What Is It Writing For Pleasure Teachers Do That Makes The Difference? Research Report

What Is It Writing For Pleasure Teachers Do That Makes The Difference? was a one year research project which investigated how Writing For Pleasure teachers achieve writing teaching which is highly effective (greater than average progress) and also affective (pertaining to positive dispositions and feelings). This research comes at a time when we are seeing profound underachievement in writing (Ofsted 2012, DfE 2017) coupled with an increase in young people’s indifference or dislike for writing (Clark, 2016, 2017).

As this was a newly realised and articulated pedagogy, the report first gives a definition of Writing For Pleasure and explains why it is important for children’s success. It then discusses the findings emerging from a rich literature review and describes the deep connection between what research shows is the most effective writing teaching and the affective domains of Writing For Pleasure. Next, Writing For Pleasure teachers’ practices are analysed, shared and discussed. Finally, the report provides recommendations and implications on how teachers can successfully realise Writing For Pleasure in their own classrooms, and puts forward questions that need to be further investigated and considered by policy makers, researchers, teachers and other stakeholders.

Executive Summary

I feel like if I never wrote – life would be a bit boring wouldn’t it – having loads of thoughts but never being able to show it. – Year 4 child

Acknowledgements

Thanks to The Goldsmiths’ Company for believing in the project and for funding the research. Finally, the most thanks goes to the exceptionally talented and committed teachers, their extraordinary apprentice writers and their welcoming schools.

Introduction

What Is It Writing For Pleasure Teachers Do That Makes The Difference? was a one year research project which investigated how Writing For Pleasure teachers achieve writing teaching which is highly effective (greater than average progress) and also affective (pertaining to positive dispositions and feelings). This research comes at a time where we are seeing profound underachievement in writing (Ofsted 2012, DfE 2017) coupled with an increase in young people’s indifference or dislike for writing (Clark, 2016, 2017).

As this was a newly realised and articulated pedagogy, the report first gives a definition of Writing For Pleasure and explains why it is important for children’s success. It then discusses the findings emerging from a rich literature review and describes the deep connection between what research shows is the most effective writing teaching and the affective domains of Writing For Pleasure. Next, Writing For Pleasure teachers’ practices are analysed, shared and discussed. Finally, the report provides recommendations and implications on how teachers can successfully realise Writing For Pleasure in their own classrooms, and puts forward questions that need to be further investigated and considered by policy makers, researchers, teachers and other stakeholders.

Project Aims

The principal purpose of this research was to identify and describe the kind of writing teaching which constitutes a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy. It was a requirement that the practices of the teachers participating in the research be based on what studies tell us are the most effective writing teaching, associated with high levels of pupil motivation, self-efficacy, agency, self-regulation, volition, writer-identity and pleasure in writing. Teachers were also required to provide evidence of exceptional or above expected academic progress among their pupils. The research investigated the principles employed by the most effective teachers of writing and linked them to the affective domains of Writing For Pleasure.

This report aims to share ways in which the profession can address children’s lack of enjoyment and therefore under-achievement in writing, and begin to bring to light what effective Writing For Pleasure teachers do that makes the difference, both in terms of pupils’ academic achievement and of their attitudes towards writing and being writers.

Research Design

From a rich literature review, an audit was generated which named fourteen interrelated principles, and their associated practices, which are strongly associated with high levels of student achievement and pleasure in writing. The literature review was based on:

  • Extensive research into the most effective writing instruction including meta-analyses of multiple studies.
  • Existing case studies of what the best performing teachers of writing do that makes the difference.
  • Research summaries from reputable literacy charities and associations. 

Analysis of the research showed that successful teachers of Writing For Pleasure employed the principles in a largely interconnected and flexible way. It also indicated that affective instruction is effective instruction and vice versa. This is what appears to make the difference. The literature review suggested that instructional strategies which result in high progress achievement for all learners also increase children’s enjoyment, agency, satisfaction, volition, self-efficacy, self-regulation, writer-identity, motivation and thus their pleasure in writing.

