The Common Misconceptions Of Writing For Pleasure Debunked

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Writing For Pleasure, as a pedagogy at least, is fairly new ground. It’s an exciting movement to be a part of. I love hearing from other practitioners who tell me about how they are taking it on and the really positive results they are seeing in their classrooms.

However, I also hear a lot of things said about the pedagogy which are simply untrue. With this is mind, I hope this article can attend to some of the most common misconceptions I hear about a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy…

Writing For Pleasure just means giving children ‘free-writing’ time.

  • ‘Free-writing’ is actually a compositional technique popularised by Peter Elbow (1998) in which writers write whatever comes to mind for 10 minutes before mining the writing for any interesting or fruitful topics which might be worth further exploration. Alternatively, the topic is already known to the writer and they simply write freely on the subject for 10 minutes before working on it as a composition. A Writing For Pleasure pedagogy, however, is a comprehensive and evidence-based approach to teaching writing and does not have the restricted meaning described above.

Writing For Pleasure is a hippie free-for-all. It means no teaching. No direct instruction. You just hope children naturally develop.

  •  A Writing For Pleasure approach is a cohesive and carefully conceived pedagogy based on 14 principles of effective practice. These principles are the result of three literature reviews, spanning 50 years of scientific research and teacher case studies. It involves well over 300 pieces of literature and research on the subject of teaching writing.
  • Writing For Pleasure pedagogy does not advocate for a naturalistic approach to the teaching of writing (Hillocks 1986). Quite the opposite. It requires continual and skilful direct instruction from expert teachers of writing.

Writing For Pleasure should be seen as separate from the school’s curriculum.

  • Some teachers believe that children should be given some ‘free-choice’, ‘personal writing’ or ‘golden writing’ time and that this can be referred to as writing for pleasure. It is stipulated that this kind of writing must be quite separate and distinct from ‘class’ writing.  Thus, an artificial wedge is driven between ‘class writing’ and ‘writing for pleasure’, to the detriment of both. In fact, the two should work in rich combination, as our Writing for Pleasure manifesto and pedagogy has made clear. Every class writing project should yield the children enough fruit in their own terms for it to feel pleasurable and satisfying. And ‘personal writing’ projects must be seen to be as valid and as important as class writing projects. Children should be allowed freedom of choice about how they wish to interpret a class writing project, and be given time to pursue personal writing projects.
  • Writing For Pleasure pedagogy should definitely replace a school’s curriculum if that curriculum is not serving the needs of children as genuine apprentice writers. All writing that takes place in a classroom should attend to children’s affective needs, such as a sense of enjoyment and a feeling of intrinsic satisfaction in the writing projects they undertake. This means that children’s completed class writing projects can ‘get to work’ and serve legitimate purposes and a variety of audiences.

Writing For Pleasure doesn’t care about the quality of children’s written products.

  • Whilst a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy advocates for children discussing and generating their own ideas for class writing projects, it simply doesn’t follow that Writing For Pleasure teachers will accept low standards in terms of a final written product. Quite the opposite. Because these projects are serving real audiences, they must be of the highest quality. This means teachers sharing their own and others’ writing and identifying what the class will need to do to ensure that their pieces are successful and meaningful. For example, collaboratively discussing and setting product goals is extremely useful. Children are encouraged to write in such a way that they are motivated for their writing to be the best it can be, both in terms of composition and accurate transcription. 

Because Writing For Pleasure lets children choose their topics, they only ever write about trivial stuff like television characters and their friends! 

  • This might happen at first, usually because children have never before been given such freedom to choose their ideas for writing projects. It soon changes once generating their own ideas becomes the norm. Besides, nothing children write about is ever trivial if you actually talk to them about it, and if you have high expectations for the writing . For more information on this issue, we recommend reading Ralph Fletcher (2012) or Anne Haas Dyson’s (2014) work.

If you’d like to find out more about Writing For Pleasure, you can download our research report here.

GUEST BLOG: Writing For Pleasure with my class under lockdown by Tobias Hayden

Writing is Thinking: Learning to Write with Confidence

Writing For Pleasure with my class under lockdown

There are decades where nothing happens; then there are weeks where whole decades happen. Out of tragedy, a truth has emerged: we are not bondless and atomised. Humans are social beings who thrive in communities where it is not every man for himself and the devil takes care of the hindmost. There is such a thing as society and this crisis has, perhaps, created an opportunity to reimagine it into a new form with a human face. 

The same could be said of education; is the grim dictatorship of the prevailing neoliberal orthodoxy on the ropes? The GERM (Global Educational Reform Movement), as coined by Pasi Sahlberg the Finnish educator, which infects our schools through high-stakes assessment, league tables, Ofsted and performance-related pay, has never been necessary, and looks even less so now. Out of this moribund mire the new is struggling to be born. 

