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
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.
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
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).
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
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Who are the writer-teachers students need to see and learn from?
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.
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.
Young, R., Ferguson, F., (2021) Writing For Pleasure: theory, research and practice London: Routledge
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]
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.
The right to get lost in your writing and not know where you’re going.
The right to throw things away.
The right to take time to think.
The right to borrow from other writers.
The right to experiment and break rules.
The right to work electronically, draw or use a pen and paper.
Jeni Smith helped write these rights and you can listen to her talk in the video below:
Using the poster as a spring board, I asked the children in my class what their rights and responsibilities were in the writing classroom. Below, you can see what they came up with.
I have since placed them into a number different categories which I find really interesting. The categories include: the role of the teacher, home writing, reader in the writer, what to write, how to write, sharing writing and ‘getting your writing reader-ready’.
The right to make a few mistakes when you’re publishing.
My question now is – what would the rights be in your class?
I really love reading about writer-teacher Timothy Lensmire’s practice. He discusses his desire to create a writing community which allows for personal ownership and individual exploration of writing topics whilst at the same time promoting a sense of public participation and responsibility towards others. If that interests you too, I can recommend these two books:
Lensmire, T. (1994) When Children Write: Critical Re-visions of the Writing Workshop New York: Teachers’ College Press
Lensmire, T. (2000) Powerful writing, responsible teaching New York: Teachers’ College Press
The teachers’ writing group is particularly welcoming to anyone who wants to develop as a writer-teacher, but for whatever reason feels nervous or unsure on how to start.
There has been a call from members in recent surveys for the UKLA to establish a Teachers’ Writing Group. We are pleased to announce that one is now being established. The group guarantees to be a friendly, inclusive and supportive group and is open to anybody who works in education. It is particularly welcoming to anyone who wants to develop as a writer-teacher but for whatever reason feels nervous or unsure on how to start. The group will meet online once every half-term and is for all UKLA members.
The meetings will be in the evening and will last an hour and a half. They will follow a simple routine of: be together, write together and share together.
Meetings will start with an informal chat and the sharing of a writing prompt (for those who might like to use one). Alternatively, members can use the writing time as an opportunity to continue working on their own existing writing project. Finally, some members might want to use the time as an opportunity to participate in some free-writing or what we call ‘dabbling’.
We will then have writing time. People can stay on the video call. They can turn off their camera and microphones, or they can leave their computer all together and write in a place that suits them best. A time will be given for when everyone should return to the meeting. If people want to write with others, we can set up breakout rooms.
Finally, the meeting will end with some sharing time. This is an opportunity for those who would like to talk about how their writing is coming along, seek advice from others, or simply read some of what they’ve been crafting. Members don’t need to share if they don’t want to.
Benefits of joining our group:
Meet other like-minded and sympathetic teachers.
Give yourself some time to write for pleasure.
Give yourself some accountability for working on your existing writing projects.
Learn some idea generation techniques.
An opportunity to craft mentor texts for your learners.
A chance to talk about the teaching of writing.
The group will be run by Ross Young and Felicity Ferguson who are the convenors of The UKLA’s Teaching Writing SIG and the founders of The Writing For Pleasure Centre. If you’re interested in joining, please contact them at: writing4pleasure.com/contact
My friend and colleague Doug Kaufman recently turned to me and said that ‘You know, writing might be one of the best ways to teach reading’. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I think he’s right. Who better to deeply understand and appreciate a chef’s cooking than a fellow chef?
What is it writers do when they read?
Because writers know that to craft texts is to share meaning, they know to look out for potential meanings being shared with them by the author.
Because writers know the powerful reasons they are moved to write, they can speculate and understand the reasons why the author of the text they read may have been moved too.
Because writers hear the personal responses people have to their work, they know that they can share responses to their reading.
Because writers use things they’ve read, seen and experienced to help craft texts, they know that what they are reading will have drawn on these things too and they can make connections.
Because writers craft writing in response to what’s going on in the world, they can better understand that the texts they read might be in response to these life events too.
Because writers use techniques to keep their readers guessing, they are better able to make logical, plausible or inventive suggestions as to what could happen in the book they are reading.
Because writers are asked questions about their texts, they understand that they can ask questions of the texts they read.
Because writers are asked to clarify what it is they are meaning to say, they understand that they can ask for clarification as readers.
Because writers have to summarise, and because they hear their peers and others summarise their work, they can summarise the writing of others too.
Because writers are continually thinking about and discussing their compositions with others, they understand that they can ‘think aloud’ in response to the texts they are reading.
Because writers use literary techniques to help people visualise their ideas, they are able to visualise what they have read.
Because writers understand that manuscripts are artefacts and ‘gifts’ that they craft to be shared and responded to by others, they understand that they can write in response to the rich artefacts and ‘gifts’ shared with them.
Encoding text means practising phonics for reading.
Fitzgerald, J., & Shanahan, T. (2000). Reading and writing relations and their development. Educational Psychologist, 35, 39–50.
Graham S. (2020a) Reading and Writing Connections: A Commentary. In: Alves R., Limpo T., Joshi R. (eds) Reading-Writing Connections. Literacy Studies (Perspectives from Cognitive Neurosciences, Linguistics, Psychology and Education), vol 19. Springer, Cham.
Graham, S. (2020b). The Sciences of Reading and Writing Must Become More Fully Integrated. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S35– S44.
Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2011). Writing-to-read: A meta-analysis of the impact of writing and writing instruction on reading. Harvard Educational Review, 81, 710–744.
Graham, S., Liu, K., Aitken, A., Ng, C., Bartlett, B., Harris, K. R., & Holzapel, J. (2018a). Balancing reading and writing instruction: A meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 53, 279–304.
Graham, S., Liu, K., Bartlett, B., Ng, C., Harris, K. R., Aitken, A., Barkel, A., Kavanaugh, C., & Talukdar, J. (2018b). Reading for writing: A meta-analysis of the impact of reading and reading instruction on writing. Review of Educational Research, 88, 243–284.
Graham, S., Kiuhara, S., and MacKay, M. (2020). The effects of writing on learning in science, social studies, and mathematics: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 90(2), 179–226.
Proctor, P., Daley, S., Xu, Y., Graham, S., Li, Z., Hall, T. (2020) Shared Knowledge between Reading and Writing among Middle School Adolescent Readers The Elementary School Journal 120:3, 507-527
Ross Young & Felicity Ferguson are the founders of The Writing For Pleasure Centre and authors of Writing For Pleasure: Theory, Research and Practice. They are national representatives for The United Kingdom Literacy Association and the conveners of their international Teaching Writing Special Interest Group. The mission of The Writing For Pleasure Centre is to help all young people become passionate and successful writers.
This event is free for NAAE members. Non members are welcome to attend this event by purchasing a ticket (£5).
The talk will focus on their latest book which looks to explore what writing for pleasure means, and how it can be realised as a much-needed pedagogy whose aim is to develop children, young people, and their teachers as extraordinary and life-long writers. The approach described is grounded in what global research has long been telling us are the most effective ways of teaching writing and contains a description of the authors’ own research project into what exceptional teachers of writing do that makes the difference.
In the book, Young & Ferguson describe ways of building communities of committed and successful writers who write with purpose, power, and pleasure, and they underline the importance of the affective aspects of writing teaching, including promoting in apprentice writers a sense of self-efficacy, agency, self-regulation, volition, motivation, and writer-identity. They define and discuss 14 research-informed principles which constitute a Writing for Pleasure pedagogy and show how they are applied by teachers in classroom practice. Case studies of outstanding teachers across the globe further illustrate what world-class writing teaching is.
Their ground-breaking text is considered essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the current status and nature of writing teaching in schools. The rich Writing for Pleasure pedagogy presented by the authors is seen as a radical new conception of what it means to teach young writers effectively today.
Grammar lessons are about children seeing how grammar is authentically used by writers and being invited to try it for themselves. Grammar lessons like this are essential for showing children the hows of writing. Punctuation and grammar use is a skill to be developed, not simply content to be taught. – Young & Ferguson 2020
Writers are passionate about people understanding what it is they want to say, and they use grammatical devices to help them. Ultimately, grammar helps us say what we truly mean and for our writing to be read how we intended.
Children enjoy learning about grammar when they find out how it can serve them as a writer. That’s why we teach grammar functionally. We know that formal grammar teaching has a negative effect on children’s writing (Young & Ferguson 2021). However, meaning-based grammar teaching, including sentence combining, is far more promising. That’s what this book is about – teaching grammar in such a way that children see how it helps them share their meaning with others. A bonus of course is that it also serves children very well in national assessments like the current SPAG test (Young & Ferguson 2020).
If we boil down our approach to teaching grammar, it is as simple as:
Teach -> Invite
Teach. Provide explicit and direct instruction to your class on an aspect of grammar you feel they need a better understanding of.
Invite. Invite children to try it out during that day’s writing time.
Introduce. Name the grammar item and discuss its purpose. Share examples. Share examples from your own writing, from professional writers, and from the children’s own texts. Provide information. Explain any of the rules or conventions writers typically follow.
Invite includes: Try. Invite children to give it a try during that day’s writing time. They can try it within the composition they are developing or they can experiment on their ‘trying things out page’. Discuss. At the end of a writing session, let children discuss how they got on and share any great examples. Create artefacts. Make a poster or fact sheet of the lesson. Children understand that they have added something to their writing repertoire and can use these artefacts for themselves again and again in the future.
Why are they mini-lessons?
There are three fundamental things young apprentice writers need every day. Firstly, they need to receive some high-quality teaching. Secondly, they need an immediate and sustained opportunity to write meaningfully. Finally, they need time to read, share and then discuss how their writing is going (Young & Ferguson 2021). That’s why we recommend you follow this kind of consistent routine:
Mini-lesson -> Writing-time -> Class sharing
10-15mins 30-45mins 10-20mins
Six top tips for teachers
Have a ‘let’s see what this does’ and not a right/wrong attitude towards grammar teaching.
Consider your instruction to be like giving children ‘tips, tricks and secrets’ of the writer’s craft.
Don’t plan your lessons too far ahead. Be responsive and teach the things you see children need instruction in most.
Repeat lessons if you need to.
Encourage children to have a ‘trying things out page’ next to their drafting page. This way they can experiment with grammar and other literary techniques away from their developing draft. If they like what they’ve trialled, they can then add this to their developing composition.
You know you’ve taught a good mini-lesson if, at the end, you can say: give it a try during today’s writing time. (Young & Ferguson 2020)
Navigating the book
Grammar is style– Patty McGee
The English National Curriculum’s programme of study for writing isn’t very well organised. At times, you get the impression that certain grammatical features and other devices have been plucked from the air and arbitrarily placed into certain year groups without rationale. This is a shame because, as we have described earlier, grammar is useful, and children find it interesting when they see it as enhancing their ability to write meaningful and successful texts. With this in mind, we have organised our grammar mini-lessons in such a way that they reflect what children are trying to achieve in their writing. This allows teachers to ask: what is it my class actually needs instruction in?
Our categories include: Cohesion, Word Choices, Elaboration, Voice, Rhythm & Intonation, and finally Conventions.
Grammatical features allow us to elaborate or add detail. They ensure that focus and ‘readability’ are maintained through the use of cohesive devices. Grammar can enhance our ability to write with the right voice, including with degrees of authority. Writers think about the rhythm and intonation they want their writing to be read with. They also carefully consider their word choices. Finally, writers try to adhere to the conventions that their readers have come to expect.
Children’s journey from early mark-making to writing starts with composing sentences and choosing and writing words others will be able to read and understand. This is why our diagram begins with Cohesion and Word Choices. Once children are writing short, simple and cohesive pieces fluently, they begin to focus on how they can Elaborate on their ideas, the Voice in which they speak to their readers, and the Rhythm & Intonation they want their ideas to be read with. Incidentally, as their ability to write more detailed texts develops, so their need to return to lessons on Cohesion and Word Choices becomes important again. And so their journey goes on. Conventions come last in our diagram. This isn’t because we don’t see conventions as essential to the development of the young writer, but because children are more willing to focus on them when they feel they are crafting something to be proud of and which they want to share publicly.
We believe orientating your grammar teaching to what your class is wanting (or struggling) to achieve is far healthier and more effective than simply following the chronology of the curriculum. For example, we hope that teachers will turn to our pages on Elaboration if they notice that their class lacks the ability to write with necessary detail. We want you to turn to our lessons on Word Choices if you feel children could benefit from giving more attention to their use of vocabulary. And we want you to teach mini-lessons about Conventions if the children’s writing needs to stand up and be taken seriously by their readers.
‘Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.’ – Helen Keller
When it comes to teaching, it can be tempting to look for a method to follow, a checklist to work through, but we all know that this approach never manages to capture the special quality that is apparent in classrooms where both pupils and teachers really seem to just ‘get it’. This is absolutely true for the teaching of writing, perhaps even more so than for any other pedagogical area.
In our first teacher-writer group meeting, we eight staff at Elmhurst Primary School discussed the different approaches that can be taken to teaching writing and assessed their strengths and weaknesses through the lens of our own experiences. We were buoyed by the fact that a lot of the practices marked out as effective in Young & Ferguson’s Writing for Pleasure: Research, Theory and Practice (2021) were already apparent in many or all of our classrooms. Yet, despite this, a lot of us felt that we weren’t quite ‘there’ in establishing a writing for pleasure culture in the same way we had embedded a very strong reading for pleasure ethos.
After reflection and discussion, we came to realise that the missing ingredient was encouraging and fostering communities of writers on sub-class, class, year group, whole school and community levels. We might be starting to teach the act of writing well, but we were not yet consistently creating the environments to bring it to life. So, it was with this deficit in mind that the group – our ranks now swelled to ten members – met for the second time.
Like the first session, the second was a great success, facilitating enjoyment and both individual and group reflection. In this article, I will briefly explain the structure of the meeting and then summarise the discussion that unfolded. My hope is that it can act as a guide – or even just a dim spark of inspiration – for other schools looking to establish their own teacher-writer groups.
The session took place on Zoom on an evening after school. It lasted one hour and followed a rough timetable of:
1) Discussion – 15 minutes
2) Writing time – 30 minutes
3) Sharing/reflection – 15 minutes
Ahead of the meeting, we shared (with permission) the eleventh chapter of Young & Ferguson’s book (2021). The chapter looks at the importance of writing communities and ways that they can be organically developed. We framed our opening discussion roughly around the reflection questions found at the end of the chapter:
1) The texts children write reflect the environment in which they are crafted. What do your children’s texts say about the writing environment in your classroom?
2) From both a writer and a teacher’s perspective, do you know how a writing workshop works? Have you attended a writer-teacher group? Do you attend writing institutes or retreats? Do you know how writers socialise and write when they attend these events? Does this reflect how your classroom works and how it feels?
3) Does your writing classroom run like a well-oiled machine? Have children internalised the rituals, routines, rights, and responsibilities of the classroom?
4) If someone walks into your classroom, would they think this is a place where writers work? How would they know? What would they feel, hear, and see to help them realise this is a community where writers learn and work alongside each other every day?
5) Do you and the children in your class describe yourselves as published authors and writers?
6) Do the practices, behaviours and beliefs of your classroom mirror those of writers outside of school?
7) Do you allow the outside community into the classroom writing community? Does children’s home writing come into school? Do you have other recreational or professional writers from a range of disciplines visit and work in your classroom?
8) Does your children’s published writing ever bring them extra opportunities or responses from outside school?
9) Could your school invite a local writer to be a ‘writer in residence’?
This was followed by a writing activity that aimed to draw on our memories of the Elmhurst Primary School community and our place in it. It is actually an activity that is used for idea generation in one of our year six projects, in which they write leaving speeches. First, each person had a minute or two to note down as many different emotions as they could think of – no restrictions or guidance was placed on this. People then had five minutes to think of Elmhurst-based memories when they had felt any of these emotions and to jot down a word or phrase next to the relevant feeling to act as a memory prompt – they could do this for as many or as few emotions as they wanted. We then split into pairs in breakout rooms for 5 minutes, to discuss similarities, differences or general reflections on these memories. There were some really interesting observations, including from one pair who had chosen the exact same three emotions as each other to focus on!
We then had twenty minutes to choose one or more of our memories and write whatever we wanted in response. Not everyone decided to share their compositions – it was made clear at the start that there was no compulsion to – but three people did, up from just one last time, showing members are becoming more confident and comfortable. We closed with a further period of discussion and reflection on how we found the writing and where to go from there.
As fun and liberating as the period of writing was, just like last time, it was the opening and finishing discussions that held the most value. Here is a summary of what we discussed, along with questions I think it’s worthwhile every teacher pondering.
1) We all feel relatively confident in the instructional element of teaching writing but it’s the establishment of organic and vibrant communities that can be more of a struggle. One senior leader noted she has seen these communities existing in our school (which is great!) but that they are not everywhere yet, which is what we want to move towards. What community-building techniques can we learn from those classrooms where they are established? What are we doing in our own classrooms that is worth sharing more widely?
2) Another teacher spoke about how we have a very well embedded reading community across our school, but the writing does not yet have this same entrenched feel. How did we get to this point with RfP and can we learn from that experience to the benefit of the push towards WfP? What are the similarities and difference between a reading community and a writing community?
3) One member made the important point that some teachers feel they have benefitted greatly from training, support and ideas around how to build reading cultures but that, as a school, we haven’t yet had the same wealth of resources and energy directed towards writing communities. Do we feel there are areas in which we need support? How can we get this support? Do we have areas of strength that we could use to support others?
4) A SLT member made an interesting point that many of our children are writers, but don’t see themselves as such. Being a writer is, clearly, about more than just the capability of writing, but what is a writerly identity? Do we identify as writers ourselves and, whatever the answer, how can we use this reflection to support our children and empower them to see themselves as writers?
5) This is in real contrast to how our children definitely do see themselves as readers. Why do most of our children find it easier to ‘be’ readers than writers? It was suggested that writing requires a vulnerability that reading doesn’t – how can we create communities where children feel safe enough to be this open?
6) There was an interesting difference with children in the support group (children who are not able to access the year group’s curriculum with the main class, so are in a smaller class that studies exactly the same content but with more scaffolding and perhaps a slower pace). These children have struggled to read over lockdown but have flourished as writers. One possible answer as to why this is the case is that perhaps writing has a lower entry level than reading – everyone can access writing to some degree but not everyone can read independently. Do we all realise this and give our most vulnerable children enough opportunity and space to write? How can we instil this group’s enthusiasm for writing in our other pupils?
7) It seemed like one of the key factors behind this group’s burgeoning community of writers is that the teacher is a real writing role-model. She spoke to the children about her own writing and shared her ideas with them, which often inspired their own. This builds on our last meeting about being teacher-writers, are we writing every day? Are we not just calling ourselves, but acting as writers in front of our children?
8) There were some really interesting points made about how the tools we are using for writing makes a big difference. One person said that having plain paper is much easier to start writing on than lined because you have freedom of form (you can draw a speech bubble, sketch, write in the corner etc). Equally, another teacher made a great point about how personal writing notebooks that could be taken home could be really useful and give children a safe space for trying out ideas. Some of the members have had success with these in the past. What resources are we providing children with for writing? What messages are these resources conveying about what/how they are meant to write? Are these resources seen as their property or the school’s?
9) It was interesting how one member could not get back into the right frame of mind to write after being interrupted, even though she had lots of ideas initially. Are we keeping interruptions to a minimum in our children’s writing time? Are we only stopping the whole class if it’s really urgent or are we doing it too much and disrupting their flow needlessly?
10) Another small but important point was how some members talked about how poetry is their go-to form of writing, which is very different from others who felt more comfortable with first-person prose. Are we allowing children freedom (when possible) to choose the form and format of their writing? What could be the benefits of this? Could there be any downsides if they always choose the same one or two?
The teachers all gave very positive feedback about the meeting and said they are enthused to put some of the ideas and strategies into action. We have a third session scheduled for after the Easter break and I hope it will be as rewarding as these first two.
You can read Sam’s write up from his school’s first writer-teacher meeting here.
The Writing For Pleasure Centre and Louise Birchall
When you walk into Louise’s writing classroom, you soon realise that children always have something they want to say and share with you. This means they always have things they want to write about too. All writers, but particularly the youngest ones, write best when someone shows them how they can use topics they really care about, and things from their everyday lives, to craft meaningful and successful texts. This is what we explain as nurturing writers by inviting them to use their existing funds of knowledge and funds of identity (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021).
Funds of knowledge and funds of identity can include children coming together and using any of the following to help them generate ideas for their own texts:
Their out-of-school learning experiences, talents, passions, hobbies and interests.
The computer games they play, the things they watch on TV (and online), the things they read, and other things from their popular cultures.
Objects and other artefacts from home.
One of the reasons Louise teaches writing so well is because she has a genuine fascination and wonder for the knowledge and identities her five year old writers bring into the writing classroom. The children have an almost unbounded need to express these things with others through writing. At five, it’s already part of who they are. This is because Louise’s class writing projects guide children into applying curriculum objectives by allowing them ample room to appropriate and use literacy from their childhood worlds (Dyson 2010).
Louise has created what we term as a sincere writing curriculum. Her writing classroom invites children to write about the things they’re moved to write about most (Young & Ferguson 2020). This allows her to focus on the needs of the curriculum and to teach her learners all the things that will help them craft their best texts. Louise knows that when children have agency over their writing topics, and are motivated for them to do well, they are far more willing to engage with and apply the curriculum objectives (Young & Ferguson 2021).
Classroom writing has a long research history that validates writing as a process and places the writer at the center of the writing experience – Marva Capello (2006).
Louise: Developing a sincere writing curriculum isn’t something you can do in advance. Getting started requires patience and a fair amount of watching, listening and asking. As a writer-teacher, you need to be ready and willing to adapt to children’s sometimes spontaneous inspirations. Spending time building strong relationships with the children in your class will encourage them to feel secure about sharing their knowledge and identity with you and others. We make lots of lists. We make lists of things we find funny, interesting and curious. We write lists of things we like and engage with most. We write lists of questions we want answers to. Over time, these lists build and build and they can become your writing curriculum. A curriculum developed alongside the children. This sort of collaboration leads to more meaningful outcomes and children who have confidence in their own voice and writer-identities.
Tips to developing a sincere writing curriculum:
– Provide time for children to talk about what they might like to write about. Write these up as lists on flipchart paper. Listen carefully to everything the children talk about (Lamme et al. 2002). Show and tell is just one really valuable resource for getting to know what is important to each child.
– Watch what children choose to pick up and read. Source similar types of texts and place them in the classroom library. Alternatively, invite children to create their own texts to put into the class library.
– Explain that in class writing projects, they can create the same kind books they love to read.
– Encourage children to ask questions and invite them to contribute to what class writing projects could involve (James 2020).
– Over time, build your classroom as a community of writers. Involve children in decisions about how the classroom should be organised and what they need from you to craft the best texts they can.
– Creating a writing centre means children know they are free to help themselves to writing equipment outside of writing workshop time (UKLA 2021).
– Value the things children value.
Capello, M., (2006) Voice and identity development in writing workshop Language Arts 83(6) pp.482-491
Dyson, A.H. (2010) Writing childhoods under construction: Re-visioning ‘copying’ in early childhood Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 10(1), pp.7–31
James, S., (2020) Let’s make a ‘Guess Who?’ book! Writing character descriptions in Year Two [LINK]
Lamme, L. L., Fu, D., Johnson, J., & Savage, D. (2002). Helping kindergarten children move towards independence. Early Childhood Education Journal, 30(2), 73-79
UKLA (2021) Literacy in Early Education Leicester: UKLA
Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2020) Real-World Writers: A handbook for teaching writing with 7-11 year olds London: Routledge
Young, R., Ferguson, F. (2021) Writing For Pleasure: theory, research and practice London: Routledge