Quantitative and qualitative analysis of the participant teachers’ practice was carried out, focusing on the elements of Writing for Pleasure and on children’s exceptional academic progress. Each teacher’s effectiveness in teaching a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy was thus able to be established. As part of this report, their practices are shared and discussed so as to tell us what it is these teachers do that makes the difference and so benefit the teaching of writing by other practitioners.

Summary Of Findings

  • 1. A Writing For Pleasure pedagogy is a highly effective pedagogy.
  • 2. Teachers who teach the principles of Writing For Pleasure at a high level of proficiency have classes who feel the greatest enjoyment and satisfaction in writing and in being a writer.
  • 3. Writing For Pleasure teachers attend to self-efficacy, agency and self-regulation in rich combination.
  • 4. Some principles of Writing For Pleasure were not observed at a high level of proficiency by the teachers as a whole data set and so need to be further investigated.
  • 5. The affective domains of motivation and writer-identity were not realised adequately by the pupils as a whole data set and so need to be further investigated.

1. A Writing For Pleasure pedagogy is a highly effective pedagogy.

The principles of Writing For Pleasure, whilst demonstrated with differing degrees of proficiency by the teacher participants, were clearly able to contribute to exceptional writing progress for their cohorts. Therefore a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy is an effective pedagogy.

The following principles were realised at a high level of proficiency by the teacher participants as a data set.

Read, Share, Think And Talk About Writing

  • Children were given ample opportunity to share and discuss with others (including their writer-teacher) their own and others’ writing in order to give and receive constructive criticism, writerly advice and celebrate achievement.
  • Writing was seen as a social act, and dialogic talk was important at all stages of the writing process.
  • Children were encouraged to talk about the content of their writing, their writing processes, and to share any techniques or strategies they thought were working particularly well for them.
  • Whilst talk was an integral part of any writing time, so was maintaining a low level of noise to avoid disturbing fellow writers.

Teach The Writing Processes

  • Teachers gave direct instruction in strategies for engaging in the different components of the writing process (how to generate an idea, plan, draft, revise, edit, publish). They scaffolded children’s understanding of these processes through demonstration, resources, displays, discussion, sharing self-written exemplars and also techniques children had used themselves.
  • Children were made to feel very knowledgeable about the writing process and confident in navigating it on their own. One way in which the teachers showed commitment to helping their children achieve independence was to allow them to develop and use a writing process which suited them best and to write at a pace which enabled them to produce their best writing.
  • The children were able to use the writing processes recursively and were not tied to a linear model.

Balance Composition And Transcription

  • The teachers focused on giving direct instruction in the ‘generalities’ of good writing. They taught writing lessons which would help that day but which would serve children in future writing projects too.
  • They ensured that they taught the right lessons at the right time, with the emphasis on composition at the beginning of a writing project and more focus on teaching good transcriptional techniques and strategies later.
  • The teachers had high expectations for transcriptional accuracy, spelling and handwriting and wanted the children to take pride in their final written products. They encouraged children to concentrate on composing their piece (or part of their piece) before giving full attention to making it transcriptionally accurate.
  • They allocated specific time for children to focus on revising their pieces prior to editing them. Thus, revision and editing had separate and specific status.
  • They also asked children to regularly stop, re-read and share their work with their peers. By re-reading, the children had an opportunity to revise and edit their developing pieces as they were progressing.
  • There was a good balance between discussing what the content of the children’s writing projects might be, how the writing could be organised and successful, and the explicit teaching of different writing processes.
  • The teachers were very aware that, if grammar was to be understood in a meaningful way, it must be taught functionally and applied and examined in the context of real composition.

Teach Mini-Lessons

  • Through daily mini-lessons, children learned numerous strategies and techniques that they could employ independently. They were taught strategies for managing every part of the writing process and they knew how to use them across all class and personal writing projects.
  • Self-regulation strategies and resources were introduced carefully and given dedicated instructional time. In mini-lessons, the teachers would illustrate the benefit of a writing strategy or resource with personal reference to their own experience as a writer, before modelling and encouraging the children to use it that day if possible. The strategies and techniques were offered in the spirit of a fellow writer sharing their own writerly knowledge and their ‘tricks’.
  • These teachers made use of their working walls for ‘advertising’ and sharing self-regulation strategies taught in previous mini-lessons.