In relation to writing this is particularly true: the limitations of the dominant pedagogies currently used in schools are laid bare before us as teachers ask children to write at home. But, have they been well equipped to do so? The answer is almost certainly no, because, unless schools have been teaching children how to be writers and how to enjoy the act of writing, then it will be impossible to replicate the schemes of work that many of them use. 

However, if a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy has been developed, then it is my thesis that the children will be much better prepared to write during this period of relative isolation. I have spent the last few years doing just that and I believe that the children have been thoroughly prepared to continue living a writerly life at home during this period. Not because they have to, but because they want to.

A Writing For Pleasure approach pays particular, explicit attention to what are known as the affective domains: motivation (I know why), agency (I have a say), volition (I want to), self-regulation (I know what to do and how to do it), self-efficacy (I can), writer identity (I am) and enjoyment and satisfaction (pride and happiness). 

All of my recent teaching has been underpinned by placing them at the heart of everything we do in our writing classroom. In addition to that, fourteen principles have been used, which, over many decades and hundreds of pieces of research from all over the world, have been shown to be crucial to the effective teaching of writing. 

I will outline how I see this approach encouraging writing away from the classroom by sharing a few of the principles and how they help create an intrinsic desire in children to engage in writerly behaviour.

Pupil Conference: Meet The Children Where They Are

Since pupil-conferencing has been conducted in a systematic way, I have been able to get to know all my pupils as writers and offer them advice, which can be applied to any piece of writing. This leaves them in a better position to work independently from home knowing that they have strategies in place to help them move through the writing processes and fix any issues they may be having with their writing. 

My advice has always been given live using the context of a purposeful and authentic piece of writing, which the children have been crafting. This has an advantage over written feedback because of its dialogic nature and its immediacy. Additionally, it has given me the opportunity to listen to what the young writer is saying and address their needs rather than having to guess after the event. This focus on the writer, rather than on the writing, promotes the development of self-efficacy, self-regulation, a stronger writer identity and strengthens the writer’s ability to work confidently away from the classroom.

I would expect the children to miss these interactions while writing from home and they would be very hard to replicate remotely. However, the point here is that the conferencing has already done the hard work and laid the foundations for future success. It never attempts to ‘fix’ the child’s writing. Instead, I have been listening carefully and leaving tips and advice that can be universally applied so that each writer internalises the types of questions they should be asking themselves during their writing process. Writing at home is more likely if children feel motivated and are less likely to give up when they come to a hurdle. If we want children to write for pleasure at home, good conferencing at school is vital.

Teach The Writing Processes

Making children explicitly aware of each stage of the writing process and allowing them to have agency over the approach they take is advantageous when looking to encourage children to continue to write for pleasure. Why? Since they have been developing a personalised approach to idea generation, planning, drafting, revising, editing and publishing throughout the year, they have a much stronger writer identity. They are much more likely to be able to take ‘the seed of an idea all the way through these stages and on to publication on their own’ (Young & Ferguson 2020). What were developing habits at the start of the academic year are, by this stage, ossifying into a supportive, highly personalised set of processes for the children to funnel their creativity and ideas through. 

The truth is, many children are not used to being allowed to move at their own pace and in their own way through these processes. By enabling them to do so, I have helped them to understand both the recursive nature of the writing process and the confidence and satisfaction that can be gained by having agency over the way in which they approach their writing. 

Ultimately, I want children to be able to reflect, share knowledge, show off their flair for writing, persuade, entertain and to make a record of something they don’t want to forget. We should demonstrate to children that they do lead rich and meaningful enough lives to have agency over their writing choices; they have a voice. Teaching children how to generate these ideas is arguably the most vital part of the whole process and I put a great deal of time early on in the year into including mini-lessons to deal with this. Engagement and motivation skyrocket once children realise they are not going to have to spend another year writing solely for someone else, through an inauthentic context, and about which they have a limited motivation or understanding.

Pursue Personal Writing Projects

This is perhaps the strongest principle in relation to home learning, and, arguably, the most direct way in which we can see examples of children developing their independence as writers. This year children were given a personal journal to use alongside their class exercise books. They were able to use it in their free time both in school and at home, and opportunities were created to use it daily once class projects had been completed. Because they had full autonomy over how they used it, many different and highly personalised approaches to the writing process emerged. There was sketching, jotting, doodling, dabbling, different types of drafting, ideas pages, evidence of planning, revising, editing. There were examples of mini-lessons I had taught being applied; conferences in which I had given out advice were being acted upon and crucially, a sense of pleasure dripped off every page. 

