Pursue personal writing projects

Giving young writers genuine choice is the best way I know to create an environment where they can flourish. -Ralph Fletcher

Description of the principle

It is essential that children are given time to write for a sustained period every day and to work on both class and personal writing projects. Personal projects should be seen as an important part of the writing curriculum since it is here, through exercising their own choice of subject, purpose, audience and writing process, that they have genuine autonomy and come to understand the true function of writing as an empowering and pleasurable activity which they can use now and in the future.  Teachers will hold equally high expectations for personal writing projects as for class projects. Personal projects  can provide the teacher with insights into children’s personalities and help build relationships, and can also provide evidence when assessing children’s development as independent writers.

What Writing For Pleasure teachers do

  • Teachers understand how essential it is that children are given time to write for a sustained period every day and to work on both class and personal writing projects.
  • Children are given at least one timetabled hour a week to engage in personal writing projects.  However, the teachers also encouraged personal writing to be pursued in little pockets of time throughout the week.
  • Children transfer knowledge and skills learnt in class writing projects and use them expertly and successfully in their personal ones.
  •  Teachers set up routines where personal writing project books go to and fro between school and home every day. This means that children can be in a constant state of composition.

Reviewing your practice: questions to consider

  • Do you child have a personal writing books?
  • Do you timetable regular and significant time for children to develop personal writing projects?
  • Do you provide children with resources and strategies for generating writing ideas?
  • Do you provide opportunities for children to write in collaboration with their peers on personal writing projects?
  • Do you allow children to pursue their personal projects if they’ve finished their class writing goal for that lesson?
  • Do you have high expectations and interest in both class and personal writing projects?
  • Do you design your classroom to ensure that children can pursue their personal projects largely independently?
  • Do you promote the use of writing journals at school and at home and create links between the two?
  • Are your children encouraged to work on any personal writing projects in any pockets of time available in the school day?

Examples from the classroom

Everyone’s An Expert

“Anyone wanna collab?” Personal writing projects go online!

Idea Hearts: Getting To The Heart Of It

Setting Up Personal Writing Project Books In KS1

Supporting documents

Be reassuringly consistent

This chapter examines how the contemporary understanding of writing workshop has evolved from its naturalistic and self-expressionist beginnings. The authors then discuss the essential contribution personal writing projects make to a pupil-writer’s development and successful and meaningful practice. They explore the affective benefits personal writing projects afford children and how they are able to develop a sense of self and voice in their own writing. The authors then consider funds of identity and the principle of children harnessing their funds of knowledge. The authors reflect on their own research to present the profound relationship between children’s self-efficacy, self-regulation, and agency. They meditate on how children are able to balance the needs of the curriculum with their own writing desires. The authors reflect on why, despite a rich body of research to support such practice, personal writing projects remain on the periphery of the writing classroom and curriculum. Beyond this, the authors discuss excellent examples of practice and the opportunity 21st-century multiliteracies offer children in terms of pursuing personal writing projects. The chapter concludes with examples of effective practice from the classrooms of high-performing Writing For Pleasure teachers.

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How Real-World Writers works

This chapter presents a rationale for children to use their own writers’ notebooks and to pursue personal writing projects through the planning of dedicated personal writing project weeks. It explains how providing substantial and sustained time for personal writing can have profound positive effects on children’s attitudes, writing progress and academic achievements. The chapter gives specific guidance on how teachers can set up writers’ notebooks with their class. It explains the connection between home- and school-based writing and gives advice on how to manage, organise and have high expectations for personal writing weeks. This includes advice on: keeping writing registers; encouraging daily writing momentum; setting up classroom and independent publishing houses and how to deal with children’s sensitive or contentious topic choices.

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Suggested further reading

  • Atwell, N., (2014), In the middle USA: Heinemann
  • Chamberlain, L., (2015). Exploring the out-of-school writing practices of three children aged 9 – 10 years old and how these practices travel across and within the domains of home and school. EdD thesis: The Open University.
  • Dixon, J., (1967) Growth In English Oxford University Press: London
  • Dyson, H., (1997) Writing Superheroes: Contemporary Childhood, Popular Culture and Classroom Literacy, Columbia: Teachers College Press.
  • Dyson, A. H. (2003) Welcome to the Jam: Popular culture, school literacy, and the making of childhoods. Harvard Educational Review 73: 328–361
  • Gonzalez, N., Moll, L., (2002) Cruzando el puente: Building bridges to funds of knowledge Educationl Policy, 16(4), 623-641
  • Graham, L. (2001) ‘From Tyrannosaurus rex to Pokemon: autonomy in the teaching of writing’, Reading, Literacy and Language, 35(1):18–26.
  • Graham, L., Johnson, A., (2012) Children’s Writing Journals, Royston: United Kingdom Literacy Association
  • Grainger (Cremin), T., Goouch, K., & Lambirth, A., (2005) Creativity and Writing: Developing voice and verve in the classroom London: Routledge
  • Graves, D., (1983), Writing: Teachers & Children At Work USA: Heinemann
  • Moll, L., Amanti, C., Neff, D., Gonzalez, N., (1992) Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms In Theory into Practice, Vol. 31(2), pp. 132-141
  • Olthouse, J., (2012) Why I write: What talented creative writers need their teachers to know In Gifted Child Today (35) 2: pp.117-121
  • Smith, F., (1988) Joining the literacy club Heinemann: Oxford

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