The following principles were realised at a secure level of proficiency.

Create A Community Of Writers

  • Children saw their teachers as extraordinarily positive, caring, strict, fun, calm and interested in their lives and development as writers.
  • Their classrooms felt like a rich mixture of creative writers’ workshop but also had the sharp focus of a professional publishing house.
  • The teachers supported and encouraged children to bring and use their own ‘funds of knowledge’ into their writing projects, meaning that children could write from a position of strength.
  • Classrooms were a shared and democratic space.
  • The children talked of feeling confident and knowing that their teachers wanted them to try their best, take their time and to focus specifically on making their written pieces the highest quality they could be for their future readership.

Treat Every Child As A Writer

  • The teachers held high achievement expectations for all their writers.
  • All children felt like independent writers who were achieving writing goals with regularity. They were praised for the goals they achieved in the writing lesson.
  • The teachers ensured that all their writers remained part of the writing community.

Pursue Purposeful & Authentic Writing Projects

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

Set Writing Goals

  • To maintain children’s commitment and motivation during a class writing project, teachers ensured that their classes understood the ‘distant goal’ for the project, that is to say, its audience and purpose.
  • The class, as a community, also had a say in setting the ‘product goals’ for their project. This took place in the form of discussions as to what they would have to do, and what it was writers did, to ensure their writing was successful and meaningful in the context of the project’s aims.
  • The teachers would often share a piece of their own writing, in keeping with the project, to initiate a discussion about writing decisions. The children then used the outcomes of these discussions as an aid to setting product goals for their own writing. The product goals were similar to success criteria, but importantly they also included more overarching goals linked directly to purpose and audience.
  • Product goals were put on display and were repeatedly referred to by the children and the teachers throughout their class writing projects.
  •  The teachers set loose ‘process goals’ for writing time to help the class generally stay on track, without forcing children to keep to a certain pace or writing process.

Be Reassuringly Consistent

  • The teachers showed excellent classroom organisation and behaviour management. There was strong emphasis on routines, promoting self-regulation, expectations and focused collaborative learning among the children.
  • Teachers had a clear routine of mini-lesson (10 to 20 minutes), writing time (30-40 minutes) and class sharing/author’s chair (10-15 minutes).
  •  The mini lessons were a short direct instruction on an aspect of writing which was likely to be useful to the children during that day’s writing. The teachers taught from their own craft regularly – sharing their writing ‘tips, tricks and secrets’; alternatively, they would share examples from literature taken from the class library.
  • In the class-sharing / author’s chair session, children would share their developing pieces and discuss with their peers the writing goals they had achieved that day.  

Pursue Personal Writing Projects

  • The teachers understood how essential it is that children are given time to write for a sustained period every day and to work on both class and personal writing projects.
  • Children were 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 transferred knowledge and skills learnt in class writing projects and used them expertly and successfully in their personal ones.
  •  The teachers set up routines where personal writing project books went to and fro between school and home every day. This meant that children could be in a constant state of composition.

Be A Writer-Teacher

  • Teachers wrote for pleasure in their own lives outside the classroom. They used their literate lives as an education tool in the classroom.
  • The teachers wrote and shared their writing with their class with regularity. They would also share their own finished pieces in relation to the projects they were asking the children to engage in. They would also take advice from the children on compositions they were in the process of developing.
  • The teachers would readily share the ‘tricks, tips and secret’ strategies that they habitually employed in their own writing and would invite children to give them a try too.

Pupil Conference: Meet Children Where They Are

  • The teachers believed that a rich response to children’s writing was crucial. Whilst they used both written and verbal feedback, they particularly emphasised the usefulness of ‘live’ verbal feedback, which they felt was immediate, relevant and allowed the child to reflect on and attend to learning points raised while still actually engaged in their writing.
  • Conferences were short, friendly, supportive and incredibly positive. The children looked forward to these ‘conversations’ because they knew they would receive genuine praise for and celebration of the writing goals they were achieving and also good advice as to how they could improve their developing compositions further.
  • The teachers were able to undertake pupil-conferencing in a systematic way and were successful because their children and classrooms were settled, focused, highly-organised and self-regulating. Behavioural expectations were also made very clear.

Literacy For Pleasure: Connect Reading And Writing

  • The teachers looked to build a community of readers and writers concurrently.
  • They taught using a reading for pleasure pedagogy (Cremin et al 2014).
  • They had print-rich classrooms which also included stories, non-fiction, poetry, newspapers, magazines and the children’s own published texts.
  • The teachers read aloud every day to their classes with pleasure and enthusiasm. This included poetry, picture books, chapter books, non-fiction texts and sometimes their own writing.
  • The teachers encouraged children to make links between what they were reading, their own lives and potential writing ideas. This included discussing authors’ themes and analysing their craft, understanding and encouraging the use of intertextuality, and writing in personal response to texts read.
  • They understood that volitional reading can lead to volitional writing, ensuring that during independent reading time children could also write in their personal writing project books if they felt an urge to do so.
  • Children collected words, phrases and other good examples of a writer’s craft in the hope that they might come in useful at a later date.

2. Teachers who teach the principles of Writing For Pleasure at a high level of proficiency have classes who feel the greatest enjoyment and satisfaction in writing and in being a writer.

We know that, like a field of flowers, the principles of Writing For Pleasure teaching benefit greatly from rich cross-pollination. They are interconnected in many profound ways and therefore some principles may not be as effective or may not be effective at all if enacted in isolation from others (Gadd 2014). The teachers who scored the highest average rating for enacting the principles of Writing For Pleasure also had children who scored highest for the affective domains of Writing For Pleasure. The teachers who taught the principles of Writing For Pleasure the most proficiently had classes who enjoyed writing and felt satisfaction from their writing the most.

3. Writing For Pleasure teachers attend to self-efficacy, agency and self-regulation in rich combination.

The findings showed that agency is really important to children. However, just giving agency will not ensure children write for pleasure. Agency alone does not appear to work. It is critical that agency sits alongside and is supported by a solid foundation of self-efficacy and self-regulation. This is because, more than anything, children want to feel that they can write and that they know how to write successful and meaningful pieces. This means they need regular and high-quality direct instruction.

  • They want to know what they have to do to write successful and meaningful compositions and how to do it.
  • They want to be given agency to use their own writing ideas, their own writing process and to write at their own pace.
  • They want to feel that they are able to write independently and to a high standard. They want to feel proud of their writing and feel that they are achieving worthwhile writing goals.

As you can see from the pyramid below, once children’s self-efficacy, agency and self-regulation are attended to, they feel more volition and motivation to write. They begin to identify themselves more as writers as a result. It appears that it is all these affective domains in rich combination that give children the best chance of writing for pleasure. In short, the teachers provided pupils with the knowledge they needed so that they could be empowered to see their own writing idea through to successful publication.

4. Some principles of Writing For Pleasure were not observed at a high level of proficiency by the teachers as a whole data set and so need to be further investigated.

5. The affective domains of motivation and writer-identity were not realised adequately by the pupils as a whole data set and so need to be further investigated.

The affective domains of ‘motivation’ and ‘writer-identity’ were not as successfully realised by the teachers as a whole participant group. Other principles and affective domains were not realised at a high level of proficiency by the teachers as a group. Therefore, it would be useful for these principles and affective domains of effective practice to be further researched by academics and action-researchers.

Implications & Recommendations

  1. There are positive signs that a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy is a highly effective pedagogy and so it should be considered by a range of stakeholders who are in the business of developing young writers.
  2. Teachers need training to implement a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy.
  3. Teachers need to conduct action research.
  4. Further investigation is required into the principles and affective domains which scored low.
  5. This study needs to be replicated in a few years’ time.
  6. This study needs to be replicated with teachers who achieve average or low progress in writing.
  7. Research needs to be undertaken into the long term effects of a Writing For Pleasure pedagogy across a whole school and taught by multiple teachers.
  8. Research into Writing For Pleasure needs to be undertaken in the EYFS, Key Stage One and at Key Stage Three.


Subscribe to our newsletter