In relation to continuing to live the writerly life away from school, the evidence was overwhelming. I was swamped with examples of children’s writing which they had composed at home. There was too much to read. The children had been given, perhaps for the first time, the opportunity to be in a state of constant composition; to write when the urge grabbed them and to have their ideas valued and celebrated. This agency over topic choice and approach to the writing process had unleashed the twin domains of motivation and volition.

Most evenings there would be ten to fifteen empty slots where the children’s personal journals should have been on the classroom wall. Not much can give you more satisfaction as a Writing For Pleasure teacher than seeing a child scamper back into class remembering to grab their journal because they wanted to continue with a piece when they got home.

What next?

For teachers, while working from home, there will be some time to further explore this approach to teaching writing and consider how to start transforming your teaching alongside the children’s experiences of writing. I have found a Writing For Pleasure approach to be a truly transformational pedagogy: once you begin, it is difficult to stop exploring and there is such a wealth of research and practice to discover.

It is a highly effective and affecting pedagogy; perfect for helping children to live a literate life. I am just getting started, and I hope this adumbration of my experiences has piqued your interest enough to go and explore some more of the principles, and the research behind them for yourself. If you are looking for a starting point, I would recommend reading the report,  What is it ‘Writing For Pleasure’ teachers do that makes the difference? (Young 2019).

References 

  • Young, R., (2019) What is it ‘Writing For Pleasure’ teachers do that makes the difference? The Goldsmiths’ Company & The University Of Sussex UK [Online] Available at: writing4pleasure.com
  • Young, R., Ferguson, F., (2020) Real-World Writers: a handbook for teaching writing with 7-11 year olds London: Routledge

GUEST BLOG: The book-crafting child… By Benjamin Harris

By Benjamin Harris (@one_to_read)

“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”- Carl Sagan


If every teacher began their training in teaching writing by looking at that quote in detail, by thinking about every sentence and the meaning they each hold about the purpose of writing, then lived that meaning for the rest of their teaching days, I wonder how many of the young people in their care would go on to become writers for life…


When I was eight, my class was visited by a paper-technician who showed us all how to make pop-up animals from one piece of paper: I thought it was the best thing I’d been shown since my reception teacher let us make butter by shaking a jar of cream all afternoon. That night, I went home and made many, many more and stuck them all together to make a book of weird creatures. Frankly, this little book was – like the butter – magic: Sagan’s words above were proved to me from a very early age! Like most of the learning that sticks for life, it was something simple and direct.


Time passed…

Secondary school inflicted itself on me: gone were those halcyon days of butter-making and pop-ups. From time-to-time there were still ‘independent projects’ to be done. For me, these quite naturally became the opportunity to make books, while others handed in lever arch files of hole-punched paper. I can’t remember much of the work I did elsewhere, but these books stick: a tea-stained-and-gas-hob-scorched ancient manuscript of Roman Life and a carefully bound guide to microscopes that I made with my best friend spring readily to mind. I was proud of them – very proud indeed.

I still have the microscope one and often show it to my classes. I tell them how looking at it reminds me of the feeling of creating it, of how proud I was (and still am). My biology teacher awarded me A+ for that effort, but I couldn’t have cared less about that – it could have been ungraded for all it matters – because I felt (and still feel) something had been captured in that book that was recorded for all time: it’s a tiny snapshot of who I was, aged 13.

Many people would readily recognise the huge value that an album of photographs has to its compiler – it’s in essence a picture book with (or completely without) a few words, telling the story of a period or event in one’s life. We look over our old photos with warm nostalgia, joyful remembrance, bitter regret, and maybe weep at sad or difficult memories they show. These photo albums are part of the story of our lives.

Now imagine this:

As an adult, you are sorting out boxes of old stuff in the loft. You come across a cache of books that you made when you were young. These books contain bits of writing and stuff and that you remember so vividly that mattered to YOU, stories about your childhood so far – the time you learned to ride a bike, your grand-dad hero, the recipe of your mum’s best macaroni cheese and exactly why you like it so much. Reading it all, you smile at a memory that has never ever gone away, then gasp when you read about something that you had quite forgotten. They are all intense snapshots, far deeper, individual and more personal than any photo could tell. Everything you recall has been presented to what was your very best effort; you remember really caring about making those little flaps and creating the bubble-writing titles. The handwriting, the slightly wonky construction, the pictures you drew, all combine to create an object so unique and heartfelt you find yourself looking into the soul of your childhood.

It is this vision that I have about each of the children in my classes. It’s why I help them to make books. It’s one of the reasons why making a book is not some precious nicety, not an ‘add-on’, but – for me – a crucial part in the teaching of writing.

