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Virtual Poetry Retreat
Led by Jonny Walker and Ross & Felicity from The Writing for Pleasure Centre
Monday 26th – Friday 30th October 2020
We are very excited to launch our first Poetry Retreats for adults – and this is one is virtual!
Many of us might have wanted a getaway in October half-term, but with things being as they are, this is difficult.
Do not fear. We can provide you with a week of enjoyment, creativity, reflection and connectedness, even over Zoom!
You will be able to join in with as much or as little as you like, and all sessions will be recorded, so you can access them later. Live is, of course, better, as you can then connect with others in our writing community.
Our retreat runs from Monday to Friday and has three main elements. Each day contains:
The session overview can be found below – you are welcome to attend all sessions, but are not obliged to do so; each of them is standalone.
All you will need is a stable internet connection, the ability to get onto Zoom, some paper to write on, some pens and a bit of time.
In total then, this gives you the chance to access nearly 20 hours of time just for you – time to think, time to reflect, time to laugh, time to learn, and time to write.
The cost is just £60 per person, and we cannot wait to build a writers’ community with you.
Day One – Monday 26th October
Day Two – Tuesday 27th October
Day Three – Wednesday 28th October
Day Four – Thursday 29th October
Day Five – Friday 30th October
When I was undertaking some reading recently, I came across a Department for Education paper titled ‘What is the research evidence on writing?’ (2012). While there have been other papers produced such as Moving English Forward (2012) and Excellence in English (2011) this is the most recent example which has an emphasis solely on writing. Its aim was to:
‘Report on the statistics and research evidence on writing both in and out of school, covering pupils in primary and secondary schools.’
It sought to answer several questions, but the ones which struck me were:
The practices highlighted came from research reviews of international evidence including:
What I read reminded me that the approaches outlined then elide so smoothly with many of the principles of a Writing for Pleasure approach being articulated today (Young & Ferguson 2021).
The research-informed practices that were suggested were listed as follows:
Music to the ears of Writing for Pleasure advocates for sure, as these approaches strike many of the same notes. And, perhaps not that surprising when you consider that a Writing for Pleasure approach, while being a newly-realised pedagogy (Gusevik 2020), is in fact based on many decades of scientific research and case studies of the best performing writing teachers (Young & Ferguson 2021).
Additionally, the DfE paper also highlighted a study by Myhill and her colleagues (2011) looking at the effect of contextualised grammar teaching on pupils’ writing development. The study showed a significant positive effect for pupils in the intervention group, taught in lessons using the principles outlined above. By contextualised grammar teaching the researchers referred to:
I draw attention to this in such detail because teaching grammar functionally and illuminating a suite of options for children to use in their writing is a fundamental element of a Writing for Pleasure approach; however, this sits in contrast to the so-called ‘skill and drill’ decontextualised and exercise-based approaches to teaching grammar which still hold sway across many school curricula. Young & Ferguson’s review of the writing research reviews (2021) amply demonstrates that the formal teaching of grammar has always negatively impacted on children’s writing. So why does this practice persist? Perhaps the answer lies in the presence of the high-stakes Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar test in Year Six. It has had a deleterious percolating effect as schools have tended to isolate the teaching of grammatical terminology and divorce it from the act of meaningful writing at an ever younger age.
Despite the negative repercussions of the Key Stage 2 SATS, and their distorting nature, in my experience there is another significant issue: there is a distinct lack of awareness in the teaching profession at all levels of what makes for effective and affecting writing practice. This leaves me wondering:
The answer to the first question has already been amply answered by Young (2019) and Young & Ferguson’s (2021 and here) work. I know from experience that once you begin teaching writing effectively and affectively, you quickly develop an understanding of the interconnectedness and transformative nature of the approach. These principles are knitted together like your favourite cosy jumper, and once you start wearing it you don’t want to take off.
But the second question is more challenging. Should Ofsted be using its role to promote more effective and affecting models of teaching writing? Do they have the desire to do so? What assessment has been made of what impact national curriculum changes have had on the teaching of writing in primary schools? How can teachers find the time and inclination to develop their own practice? If we want to ensure teaching stays a vocation and a profession then we have to engage more honestly with the research and challenge the prevailing orthodoxy especially around writing. Why are other professional organisations not pointing to the evidence but rather promoting what sometimes feels like solely a book-planning and novel study approach to writing teaching? A review by the Department of Education is surely long overdue.
We also know that recruitment and retention is a perennial problem, certainly in English schools, and is particularly acute concerning early career teachers with ‘over 20% of new teachers leav[ing] the profession within their first 2 years of teaching, and 33% leav[ing] within their first 5 years’ (DfE 2019). However, I would contend that it is not just owing to a ‘decline in the position of the teachers’ pay framework in the labour market for graduate professions’ (NEU 2019), or a burdensome workload, but it is at least partly due to the very nature of some aspects of the work itself. I believe that schools will better attract and retain staff if they can offer a different experience; one which challenges teachers to develop their practice in a framework of classroom-based action research (see here, here and here), which can be both transformational for the children they teach as well as for themselves and their own motivation to remain in the classroom.
Being part of a community of Writing for Pleasure teachers within your own school, but also one which extends beyond the school boundary, creates solidarity with other teachers through the publication and sharing of examples of practice. This process itself contributes to a feeling of moving a pedagogy forward as a community of practitioners rather than being required to teach someone else’s ideas and choices. Working in this way would contribute significantly to restoring the primacy of human relationships to the teaching process and help repel the feelings of alienation engendered by ‘off the shelf’ writing schemes, which require little imagination or creative capacity on the part of the teacher or students as a collective.
A teacher’s essential product is their ability to meld their subject, curriculum and pedagogical knowledge with the needs of their pupils, and while this can often be contorted to fit the demands of the national curriculum and the individual school interpretation of this, often there is little or no place for the expression of personal values or communal construction. What happens then? Motivation, professional pride and satisfaction wane sometimes to the point where, when combined with pay and workload issues, enough is enough.
Working within a Writing for Pleasure approach encourages us to meet the human needs of our pupils, their development as agentive writers, and ultimately is an expression of our own human essence. Being a writer-teacher develops our sense of involvement and inserts our literary experiences into the classroom by teaching through our own craft. Writing for Pleasure is teaching for pleasure and has motivated me to see a long-term future in the classroom.
Reading for Pleasure has gained significant traction over the last few years and is now almost universally accepted as having a fundamental role in motivating children to become readers as well as developing teachers’ pedagogical knowledge of effective practice. Now it is time for Writing for Pleasure to become the beating heart of our education system too – for the benefit of all concerned.
By Tobias Hayden Twitter: @TobiasHayden
This article was originally published 15/02/2018
We’ve written this post because there has been a lot of discussion about the Writing Framework recently and this has caused some to romanticise the days of writing tests.
How the DfE/STA decides to assess writing tells you a lot about their views of the craft of writing, and of course their feelings towards apprentice writers. It also has profound effects on the methodology and writing pedagogy of the teaching profession. It influences the way things are taught. Therefore, what is deemed important in a test will inevitably direct the way teachers teach. So, you have to ask yourself, is it likely that a high-stakes test will test what should be being taught? I ask this question because we as teachers know full well we will be asked to do what needs to be done in terms of writing instruction and activity in order to produce good scores. I have no problem with this in principle, and indeed it can be the strength of any assessment system, but will a writing test encourage good writing instruction and activity? I have my doubts, and I explain why below.
As a starting point, consider the following three views:
‘Assessment and testing are used for monitoring purposes of various kinds, the focus is not just on an individual child’s learning and how this is to be reported to parents. The overriding purpose becomes the regulation and standardisation of a teacher’s practice in order to achieve political and policy goals that may be serving agendas other than the good of the individual child…’ Locke (2015 p. 213)
‘National standards constitute a huge pressure on teachers to conform and comply. Where teachers do end up serving the extrinsic master, the result is a subscription to a particular construction (discourse) of teaching writing and writing assessment.’ – Locke (2015 p. 213)
‘Writing has become less “like a real writer writes” in that the focus of writing has shifted to form over content and product over process. In addition, teachers emphasize that they teach students to submerge their voices as they write to inauthentic audiences.’ – Au & Gourd (2013)
I would now like to pose a few questions to those flirting with the idea of reinstating writing tests as we formerly knew them. They are as follows:
Now, you probably should, maybe, possibly, potentially, also consider the children in all this. You know, the ones that have to take the test. Any assessment should have a clear and realistic purpose for the person who has to take it. Writing is a social act. If children are faced with a set of questions to answer with no purpose or authentic context in which to tackle the writing situation – then the writing won’t even represent their normal writerly behaviour. The test goes against what research says children require to write at their best; writing with a focus on the potential audience and purpose, and being able to construct their texts over time using a variety of recursive writing processes (Young & Ferguson 2020, in press). How a child interprets and engages with a test task also significantly affects their response to it and therefore the quality of their writing product. Beyond this, you also need to consider whether a writing test favours children who are better able to write for a single long period, are able to write using a certain type of writing process, have a higher threshold for stress and possess a greater level of social maturity. Children have little experience in taking writing tests – how do you suppose they will gain this experience, and what effect will it have on their view of how writing is crafted out in the real world?
What do the tests mean for children?
In order to shed light on evaluation within our culture of tests, Fu and Lamme (2002) studied two nine year-olds and their writing portfolios. In each case, when the teacher, parent, and child sat down with the child’s portfolio, they saw clear improvement in the compositions, and everyone, especially the children, articulated that they noticed changes in quality, length, and level of enjoyment. Tests don’t provide as much information as the students’ work and the collective perceptions of it (Hansen & Kissel 2011)
Having a writing test which simply tells us that some children are better able to pass a test than others does not help the situation. Assessment at its best has what is called ‘consequential validity’. This means the assessment gathers a variety of information, at diverse times, and under differing circumstances. It establishes connections between assessment, policy and teaching practice. Assessment such as this, throughout primary school, is better than a writing test because it gives information about a student’s development as a writer and importantly gives you plenty of opportunity to act on what you find.
Despite educational research stating for a long time that the focus should be on children’s processes and not exclusively on their writing products (Young & Ferguson in press), it’s supremely ironic that writing tests historically ignore this. It means, through testing, you’re not only teaching children a misconception about writing but you also won’t be able to infer from their test result how well a child might perform under normal, everyday writing conditions. Conditions which enable them to use all the writing processes, in their preferred way, and at their own pace.
A ‘best test,’ a test that can provide exactly what you need to know, that can guide future teaching and be easy to administer and interpret, simply doesn’t exist. The ultimate goal of assessment should always be to improve teaching. The idea of a writing test as currently understood is therefore wholly unsuitable, would be inaccurate, would encourage misconceptions about writing to be taught and therefore would not serve the desired purpose.
Putting it simply: ‘an assign and assess approach to writing instruction doesn’t help students very much’ (McCann & Knapp 2019 p.80). If reinstated, tests would cause damage to children’s ongoing writing development. Writing tests are not the answer you are looking for.
This article is based on the following papers:
What motivated teenagers, Aidan and Mia, to set up The Young Press blog? Find out about their individual views and experiences below.
I am captivated by the real world and finding out facts. I don’t read fiction books, apart from set texts for school. I have realised that I prefer reading articles and shorter pieces of writing to novels. I also enjoy looking at maps, world flags, reading recipes, food packets and learning about sports teams. I like to read the daily news from around the world, and since the EU referendum in 2016, I have grown an interest in politics. I would encourage everyone to explore different texts – it doesn’t matter what you read, start with your interests, and take it from there.
Recently, I thought that journalism might be of interest to me, so I entered ‘The Guardian Young Sportswriter of the Year’ competition. I wrote about Mohamed Salah (a footballer for Liverpool and Egypt) and was one of two runners-up. This spurred me on to write more, and partly why I wanted to setup a blog. I hadn’t developed a writing style, or one topic that I wanted to focus on, so I thought writing a blog would provide me with the opportunity to explore different styles of writing and topics of interest.
In September 2019, I set up a blog with my sister Mia, called The Young Press. I write about a range of topics, including, inspirational people, food, travel, sport, neurodiversity, and since lockdown, I started to write my own poems – the list is growing. I still haven’t discovered the way I like to write. However, the blog has given me the opportunity and freedom to try different styles of writing, whilst improving my writing and editing skills.
Mia and I are interested in different topics, so our blog will hopefully appeal to a wider range of people. However, it is not about getting thousands of people to read our posts. The blog is just the start of our writing journey and hopefully a springboard for the future. Even if it isn’t, we are learning, whilst exploring the world, forming opinions and having fun.
Aidan, 13 years old
When I was younger I wanted to be an author so I tried writing stories. Writing on the blog allows me to write about a variety of topics, whilst having the flexibility to write as little or as much as I want – it doesn’t seem as big a task as writing a whole story! I would love to write a book in the future but at the moment I am happy gaining experience from the blog.
At first, I was unsure about setting up the blog, as I didn’t think anyone would be interested in what I had to write about. I realised that as I’m an avid reader, working on the blog could improve my writing skills, whilst allowing me to share my opinions on books that I have enjoyed, and hopefully inspire people to read.
I discovered that recommending books, and writing small reviews of stories that I love, was really enjoyable. I also have an interest in the environment, food, animals and travel, so I plan to write about these topics in the future.
The blog motivates me to write more, explore different genres, whilst increasing my writing confidence. I am learning to be more concise and not to go off on tangents. My journey with the blog has had some ups and downs, as to be expected with anything new, but I have found something that is fun and rewarding. I also enjoy editing Aidan’s and my posts before we publish them. This is helping to develop my editing skills, which I have not had the opportunity to do much before.
One of the best returns that I have got from the blog was when I got two replies on Twitter from one of my favourite authors. This was really exciting and although it wasn’t about my writing, it inspired me to continue with what I was doing.
I think that writing is a great way to express yourself and anyone can do it…just start with a topic that you enjoy.
Mia, 13 years old
In this article we ask and answer six important questions:
Begin with the central question: Why do any of us write? In our book Real-World Writers, we conclude there are a number of reasons we are moved to write. They include:
(Young & Ferguson 2020 p.4-7)
But this isn’t all. As Frank Smith has said: ‘By writing, we find out what we know; what we think. Writing is an extremely efficient way of gaining access to that knowledge that we cannot explore directly’ (1982 p.33). Thus, when we write a first draft, we see, perhaps for the first time, what is on our minds. We discover, develop and give substance to our thoughts, and then reconsider them in the process of revising what we have drafted. Through writing, we express ourselves in the world, try to make sense of it or impose order on it. Writing, as Frank Smith has memorably said, ‘touches every part of our lives’.
The next questions: Do the reasons we write drive the writing curricula in our schools? Are children helped to see that written language can make a rich contribution to their lives and the lives of others, and are we giving them the writing apprenticeship they deserve and need? The answer could not be otherwise than a resounding ‘No,’ when current writing pedagogies so closely reflect a political agenda and ideology which promotes and allows:
(Young & Ferguson in press)
Thus, through current dominant writing pedagogies, we as teachers are perpetuating the idea that we know, while children do not; that we as teachers are in a position to determine, while children are not, and that children should simply comply with teacher or scheme-imposed writing tasks. Writing is not seen as something which is developed socially, and its empowering role is deliberately being withheld from children. How can we have allowed this to happen?
The fifth question: What are we actually teaching our young writers in school? Well, unfortunately, plenty. Firstly, we are teaching that writing is theoretical, removed from reality, and not a genuine or true pursuit. We refuse to allow it to connect with children’s individual lives, thoughts, knowledge, experiences and questions. This has far-reaching and serious consequences. Next, we are forcing children to write only to the wishes and desires of others. What this amounts to is that we are systematically:
In Writing For Pleasure: theory, research and practice (in press), we sum up these points powerfully:
‘In 1982, Donald Graves warned that when we assign topics we do no less than create a welfare system, putting children, our students, on to writers’ welfare. Willinsky (1990 p.209) goes as far as to say that to diminish the potential for individual meaningfulness in students’ work is a denial of their basic humanity, while Gutiérrez (2008) concludes that the imposition of such writing tasks can be acts of linguistic oppression.’
Lastly: Could writing in school be transformed from a pointless and ineffective chore into an empowering, pleasurable and personally meaningful pursuit? In our recent book entitled Real-World Writers (Young and Ferguson 2020) we have presented what international research and case-studies have repeatedly told us are the enduring elements of world-class writing teaching which (though many in the UK still steadfastly choose to ignore this evidence) can most effectively produce successful writers. Our book proposes that we apprentice children to the true craft of writing through:
In the book we show how teachers could make these and many other transformations, change the entire climate of writing teaching, and at last allow apprentice writers to be competent and confident producers of their own texts rather than be eternally doomed to imitate and recite the writing of others and write according to others’ wishes and desires.
The survey is of importance to the UKLA’s Teaching Writing SIG not only because it provides a record of how children are writing in response to the current situation, but also because of the implications for future classroom practice. If you find the questions we raise thought-provoking, why not join the SIG and be part of the conversation?
It makes interesting reading that, as the National Literacy Trust’s recent survey shows, during lockdown children are writing of their own volition and experiencing at first hand its therapeutic power to help cope with and make sense of difficult and painful thoughts and feelings, expressing and communicating them imaginatively in different ways – through fiction and poetry, in letters, diaries and journals. And it is cheering to hear from the children themselves that doing it can make them feel better.
There are many reasons why children (and all of us) are often moved to write. Clearly, at the moment, the need to respond to an unprecedented situation is the strongest motivational factor. But what is telling in the findings of the survey is the attention it draws to the conditions for writing created by the lockdown: time, space and freedom. Time and space to think and write at your own pace and in your own way. Freedom to generate your own idea, to express it in whatever form you like, to write according to your own desires and wishes. This is exactly the position taken up by the UKLA’s Viewpoint on Writing: to develop as writers, children need to see writing as an act of social meaning making, a creative and communicative act of personal agency, and an extension of their identities.
What the survey has been telling us begs a serious question. As schools slowly return to some kind of normality, what will happen to the way writing is taught and undertaken? Will that same freedom, time and space to write from their own lives and experiences still be available for our children? Surely we need to take lessons from lockdown and teach writing rigorously and in a way which, as Jonathan Douglas, chief executive of the Trust, has commented ‘unlocks’ not only creativity and aspirations but also (importantly) academic potential. It is perfectly possible to achieve these ambitions in the context of the classroom without establishing limited sessions of the Free Writing Friday kind. When children are given effective instruction coupled with agency over subject, purpose and form, and allowed to write in their own way and at their own pace, the results are striking: ‘they are likely to remain focused on a task, have self-determination, maintain a strong personal commitment to their writing, and so produce something significant for themselves and in keeping with teacher expectations (Young and Ferguson 2020 p.18). The alternative, of course, is to go back to the old way of locking children down, applying again the practices of hitherto current pedagogies which do not enable children to achieve well, often do not validate their personal experiences as valuable subjects for writing, and do not see the sense of self and feelings of wellbeing as important considerations (Young & Ferguson in press).
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.
Writing For Pleasure is a hippie free-for-all. It means no teaching. No direct instruction. You just hope children naturally develop.
Writing For Pleasure should be seen as separate from the school’s curriculum.
Writing For Pleasure doesn’t care about the quality of children’s written products.
Because Writing For Pleasure lets children choose their topics, they only ever write about trivial stuff like television characters and their friends!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
Books that inspire by their craft:
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
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:
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: