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The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Grammar Mini-Lessons

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.
Teach includes:  Invite includes:  
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

  1. Have a ‘let’s see what this does’ and not a right/wrong attitude towards grammar teaching.
  2. Consider your instruction to be like giving children ‘tips, tricks and secrets’ of the writer’s craft.
  3. Don’t plan your lessons too far ahead. Be responsive and teach the things you see children need instruction in most.
  4. Repeat lessons if you need to.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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Our Second Teachers’ Writing Group by Sam Creighton

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By Sam Creighton @sam_creighton

Context

‘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.

Session

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.

Reflection

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.

Developing A Sincere Writing Curriculum In KS1

Developing A Sincere Writing Curriculum In KS1

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).

(Young & Ferguson 2021 p113)

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.

References:

  • 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

Teaching grammar: our viewpoint

Should we teach grammar?

The debate about whether or not we should teach grammar is actually a pretty absurd one. The moment you engage in conversation with learners about writing, being a writer and their specific compositions, you will be talking about and teaching grammar. We teach grammar without even realising.

This is because you are bound to talk about and give instruction in things like: 

  • Phonology – the interesting relationship between their spoken sounds and their written spellings.
  • Morphology – words and their word choices.
  • Syntax – the way they’ve chosen to arrange their words and phrases.
  • Semantics – the meaning(s) they are trying to share with others.
  • Pragmatics – the context and organisation of their writing.
  • Semiotics – their use of signs and symbols.
  • Metafunctions – the decisions they are taking and making.
  • Field – the content of what they are sharing.
  • Tenor – the relationship between them and their readers.
  • Mode – the technologies they are using and the choices they are making over how to present their writing.
  • Genres – the style, voice and conventions they’ve chosen to use or subvert.

Hopefully, this list shows you that grammar is more than the naming of parts or the adherence to conventions of punctuation. Grammar is a beautiful thing.

For us, this means you can teach about grammar as much as you like as long as your instruction is orientated towards helping learners craft more meaningful and successful texts (Young & Ferguson 2020, 2021a). Grammar ultimately is about developing children’s style and voice (Young & Ferguson 2021b).

Should we use linguistics to help us teach writing?

Now, if we are in agreement that it’s impossible to separate grammar from the teaching of writing, we can discuss whether it’s necessary for children to receive lessons in linguistics. Linguistics is the study of language and its structures and includes the study of grammar. When we study language, we can discuss and learn about things like:

  • Sociolinguistics – the social factors that might influence the writing we craft.
  • Dialectology – the influence dialect and geography can have on our writing.
  • Psycholinguistics – the relationship between ourselves and our writing.
  • Comparative linguistics – the similarities and differences between languages.
  • Structural linguistics – the structures and systems of language people use.

Again you can and should study language in a writing classroom. Part of good writing teaching is studying how other writers use language successfully and meaningfully (Young & Ferguson 2021a). Children should be invited to study your writing as a writer-teacher, they can discuss each other’s writing and they should study the manuscripts of recreational and professional writers.

Is the PAG test appropriate for assessing children’s ability to be writers?

So, hopefully, we’ve agreed that the study of language can help in our efforts to develop children as writers. So now the question really becomes about whether young writers need to be able to name and identify parts of language in a PAG test; something that represents only a tiny fragment of what is involved in the study of language. The answer is quite obviously no. The National Curriculum has given primary schools the responsibility to develop children’s writing and them as writers. While we’ve shown that the study of language can be helpful when teaching writing, linguistics actually has its own separate and very specialised fields of study. By all means assess children’s writing and their development as writers, but drop the need to assess their ability to be in some way ‘structural linguists’ by the age of 11.

Concluding thoughts 

As we have shown, children are naturally studying grammar in the writing classroom whenever they read, share, talk about and discuss their own writing and the writing of others. Grammar is the study of how a language makes sense, and we cannot help but learn about and teach it in writing lessons, unless of course we are content for children’s writing to fail in its intention – to share meaning.

  • Giving names to things, and having a shared language in which to talk about writing can be pretty useful. But we don’t need to test children’s abilities to remember those names in a writing classroom.
  • Our view of grammar teaching is that it should combine the dimensions of structure and use. Structure is concerned with syntax (sentence construction) and this will be part of many writing discussions. In this context, we are not against the use of grammatical terminology, but we see it simply as a metalanguage which can assist in conversations about writing. ‘Use’ means considering what we want to mean (semantics), how we achieve clarity and how we achieve the effect we want to have (pragmatics). If we want children to write successful and meaningful texts, we should ensure that semantics and pragmatics are driving the writing, helped by an understanding of context and syntax.
  • We see grammar as a set of choices we can make when we craft writing. The grammatical choices we decide on are conditioned by both semantics and pragmatics. For example, in the context of writing in a particular genre, we ask children to think about ‘field’ (the content of what they want to share), ‘tenor’ (the relationship between them and their readers), and ‘mode’ (how they wish to present their writing). These considerations help them focus on the choices they will make to achieve meaning, clarity and effect, and to be clear about the reasons for their choices.
  • We recognise that grammar is ultimately teaching about style and voice. The cumulative effect of all the choices children can make when they write is to create style, whether it be (for example) a formal or conversational style, a personal or unique voice, a style associated with writing in a particular professional field (a historian or a scientist maybe), or a style related to a specific genre (poetic, narrative, expository).
  • We believe that we should not impose particular choices, but make children aware that there are possibilities and invite them to use them. Tell them these are things that can be done with language rather than what must be done. We believe that the feeling of confidence that comes from making their own choices adds to children’s sense of competence, independence and personal responsibility when writing.
  • We believe that assessment should reflect the way we teach. In a Writing for Pleasure approach (Young & Ferguson 2021a), therefore, we should be evaluating children as writers, and making grammar in its widest sense an essential part of such assessment. Our viewpoint on the grammar component of the current system of PAG testing is as follows: its conception of grammar is too narrow, with an unjustifiable and pointless emphasis on testing children’s ability to identify and name parts; it is prescriptive, and does not admit the possibility of stylistic variation; it allows no freedom for children to show a sense of personal creativity, and it impacts negatively on the way writing is taught in the curriculum, in the form of ‘teaching to the test.’
  • Lastly, we want grammar study to be enjoyable, thought-provoking, purposeful, and to arouse curiosity and interest in all of us. We want it to be dynamic rather than static and for children to see its personal relevance to the ways in which they want to share their meaning with others.

References:

Our First Teachers’ Writing Group by Sam Creighton

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By Sam Creighton @sam_creighton

Context

‘Those who do not understand the past are condemned to repeat it.’ – George Santayana

Our approach to writing – the way we think about it, the way we do it (or whether we do it at all) and, crucially, how we teach it – is a product of our own writing apprenticeships. The way our parents, our teachers and our peers exposed us to the written word cannot help but influence the way we expose our pupils to it. It is therefore vital that, as reflective practitioners, we take the time to understand these influences and how they manifest themselves in our pedagogies.

It was towards this end that eight teachers, including classroom practitioners and senior leaders, from Elmhurst Primary settled down in front of Zoom one Wednesday evening for the first meeting of the school’s Teacher-Writer Group (TWG).

All the research confirms that one of the most important aspects of teaching writing effectively is for teachers to speak from a position of understanding and experience. In short, for them to be writers themselves. Therefore, the TWG aims to help us develop our own writerly identities and consider how they do, can and should influence our teaching of writing.

Session

The first meeting was a genuine pleasure and a resounding success. In this article I lay out a summary of the structure we followed and the issues we discussed in the hope it can be of use to other schools who wish to set up their own staff groups.

The hour-long meeting followed a rough timetable of:

  • Discussion – 15 minutes
  • Writing time – 30 minutes
  • Sharing/reflection – 15 minutes

Ahead of the meeting, we shared (with permission) the first chapter of Ross Young and Felicity Ferguson’s brilliant new book, Writing for Pleasure: Theory, Research, Practice, which evaluates different styles and approaches to writing teaching. We framed our opening discussion roughly around the reflection questions found at the end of the chapter:

  1. Did you enjoy learning to write? Why? Why not?
  2. How many teachers can you attribute this to?
  3. Do you think you are a good writer now? Why? Why not?
  4. How does your experience with writing affect your view of how writing should be taught?
  5. Which teacher orientation would you have wanted to be taught by most?
  6. Which orientation(s) do you feel best represent(s) your personal theory of writing teaching?

We then moved onto a writing activity (shamelessly taken from the National Writing Project’s bank of prompts) which flowed well from this discussion. First, each person had a few minutes to jot down up to five moments when writing has been important in their life (the definitions of both writing and important were left deliberately vague). We then split into breakout rooms for five minutes to discuss these moments. It was lovely that all four pairs came back having found interesting areas of overlap.

