and future audiences for their class writing projects. Because children were given the opportunity to generate their own ideas and had a strong sense of a real reader and a clear distant goal for the writing to be published, the projects were seen as meaningful (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2021).
  • Agency played an important role within class writing projects. Children were encouraged to either generate their own individual ideas, share and work on ideas in ‘clusters’ or, as a whole class, generate an idea that they could all pursue together (Young & Ferguson 2020).
  • It was striking that these teachers were regularly refocusing the children on considering the future readership and publication of their piece throughout their projects (James 2020). 
  • Class writing projects were worked on over a number of weeks.

The affective needs of young writers as identified by Young & Ferguson (2021)

Teach The Writing Processes

  • Teachers gave direct instruction in strategies for engaging in the different components of the writing process (how to generate an idea, plan, draft, revise, edit, publish). They scaffolded children’s understanding of these processes through demonstration, resources, displays, discussion, sharing self-written exemplars and also techniques children had used themselves.
  • Children were made to feel very knowledgeable about the writing process and confident in navigating it on their own. One way in which the teachers showed commitment to helping their children achieve independence was to allow them to develop and use a writing process which suited them best and to write at a pace which enabled them to produce their best writing (Hayden 2020).
  • The children were able to use the writing processes recursively and were not tied to a linear model.

Set Writing Goals

  • To maintain children’s commitment and motivation during a class writing project, teachers ensured that their classes understood the ‘distant goal’ for the project, that is to say, its audience and purpose (Hayden & Vasques 2020).
  • The class, as a community, also had a say in setting the ‘product goals’ for their project. This took place in the form of discussions as to what they would have to do, and what it was writers did, to ensure their writing was successful and meaningful in the context of the project’s aims (Young & Ferguson 2020).
  • The teachers would often share a piece of their own writing, in keeping with the project, to initiate a discussion about writing decisions. The children then used the outcomes of these discussions as an aid to setting product goals for their own writing. The product goals were similar to success criteria, but importantly they also included more overarching goals linked directly to purpose and audience (Ferguson 2020).
  • Product goals were put on display and were repeatedly referred to by the children and the teachers throughout their class writing projects.
  • The teachers set loose ‘process goals’ for writing time to help the class generally stay on track, without forcing children to keep to a certain pace or writing process.

Be Reassuringly Consistent

  • The teachers showed excellent classroom organisation and behaviour management. There was strong emphasis on routines, promoting self-regulation, expectations and focused collaborative learning among the children.
  • Teachers had a clear routine of mini-lesson (10 to 20 minutes), writing time (30-40 minutes) and class sharing/author’s chair (10-15 minutes) (Young & Ferguson 2020).
  • The mini lessons were a short direct instruction on an aspect of writing which was likely to be useful to the children during that day’s writing. The teachers taught from their own craft, regularly  sharing their writing ‘tips, tricks and secrets’; alternatively, they would share examples from literature taken from the class library (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2020).
  • In the class-sharing / author’s chair session, children would share their developing pieces and discuss with their peers the writing goals they had achieved that day (Harris 2020).   

Pursue Personal Writing Projects

  • The teachers understood how essential it is that children are given time to write for a sustained period every day and to work on both class and personal writing projects (Vasques 2020; Hayden & Vasques 2021). 
  • Children were given at least one timetabled hour a week to engage in personal writing projects.  However, the teachers also encouraged children to pursue personal writing in little pockets of time throughout the week. 
  • Children transferred knowledge and skills learnt in class writing projects and used them expertly and successfully in their personal ones.
  • The teachers set up routines where personal writing project books went to and fro between school and home every day. This meant that children could be in a constant state of composition.

Balance Composition And Transcription

  • The teachers focused on giving direct instruction in the ‘generalities’ of good writing. They taught writing lessons which would help that day but which would serve children in future writing projects too. 
  • They ensured that they taught the right lessons at the right time, with the emphasis on composition at the beginning of a writing project and more focus on teaching good transcriptional techniques and strategies later.
  • The teachers had high expectations for transcriptional accuracy, spelling and handwriting and wanted the children to take pride in their final written products. They encouraged children to concentrate on composing their piece (or part of their piece) before giving full attention to making it transcriptionally accurate.
  • They allocated specific time for children to focus on revising their pieces prior to editing them. Thus, revision and editing had separate and specific status.
  • They also asked children to regularly stop, re-read and share their work with their peers. By re-reading, the children had an opportunity to revise and edit their developing pieces as they were progressing (Whittick 2020).
  • There was a good balance between discussing what the content of the children’s writing projects might be, how the writing could be organised to be successful, and the explicit teaching of different writing processes.
  • The teachers were very aware that, if grammar was to be understood in a meaningful way, it must be taught functionally and applied and examined in the context of real composition (The Writing For Pleasure Centre 2020). 

Teach Daily Mini-Lessons

  • Children learned numerous strategies and techniques that they could employ independently. They were taught strategies for managing every part of the writing process and they knew how to use them across all class and personal writing projects.
  • Self-regulation strategies and resources were introduced carefully and given dedicated instructional time. In mini-lessons, the teachers would illustrate the benefit of a writing strategy or resource with personal reference to their own experience as a writer, before modelling and encouraging the children to use it that day if possible. The strategies and techniques were offered in the spirit of a fellow writer sharing their own writerly knowledge and their ‘tricks’ (Hayden 2020).
  • These teachers made use of their working walls for ‘advertising’ and sharing self-regulation strategies.

Be A Writer-Teacher

  • Teachers wrote for pleasure in their own lives outside the classroom. They used their literate lives as an education tool in the classroom (Bean 2020).
  • The teachers regularly wrote and shared their writing with their class. They would also share their own finished pieces in relation to the projects they were asking the children to engage in, and would take advice from the children on compositions they were in the process of developing.
  • The teachers would readily share the tricks, tips and ‘secret’ strategies that they habitually employed in their own writing and would invite children to give them a try too.

Pupil Conference: Meet Children Where They Are

  • The teachers believed that a rich response to children’s writing was crucial. Whilst they used both written and verbal feedback, they particularly emphasised the usefulness of ‘live’ verbal feedback, which they felt was immediate, relevant and allowed the child to reflect on and attend to learning points raised while still actually engaged in their writing (Young & Ferguson 2020). 
  • Conferences were short, friendly, supportive and incredibly positive. The children looked forward to these ‘conversations’ because they knew they would receive genuine praise for and celebration of the writing goals they were achieving and also good advice as to how they could improve their developing compositions further.
  • The teachers were able to undertake pupil-conferencing in a systematic way and were successful because their children and classrooms were settled, focused, highly-organised and self-regulating. Behavioural expectations were also made very clear.

Literacy For Pleasure: Connect Reading And Writing

  • The teachers looked to build a community of readers and writers concurrently. 
  • They taught using a reading for pleasure pedagogy (Cremin et al 2014).
  • They had print-rich classrooms which included stories, non-fiction, poetry, newspapers, magazines and the children’s own published texts. 
  • The teachers read aloud every day to their classes with pleasure and enthusiasm, including poetry, picture books, chapter books, non-fiction texts and sometimes their own writing. 
  • The teachers encouraged children to make links between what they were reading, their own lives and potential writing ideas. They discussed authors’ themes and analysed their craft, understanding and encouraging the use of intertextuality, and writing in personal response to texts read (Young & Ferguson 2020).
  • They understood that volitional reading can lead to volitional writing, ensuring that during independent reading time children could also write in their personal writing project books if they felt an urge to do so (Taylor & Clarke 2021). 
  • Children collected words, phrases and other good examples of a writer’s craft in the hope that they might come in useful at a later date.

Conclusion

What we have learned from these Writing For Pleasure teachers is that, through an intellectual and practical commitment to the fourteen principles of world-class writing teaching, it is possible to transform classroom practice in the most significant and positive ways. Children are empowered not only to achieve exceptionally well academically, but also to grow as writers who write with purpose, power, precision and pleasure.

I feel like if I never wrote – life would be a bit boring wouldn’t it – having loads of thoughts but never being able to show it. – Year 4 Child

Book Review: The Responsive Writing Teacher by Melanie Meehan & Kelsey Sorum

The Responsive Writing Teacher, Grades K-5 : A Hands-on Guide to Child- Centered, Equitable Instruction by Corter, Kelsey Marie (9781071840641) |  BrownsBfS

The Responsive Writing Teacher: A Hands-on Guide To Child-Centered, Equitable Instruction

By Melanie Meehan & Kelsey Sorum

In The Responsive Writing Teacher, Melanie Meehan (an elementary writing coordinator and educational blogger at the magnificent Two Writing Teachers) and Kelsey Sorum (a kindergarten teacher) provide a broad perspective of what it means to be a young writer and what it means to teach them as a writer-teacher. What excites me most about this title is how it drills down into perhaps the most important aspect of all teaching, but particularly writing, that of responsive teaching.

As we do with all our write-ups, I will review the book using the 14 principles of world-class writing teaching (Young & Ferguson 2021).

  1. Build A Community Of Writers

‘An important element of culturally responsive teaching is that students see diverse representation within the classroom environment and its resources. What message will students see about themselves and the world when they look around?’ (p.95)

The authors explain early on that there are a number of ways in which we can be responsive to the needs of our young writers. These include:

  • Academic – ensuring new skills and content match students’ abilities and goals
  • Linguistic– ensuring language(s) used in instruction and in the classroom environment are accessible and inclusive of home languages
  • Cultural  – ensuring a diverse representation of authorship and within the content of texts
  • Socio-emotional – ensuring a safe and supportive environment for taking risks and overcoming challenges in the writing process

For Meehan & Sorum, building up children’s writer-identities forms a major part of building a loving and safe community of writers. They share a number of practical ways in which teachers can support and invite children’s funds of knowledge and funds of identity into the classroom including:

  • Producing ‘identity webs’
  • Inviting children to interview one another
  • Writing ‘I am…’ poems
  • Producing multilingual books
  • Creating writing posters and resources which authentically reflect traditionally underrepresented learners
  • Inviting children to co-construct the posters and resources that are used in the classroom
  • Selecting mentor texts which reflect children’s funds of knowledge and identities including multilingual texts
  • Participating in class writing projects and writing alongside learners
  1. Treat Every Child As A Writer

As the title suggests, this book’s biggest strength is its focus on responsive teaching. Meehan & Sorum provide a treasure-trove of advice on ensuring your writing classroom is as equitable as possible for all apprentice writers. In particular, they offer tools and resources for ensuring English language learners have equal access to writing and being a writer.

  1. Read, Share, Talk & Think About Writing

‘Students often have great insight into what makes things challenging for them.’ (p.20)

What’s striking about the authors’ practice is how they bring children into the conversation about what they need to learn most and how they then teach the children how they can do it for themselves. For too long, asking children what they need instruction in has almost been seen as cheating. However, Meehan & Sorum powerfully and convincingly show how teachers can invite their learners to read, share, talk and think about writing with them. This includes advice on how to undertake student-driven planning, goal-setting and assessment.

  1. Pursue Authentic & Purposeful Class Writing Projects

‘Adapting writing [projects] so that they align with students’ interests contributes to a stimulating writing environment and positively affects the quality of student writing.’ (p.40)

Throughout the book,  Meehan & Sorum show how you can move from predetermined units to writing projects that are authentic and purposeful. For example, in chapter two, the authors share valuable questions teachers should ask themselves when teaching a class writing project.

Before a project:

  • What will the class do?
  • How can they do it?
  • What strategies can help?

During a project:

  • What are the class not doing yet?
  • What might be getting in the way?
  • What strategies might help?

After a project:

  • Where can the class go from here?
  • What aspect of this work is particularly engaging for them or can be expanded upon?
  1. Pursue Personal Writing Projects

While the authors share examples of how we, as writer-teachers, should pursue our own personal writing projects, they don’t consider within this particular title how such time could be made for children to do the same.

  1. Teach The Writing Processes

‘Knowing how writers write is as valuable as knowing what they can write’ (p.18)

Meehan & Sorum provide really valuable tools for collecting information about the writing processes and writing behaviours of your class. As we know, teaching young writers about the writing processes is one of the most effective practices a writer-teacher can employ. The authors also make the case that to teach about the writing process, teachers must consider and perhaps even diagram their own writing processes.

  1. Teach Mini-Lessons

‘Responsive plans are made from a place of knowing. No curriculum writer, no plan maker knows the writers in a classroom like the teacher does. A responsive writing teacher crafts instruction that aligns with students’ developing skills.’(p.49)

Throughout the book, the authors share what must be one of the most important questions we can ask our apprentice writers: What helps you learn? The authors then share what you can do with the answers. In addition, they show very practically how you can use your own writing to teach high-quality and responsive mini-lessons.

  1. Be Reassuringly Consistent

It’s exciting to see Meehan & Sorum advocate for the reassuringly consistent routine of a contemporary writing workshop approach. Through such an approach, they explain how students are provided with high-quality instruction. They are then afforded significant amounts of time for writing and given the opportunity to talk and share their developing compositions with others. Finally, they acknowledge the powerful relationship between reading and writing.

  1. Balance Composition & Transcription

While it’s insinuated through their mention of revision and editing checklists and their discussion around the explicit teaching of the writing processes, the authors don’t go into much detail about how teachers can ensure a balance is kept between teaching about the compositional aspects of writing and how teachers can get students to focus on transcriptional accuracy. I suspect teachers would like to know more about how this is achieved by the authors in their classrooms.

  1. Set Writing Goals

One of the things that always impresses me about American writer-teachers is their ability to see their classroom as a ‘third teacher’. And so it is with Meehan & Sorum who provide a whole chapter on how ‘charts,’ posters and working walls can bring an accessibility to teachers’ writing instruction. Through different types of charts, the authors show how they can not only set children challenging and achievable writing goals but also show them how to achieve these goals successfully. They suggest the following types of charts:

  • Genre charts – share the typical features of a certain text-type.
  • Process charts – detailing the processes writers go through during writing time.
  • Strategy charts – show how you can use and apply a certain skill or literary technique.
  • Reference charts – a visual reminder of something the children will need to do time and again.
  • Checklists – help children keep track of their progress towards set goals.
  • Goal-setting charts – help learners know how to achieve a certain writing goal.
  1. Pupil-Conference: Meet Children Where They Are

While no specific advice is given on how to conduct pupil-conferences, I would argue there are already plenty of texts out there that do that brilliantly. Instead, this text shares a vision in which all aspects of writing teaching are open for ‘conference’ and discussion.

  1. Be A Writer-Teacher

‘Demonstration texts that are intentional and explicit keep students at the forefront – representing, engaging, inspiring, and inviting young writers in.’ (p.143)

Both authors strongly advocate for the writer in ‘writer-teacher’. They make a compelling argument that teachers who write grow (p.144):

They suggest that teachers mirror and participate in class writing projects throughout the year as well as immerse themselves in their own volitional writing projects for the benefit of both themselves and also for the children they serve.

  1. Literacy For Pleasure: Connect Reading & Writing

‘Mentor texts provide students with inspiration and examples of writing elements specific to each genre. Making thoughtful choices about the texts for each unique class of writers is paramount, considering the content, language, and representation within the text and in the authorship. Such decisions can increase the connection children make with texts and authors; the connection children make with each genre; and the connection children make with themselves, as growing writers.’ (p.113)

 Meehan & Sorum ask two important questions when it comes to the reading/writing connection:

  1. Who are the writer-teachers students need to see and learn from?
  2. Whose stories do students need to hear?

There is also an important distinction made between using a mentor text and using mentor texts. The authors rightly suggest that children should see a variety of mentor texts from a variety of authors (including their writer-teacher and the texts of other students) and that these texts should match the sorts of things children are trying to achieve within a class writing project.

  1. Interconnection Of The Principles

In conclusion, Meehan & Sorum provide teachers with much to think about in terms of equitable and responsive writing teaching. By reflecting on the wisdom shared within these pages, teachers would be perfectly placed to create a passionate, supportive and loving community of writers who write with pleasure, purpose and power.

Review by Ross Young. Ross runs The Writing For Pleasure Centre and helps convene the United Kingdom Literacy Association’s Teaching Writing special interest group.

References:

  • Young, R., Ferguson, F., (2021) Writing For Pleasure: theory, research and practice London: Routledge

The research on handwriting

We get asked from time to time what our opinion is on handwriting. We don’t really hold a strong personal opinion on the matter but rather look at the position taken by current research. With this in mind, we have set up this page to share links to relevant research that people may find interesting reading.

Having read the research ourselves, we conclude that we would want children to feel they can write quickly and happily and to feel confident that others can read their writing too.

Research specific to the early years:

  • Jones, C. (2014) Effects of writing instruction on kindergarten students’ writing achievement: an experimental study. The journal of Educational research, 108 (1), 35–44 [LINK]
  • Rowe, D. (2018) The Unrealized Promise of Emergent Writing: Reimagining the Way Forward for Early Writing Instruction Language Arts 95(4) pp.229-241 [LINK]
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Adkins, M. (2018) The impact of supplemental handwriting and spelling instruction with first grade students who do not acquire transcription skills as rapidly as peers: a randomized control trial Read Writ 31:1273-1294 [LINK]
  • Malpique, A., Pino-Pasternak, D., Valcan, D. (2017). Handwriting automaticity and writing instruction in Australian kindergarten: An exploratory study Reading & Writing 30(8) 1789-1812 [LINK]
  • Malpique, A., Pino-Pasternak, D., Roberto, M. (2020) Writing and reading performance in Year 1 Australian classrooms: associations with handwriting automaticity and writing instruction Reading & Writing 33 pp.783-805 [LINK]
  • Puranik, C., AlOtaiba, S. (2012) Examining the contribution of handwriting and spelling to written expression in kindergarten children Read Writ 25:1523-1546 [LINK]

General handwriting research:

  • Alves, R., Limpo, T., Salas, N., and Joshi, R. (2019). Handwriting and spelling. In Best Practices in Writing Instruction, Graham, S., MacArthur, C., and Hebert, M. (Eds.) (3rd Ed.) (pp.211–240). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Berninger, V.W., and Amtmann, D. (2003). Preventing written expression disabilities through early and continuing assessment and intervention for handwriting and/or spelling problems: Research into practice. In Handbook of Learning Disabilities, Swanson, H.L., Harris, K.R., and Graham, S. (Eds.) (pp. 345–363). New York: Guilford Press.
  • Graham, S. (2009). Want to improve children’s writing?: Don’t neglect their handwriting. American Educator, 33, 20–40. [LINK]
  • Medwell, J., and Wray, D. (2007). Handwriting: What do we know and what do we need to know? Literacy, 41(1), 10–16. [LINK]
  • Santangelo, T., Graham, S. (2016) A Comprehensive Meta-analysis of Handwriting Instruction Educational Psychology Review 28:225-265 [LINK]
Be reassuringly consistent

This chapter begins with a discussion of the importance of teaching the essential writing skills children require if they are to produce successful texts. This includes reflecting on the simple view of writing and what cognitive writing research has contributed to this area. The authors consider the cognitive load, metacognition, and demands on working memory involved when pupils compose and transcribe texts. They then explore what research and case studies into effective practice have been able to offer teachers in terms of successful and powerful writing instruction. The discussion includes developing children’s handwriting, typing, spelling, and editing (proof-reading) abilities. The chapter concludes with examples of effective practice from the classrooms of high-performing Writing For Pleasure teachers.

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