Pursue purposeful and authentic class writing projects

No pupil should be given a writing task which does not yield them enough fruit in their own terms, so that they can feel it is worth doing. – John Dixon

Description of the principle

Meaningfulness affects learner engagement and outcomes to a considerable extent. Writing projects are most meaningful to children if 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 form, and with a clear sense of a real reader. Given these circumstances, writers are likely to remain focused on a task, have self-determination, maintain a strong personal agency over and commitment to their writing, and so produce something significant for themselves and in keeping with teacher expectations. In short, when children care about their writing, they want it to do well.

What Writing For Pleasure teachers do

  • Teachers and children together consider the purpose and future audiences for their class writing projects. Because children are given the opportunity to generate their own ideas and had a strong sense of a real reader and a clear distant goal for the writing to be published, the projects are seen as meaningful.
  • Agency plays an important role within class writing projects. Children are encouraged to either generate their own individual ideas, share and work on ideas in ‘clusters’ or, as a whole class, generate an idea that they could all pursue together.
  • It is striking that teachers regularly refocus their children on considering the future readership and publication of their piece throughout their projects.
  • Class writing projects are worked on over a number of weeks.

Reviewing your practice: questions to consider

  • Do you develop class writing projects that are undertaken over an extended period of time?
  • Do you plan class writing projects which look and feel like writing undertaken in life outside the classroom?
  • Do you ensure children believe the writing project to be authentic, purposeful and meaningful to their development as a writer?
  • Is there a real reason for the writing to be composed? Is children’s writing publish or performed for real audiences?
  • Do you elicit widespread enthusiasm and participation that is focused on developing as a writer?
  • Do you demonstrate how a particular genre might be structured and show examples of writing which are effective and meaningful?
  • Do you afford children some agency and ownership over the topics/ideas they’ll use to complete the writing project?
  • Do you encourage children to harness their own funds of knowledge in their writing?
  • Can children can generate an individual idea to write about.
  • Can children generate ideas collaboratively and as a result do you allow children to write on the same idea in ‘clusters’?
  • Can children help generate whole-class ideas for a class writing project?

Examples from the classroom

Advocacy Journalism: Writing For Charity

Launching A School Magazine

Persuasive Letters: Straight From The Heart

That’s MY Book!

The Meaning Of a Life: Authentic Biography Writing At Home

Supporting documents

Suggested further reading

  • Atwell, N., (2014) In The Middle USA: Heinemann
  • Behizadeh, N., (2014) Xavier’s Take on Authentic Writing: Structuring Choices For Expression And  Impact In Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 58(4) pp. 289–298
  • Calkins, L., Ehrenworth, M., (2016) Growing extraordinary writers: leadership decisions to raise the level of writing across a school and a district In The Reading Teacher  Vol.70(1) 7-18
  • Dyson, A., (2003) Popular Literacies and the “All” Children: Rethinking Literacy Development for Contemporary Childhoods In Language Arts Vol.81, No.2
  • Dyson, A., Freedman, S., (2003). Writing. In J. Flood, D. Lapp, J. R. Squire, & J. M. Jensen (Eds.) Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts (2nd ed., pp. 501–511). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.
  • Flint, A. S., & Laman, T. T. (2012). Where Poems Hide: Finding Reflective, Critical Spaces Inside Writing Workshop In Theory Into Practice, 51(1), 12-19.
  • Gambrell , L. B. , Hughes , E. M. , Calvert , L. , Malloy , J. A. , & Igo , B. (2011). Authentic reading, writing and discussion: An exploratory study of a pen pal project In The Elementary School Journal, 112 ( 2 ), 23 – 258 .
  • Gonzalez, N., Moll, L., (2002) Cruzando el puente: Building bridges to funds of knowledge Educationl Policy, 16(4), 623-641
  • Grainger, (Cremin), T., Goouch, K. and Lambirth, A. (2003) Playing the Game called Writing, English In Education 37 (2) 4-15.
  • Grainger (Cremin), T., Goouch, K., & Lambirth, A., (2005) Creativity and Writing: Developing voice and verve in the classroom London: Routledge
  • Harwayne, S., (2001) Writing Through Childhood: Rethinking Process & Product USA: Heinemann
  • Hoewisch, A. (2001) “Do I have to have a princess in my story?”: Supporting children’s writing of fairytales. Reading and Writing Quarterly 17: 249–277
  • Leung, C., Hicks, J., (2014) Writer Identity and Writing Workshop A Future Teacher and Teacher Educator Critically Reflect In Writing & Pedagogy 1756–5839
  • Magnifico, A., (2010) Writing for Whom? Cognition, Motivation, and a Writer’s Audience In Educational Psychologist, 45:3, 167-184
  • 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
  • Nolen, S., (2007) Young Children’s Motivation to Read and Write: Development in Social Contexts In Cognition And Instruction, 25:2-3, 219-270
  • Parr, J., Jesson, J., McNaughton, S., (2009) Agency and Platform: The Relationships between Talk and Writing In The SAGE Handbook of Writing Development
  • Steedman, C., (1983) Tidy House: Little Girls Writing London: Virago
  • Szczepanski, S. (2003) Writing workshop: Three ingredients that work. Michigan Reading Journal 35(2): 13–15
  • Whitney, A. E. (2017). Keeping it Real: Valuing Authenticity in the Writing Classroom. English Journal, 6 (106), 16-21.

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