We then had twenty-five minutes to choose one or more of our memories and write whatever we wanted. Not everyone decided to share their work – it was made clear at the start that there was no compulsion to – but of the pieces that were, we had one poem that was a rallying cry around the importance of the Writing For Pleasure pedagogy (you can read it at the bottom of the article) and another that was a rewritten version of the eulogy the person gave at their grandmother’s funeral, which genuinely beautiful. We closed with a further period of discussion and reflection on how we found the writing and where to go from there.

Reflection

As freeing as the period of writing was, it was the bookending discussions where the magic really happened. I was astonished at the range of topics we covered and how insightful the points made were. Below is a summary of what we discussed, along with questions I think it’s worthwhile every teacher pondering.

1) Writing can be a powerful tool for children to find their voices, free their imaginations and pursue their potentials. This came from the memory of one teacher who recalled a particular essay at the start of secondary school that they credit with igniting their passion for education and putting them on the path they have followed for the rest of their life. How can we give our children the necessary time, space, freedom and support required for this?

2) On the flip side, failing to provide children with this can have life-long consequences. It’s our duty to teach our them how to find their voices and how to make them powerful. I think the poem (below) is an inspiring rallying cry around this – I’d quite like to put it up by my desk! How well are we doing this now and how can we make sure it is always a priority?

3 ) As one teacher found as a child – and still now – writing doesn’t feel like a chore when it has the right balance of structure and personal ownership (they keep a daily journal on every holiday they take, which is a good example of this). Is this balance correct with the writing being done in our classrooms?

4) Two teachers both spoke of feeling ashamed as children when personal writing was discovered and/or criticised by adults because of the content. Are we unfairly expecting our children to always have us as their teachers in mind as their audience? We don’t have to like what the writing is about for it to be good writing.

5) One teacher made the important point about feedback on writing being daunting and unpleasant, especially when being handed back a piece covered in red pen. Another has also always remembered one throwaway comment about needing to ‘write more in future’. How are we giving feedback to children, is it in a hierarchical superior-inferior power relationship or is it more as fellow writers within a writing community? Are we the only people giving feedback or are we allowing children to meaningfully give it to each other?

6) How are we celebrating writing? One teacher still has a piece of work that was on display in primary school, this shows how meaningful that recognition was to her. Are we helping (all of) our children feel such joy and pride in their work?

7) Two teachers both talked about the cathartic experience of writing and how it helps deal with emotional times. Are we letting children tap into their own feelings and experiences in their writing or are we (even unintentionally) erecting a barrier between out-of-school experiences and in-school writing?

8) One teacher found her way into writing trough arts and crafts and has now used that link productively in her own teaching. Are we (a) giving children multiple avenues through which to engage with writing? and (b) reflecting on how our own experiences as writers can inform our pedagogy?

9) We almost all have next to no memories of learning to write and those we do have are largely negative. Why is this? How can we make sure our classrooms contain writing experiences and communities that are positively memorable?

10) One teacher talked about how short and arbitrary time limits set on writing tasks stifled her creativity as a child. Professional writers never (or rarely) write like this, so why are we asking our kids to? Are they ever able to start, set aside and return to writing like professionals? Could this be where personal projects fit in?

All of the teachers have since said how much they enjoyed the meeting and that left feeling enthused to get back into the classroom. We have a second session scheduled for after half-term and I for one cannot wait for it.

A poem composed by one of the teachers during the writing time

I wish I was taught how to become a life-long writer.

Maybe then it would feel more natural?

I wish I was taught to believe in myself.

Maybe then I’d view myself as a real writer?

I wish I was taught that my experiences matter.

Maybe then I’d be in a constant state of composition?

It’s never too late though,

I can begin right now.

And give my children the self-belief, the sense of community and the power to make a difference that I never knew I was missing.

National Education Union: Advice for teaching Writing For Pleasure remotely

This article originally appeared on the National Education Union’s website.

By Ross Young and Felicity Ferguson, founders of The Writing For Pleasure Centre and convenors of The United Kingdom Literacy Association’s ‘Teach Writing’ research group.

Last June, a National Literacy Trust survey recorded that, during lockdown, children were writing of their own volition and for pleasure at home like never before. It was cheering to hear from children themselves about how writing could make them feel better in such difficult times.

What is really telling in the findings is how children welcomed the conditions for writing created by 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.

The survey begs a serious question: how can we support children’s writing at home through our online learning provision? Well, let’s identify the essentials:

  • We want children to be taught something interesting and important about writing every day.
  • We want children to be writing meaningfully every day.
  • We want to find out how children are getting on and what they need instruction in next.

How are these three aims best and most easily achieved under current circumstances? We suggest a reassuringly consistent and daily routine of:

Mini-lessons: Teach children something about writing. Keep your instruction short. Concentrate on teaching just one thing before inviting children to try it out in their writing that day.

Writing time: Children need to be crafting meaningful writing every day. They also need to be set realistic but flexible deadlines. Deadlines should be set which give children ample time to generate ideas, plan, draft, revise, proof-read and publish and perform their compositions.

Class sharing: Children need an opportunity to talk about how their writing is going and to share it with you and their classmates. They also need to be able to tell you what they feel they would like instruction in next.

Top Tips

  • Ask children what they would like their class writing projects to be and who they would like to publish or perform their writing for. Generate writing ideas together and let children choose their own writing topics for a project.
  • If you can, deliver a mixture of live and pre-recorded mini-lessons. Keep these very short and very specific,10-15 minutes at most. You’ll know you’re teaching a good mini-lesson if, at the end, you can invite children to try out what you’ve taught them during that day’s writing time.
  • Early into a class project, share mentor texts with your class that match the type of writing they are trying to craft for themselves.
  • Make sure your mini-lessons change as children work their way through the writing processes. Focus your mini-lessons on generating ideas and planning at the beginning of a project before shifting your focus towards drafting, revision and proof-reading lessons.
  • Sometimes it might be nice to offer an opportunity for the whole class to have ‘writing time’ together online. You can be writing too. That way you can share any writing tips, talk together as you’re writing, answer any questions, give advice and even receive advice from your pupils too!
  • Give children plenty of opportunities to discuss, share, and get advice from their peers and from you in regular class sharing sessions. This could be done using live video calls and through commenting functions like Google Docs.
  • Move to a responsive teaching model. Don’t plan too far ahead and don’t plan too much. Put a mechanism in place where children can share what they think they need mini-lessons in most to write well at home, and then deliver these lessons to them.
  • Let children develop their compositions over many writing days and weeks. • Alongside their class writing projects, encourage children to pursue their own personal writing projects too.
  • You could also involve parents in writing projects by sharing The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Be Together, Craft Together, Share Together initiative with them.

Examples Of Practice

‘Anyone wanna collab?’: Personal writing projects go online! An example of practice from Marcela Vasques and Tobias Hayden.

Read about how teacher Ben Harris sets up his class as a community of writers using Google Classroom.

Read about how Billy Bean manages being both a teacher and a parent writing at home.

Read about how writer-teacher and NEU member Tobias Hayden has been teaching Writing For Pleasure with his class during lockdown.

Read about how Marcela Vasques has used Google Docs to create a community of writers.

A love letter to genre teaching

After school one day in 2016, I scribbled the following into my notebook: when we shape our writing curriculum around genres, we give children access to the world and to the fundamental reasons we are all moved to write. For the past couple of years, I had been experimenting with the idea of merging three popular writing approaches, namely: genre teaching, writing workshop and a community of writers approach (Young & Ferguson 2021). The statement above was clearly a eureka moment, where everything started to fall into place. This little note went on to become an epigraph in the book I published with my colleague Felicity Ferguson. It’s a summary of our writing approach, an approach we’ve called Real-World Writers.

Every time I taught a Class Writing Project (which you can access for yourselves here), it was to give children another way in which to pursue the fundamental reasons we are all moved to write. Everything we did always came as a result of the children wanting to know more about how to entertain, reflect, persuade and influence, teach others and how to paint with words. These purposes still drive the resources and projects The Writing For Pleasure Centre creates with the children and teachers we work with today.

The reasons children are moved to write taken from Real-World Writers (2020 pp. 4–7).

The young writers I’ve worked with over the years have always known which genres will best serve their purposes, and how certain textual features and grammatical devices can work as a tool to enhance what it is they are so motivated to ‘get off their chest’ and share with others. I believe this can only come as a result of high-quality genre teaching.

What I realised at that time was how much I enjoyed introducing genres to my class. I don’t think anything brings me greater professional satisfaction than introducing and teaching about a genre and then seeing how children will choose to use it for themselves. Unfortunately, this kind of genre teaching is a very far cry from what has occurred in the recent past. Genre teaching has suffered a lot – harmed by how it was badly interpreted in The National Literacy Strategy. Poor genre teaching has resulted (justifiably by the way) in some terrible names being associated with it. For example: the conformity approach, the recipe approach, painting by numbers, the standardised approach, the ‘textual police’ approach and even the ‘strait-jacket’ approach (Young & Ferguson 2021).

Here are some things I’ve learnt about bad genre teaching:

  • Teachers too often see their role as being a genre ‘factory-foreman’ and their children as factory workers who all have to produce the same looking piece of writing. These teachers don’t invite children to use taught genres for their own purposes. Instead, they control the ideas for a writing project and children produce thirty largely identical pieces. In this way, the children learn little.
  • Teachers who don’t accept that genres change over time and according to circumstances, and  that they are often manipulated and hybridised by young writers, don’t do themselves any favours. The idea of ‘genre play’ through experimentation and exploration must be made available to children. Children should never be asked to simply and slavishly reproduce a genre.
  • Teachers too often fail to see that non-fiction texts can be enhanced when children are allowed to merge them with other more expressive genres. See our non-fiction Class Writing Projects for more information.
  • It is utterly possible that children know about and can already write successfully and creatively in the dominant genres of society. Lengthy and explicit teaching of linguistic ‘rules’ can sometimes contribute very little to children’s writing development.
  • Writing is too often judged as ‘successful’ just because of the inclusion of arbitrary ‘genre features’. This is wrong. In my view, it’s far more sensible to assess the piece in its own right and in terms of attention to purpose and audience – did the reader get out of it what the writer intended?
  • Children are too often taught a very large number of genres in a scattergun approach and without any kind of consideration for progression and with no kind of purposeful rationale.
  • There is often too little concern and attention given to children’s personal growth as writers.

(Young & Ferguson 2021 p.7-8)

I wanted my approach to writing to be different. I knew very early on (thanks to the work of Donald Graves) that children naturally love to write and they want to write what they mean. My job was to create the conditions and teach them important lessons about writing that could help them craft texts that were meaningful to them, successful according to their readership, and met or exceeded curriculum objectives. Luckily, the first two points naturally go hand in hand in achieving academic excellence.

It’s my conviction (and the research backs me up on this) that Class Writing Projects are most meaningful to children when they are given the opportunity to generate their own subject and purpose, write at their own pace, in their own way, with agency over how they want to use the genre, and with a clear sense of a real anticipated reader. 

At the beginning of any new writing project, we would have ‘genre-study’ sessions. As a merry band of writers, we discussed genre conventions, we read a variety of good real-life examples of the genre in action (including pieces I had written). We considered what we might have to do to create a successful and meaningful text of our own, we all thought about who we wanted to write for, and importantly, what we were moved to write about most. 

I encouraged my classes to manipulate and subvert any so-called genre conventions because – why not – and also because it’s fun. My job wasn’t to be the ‘genre police’ but rather to help them craft personally worthwhile and academically fruitful texts that their readers would appreciate and respond to. If this meant going against some arbitrary concept of a ‘pure’ genre – then so be it.

What was amazing (and what I’m so happy about when I visit schools who use our approach now), is how, once children have been invited to take their own germ of an idea and nurse it through to publication and performance, in a taught genre, the genre stays in their backpack of writing knowledge evermore. It becomes part of who they are and their writing repertoire. They can come back to it whenever they feel moved to use it. I saw this in my class’ Personal Writing Projects all the time. Children were undertaking their own projects at home and bringing them into school too. I even had parents coming up to the classroom after school to ask for a copy of one of our now famous Genre-Booklets so that they could write something for themselves at home. For the children, the genres had become something they felt they owned rather than something they simply had to rent for a while from their teacher. The children began to dictate what genres they wanted to learn about. Our Graphic Novel and Match Report writing projects came directly from children asking me during writing time if I had any good tips on how to write them.

If I may, I want to share a final anecdote dear to my heart. I’ll always remember Ben coming to see me during reading time to ask me if I knew how to write poetry for a funeral. He explained that he wanted to write something for his Grandpa who had just died. His parents suggested that he asked me – me being a writer. I told him how he could write a eulogy and that he could even use the things he already knew about poetry to help him. I’ll never forget how, when he was finished, he asked whether he could read it to the community of writers that was our classroom to see what his fellow writers thought of it, and I’ll never forget their kind and thoughtful responses he received from them.
And so I end this love letter (which isn’t a letter at all), by simply repeating my opening line: when we shape our writing curriculum around genres, we give children access to the world and the fundamental reasons we are all moved to write. Surely, the goal for any world-class writing teacher.

FREE Writing For Pleasure: theory, research and practice presentation and discussion session

Lancaster Literacy Research Centre are delighted to welcome Ross Young and Felicity Ferguson to discuss Writing for Pleasure.

About this event:

This 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.

Event schedule:

15:00pm – Welcomes & introductions (please enter the meeting with your ‘real’ name as your display name, and your camera switched on, to allow us to all put faces to each others’ names)

15:05pm – Presentation from Ross Young and Felicity Ferguson (please turn your camera off and mute your microphone during the presentation)

15:40pm – Discussion (please use the raise hand feature on Teams to indicate you would like to have a turn speaking and once asked to speak by an event facilitator, please un-mute your microphone and turn your camera on)

Presenter biographies:

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.

That’s The Way I Work!: One Child’s Experience Of A Writing For Pleasure Pedagogy

My name is Samaira Islam and I am 9 years old. I have been in a Writing For Pleasure classroom for two years. It’s been exciting indeed and finding a talent that I never knew I had was awesome! Here is a little Q&A I made. ⬇

Q1. What is your favourite genre?

A1. That is a great question because it’s so hard! I’ll choose poems, because I just go ‘Few words, next line. Few words, next line’. I don’t really care about rhythm or rhyming. Sometimes, I find that I’ve rhymed somewhere, which is a coincidence! 

Q2. What’s your least favourite genre?

A2. I wouldn’t say I don’t like a genre, but I often get tricky on following one thing: keeping it short. My class once entered a 300 word competition and I ended up doing 1972 words! I often tend to write long pieces, but it’s not common for me to write a short story! But nowadays, at least I know how to write short stories! 

Q3. Are there any pieces you’re working on at the moment?

A3. I am handling two pieces of writing at the moment. One is about a girl who’s in a boarding school that holds the five elements (home project) and one about a teenager who lives in the 1900s in a village (school project). I also wrote a short story about a girl falling in a lake of rubies and seeing her dead mother and father. 

Q4. Can you tell us about your writing process?

A4. My writing process is a bit confusing. I am a discoverer, but at times I like to use a box-up and vomit from my plan. And this is where the confusing bit comes. I seem to have perfect grammar and punctuation because I am really good at that type of English as well. So when I edit, I have nothing to do! But I go with the flow. I get the idea, start drafting, revise a lot, check my C.U.P.S (Capital letters, Use of vocabulary, Punctuation and Spelling). Then I publish very carefully. I am often worried about using a pen, so I find it easier when publishing with a computer or with pencil.

Q5. What’s it like to get a ‘hot topic’?

A5. When I get a hot topic, I write it down. Then I think of how I will be going through my drafting process (if I’ll plan it out, or be a discoverer etc.) and what my Distant Publishing Goal will be. Often, one idea can turn into thousands, and I don’t know which to choose!

Q6. How have you developed as a writer?

A6. I’ve always tried to produce good pieces. But I’ve managed to advance in it. I revise, I edit, I publish. One year ago, my manuscripts used to be in an old exercise book. This year, my compositions have been somewhere extravagant! 

Q7. What’s it like to live your life like a writer?

A7. I often find the tiniest little diamond that sparkles and shines out of the entire stone. I wrote a memoir called ‘The Monstrosity Of The Iceland Onion Rings’ about disgusting onion rings. Look how tiny a moment that is! And another memoir was about knitted dolls I bought once. 

Q8. What are your home writing habits?

A8. My home writing habits are a bit different from my school ones. I always like to use my laptop instead of hand writing the pieces. My laptop is in my mum and dad’s bedroom. I often type when I get home. I may try to start using a pencil and paper for my manuscripts instead of using software.  That said, I’ve probably memorized the entire keyboard. 

Q9. Do you write with your family?

A9. My family don’t write as much as I do. But they’ve found their new talent from something my teacher made. It was called Writing With The Family, and of course, the aim of the game was to write with the family. 

Thank you for reading my blog. As a thank you, here are some top tips I’ve learnt during my time in a Writing For Pleasure classroom.

The Writing For Pleasure Centre’s Grammar Mini-Lessons

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.

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

Six top tips for teachers

  1. Have a ‘let’s see what this does’ and not a right/wrong attitude towards grammar teaching.
  2. Consider your instruction to be like giving children ‘tips, tricks and secrets’ of the writer’s craft.
  3. Don’t plan your lessons too far ahead. Be responsive and teach the things you see children need instruction in most.
  4. Repeat lessons if you need to.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

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