I was fortunate to begin my teaching career in a setting that was one of the ‘Plowden Schools’ in the Seventies. It seemed that I had stepped into the school that I wished I had attended as a child. Along with particularly high standards of reading and writing, the Art and D.T. work was exceptional…and the school got the children to make books too! They were called ‘Topic Books’ then and I loved looking at examples from the ‘80s and ‘90s, with their spray-diffused stencilled pages, curious pop-outs and intricately cut pages. These pages were hand-stitched. This wasn’t work…it was craft.

Craft is how many of us see writing too: it’s not a kit, not a bunch of semicolons and adverbial phrases cobbled together into something that calls itself ‘a non-chronological report’. No: a skilful construction with an impulse to be created and a burning intent behind it – that is what makes writing a true craft.

Nearly twenty years on, I am still teaching at the same school. In every one of those years, I have helped my classes to make their own books; from infants to Year 6, the children have always gone home with at least one book that I hope will be brought out in thirty years’ time to reveal the child that was.

And maybe, as Carl Sagan tells us, the author that was will speak clearly and silently, directly to the very one that they grew up to be.

Here are some pictures of one of the most recent sets of books, which were designed and written by the children in my Year 6 class of 2018-19. They were produced during their last term of primary school. (Incidentally, it was the time when I took part in Ross Young’s and Phil Ferguson’s project What Is It Writing For Pleasure Teachers Do That Makes The Difference?) Each one is totally unique, the contents and style, chosen by the individuals.


Useful books:

  • Leslie BENNETT – Children Making Books (1978)
  • Gwen DIEHN: Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist and Turn (1999)
  • Paul JOHNSON – A Book of One’s Own (1990) – Get Writing! (2008) – Making Books (2000) New Pop-Up Paper Projects (2013) –Pictures and Words Together: Children Illustrating and writing their own books (1997)
  • Ester K. SMITH: Making Books with Kids: 25 Paper Projects to Fold, Sew, Paste, Pop, and Draw (2016)

Books that inspire by their craft:

  • Janet and Allan AHLBERG – Peepo (1981) – Which Witch?  (1979) (+ all the other titles in the Daisychain series) – Yum Yum (1984)
  • Eric CARLE – The Bad Tempered Ladybird / The Grouchy Ladybug (1977) – The Very Hungry Caterpillar (1969)
  • David PELHAM – Sam’s Sandwich (1990)
  • Jan PIENKOWSKI – Little Monsters (1986) – Haunted House (1979)
  • Terry PRATCHETT – The Compleat Ankh-Morpork (2012)
  • Matthew REINHART – Game of Thrones: A Pop-up Guide to Westeros (2014)

Adisa The Verbalizer confirmed for our Writing For Pleasure conference

Image result for adisa the verbalizer"

Following our highly successful 2018 conference, our 2020 National Conference hosted at Canterbury Christ Church University promises to be even better!

We are delighted that we can now announce that Adisa The Verbalizer will be giving a workshop alongside our keynote speakers David Almond & Piers Torday.

How do you create a space that welcomes creativity and sharing? In his interactive poetry workshop you will learn to be comfortable looking silly as you play vocal and physical poetry games. You will dance with metaphor and ryhme as you explore the world of image and rhythm. Then share your creations in a popup theatre style presentation. Come join the Verbalizer as you discover exciting ways to bring poetry alive in
the classroom.

There will also be a wide selection of other workshops led by professionals from across the writing community which we are looking forward to announcing shortly.

Our Writing For Pleasure conferences seek to explore:

  • How writing is taught effectively.
  • How we can attend to children’s affective needs.
  • How we create communities of writers.
  • Children’s enjoyment in the craft of writing.
  • The role of publishing and performing in creating a sense of satisfaction.


Image result for spring

Our three day Spring institute in London is now open for registration too. However, places are limited.

This institute’s theme is ‘Writing Across The Curriculum‘ Interested? You can find more details and register your place here:

Piers Torday confirmed for our Writing For Pleasure conference

Image result for piers torday

Following our highly successful 2018 conference, our 2020 National Conference hosted at Canterbury Christ Church University promises to be even better!

We are delighted that we can now announce that Piers Torday will be a keynote speaker alongside David Almond for the event.

Award-winning author, Piers Torday, will deliver an animated and thought-provoking session, in which he will discuss the value of sharing stories and the power of childhood reading and writing for pleasure.

There will also be a wide selection of workshops led by professionals from across the writing community which we are looking forward to announcing shortly.

Our Writing For Pleasure conferences seek to explore:

  • How writing is taught effectively.
  • How we can attend to children’s affective needs.
  • How we create communities of writers.
  • Children’s enjoyment in the craft of writing.
  • The role of publishing and performing in creating a sense of satisfaction.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is enios14wsaeqqpz.jpg


Image result for spring

Our three day Spring institute in London is now open for registration too. However, places are limited.

This institute’s theme is ‘Writing Across The Curriculum’ Interested? You can find more details and register your place here: