My thoughts on teaching writing….

What exactly is ‘good writing’? How do we define improvement? How can we recognise it? Measure it? What part does a teacher’s own confidence and skill in writing play in children’s progress? What range of strategies are available? Getting writing ‘RIGHT’ is a massive challenge……..

I LOVE teaching children to write! Do see my blog post (Encouraging a passion for writing).  Yet, it doesn’t come naturally to some children and therefore, many different approaches and stimuli may be required.  I do love some schemes; those that enhance and gently steer ideas in exciting directions. Others, are not so grand!   I am currently in a school that uses the Talk for Writing approach and I love the pattens and imitation stages that children can really rely upon.

“It is powerful because it is based on the principles of how children learn. It enables children to imitate the language they need for a particular topic orally, before reading and analysing it, and then writing their own version”. TfW website.    

I also used to love the CLPE (Centre for Literacy and Primary education) resources and writing ideas that cleverly weaved many genres together based around one text. I think my own teacher brain works like this! I need to do more research on more recent schemes! Add it to the list!

My own daughter is a mathematician through and through and doesn’t seem to enjoy the process of writing essays or stories. Yet, when I sit with her and discuss what she wants to say and the messages she wants to convey, her spoken ideas are free flowing and really do impress me.  She just doesn’t see the point as English is so subjective – everyone has their own right to think differently. Whereas her favourite GCSE subject is Maths – because it is black and white / right and wrong.

So, how do we encourage children to WANT to write and strike the balance of inspiring and correcting along the way. Correcting all spellings and questioning content can often discourage children to be free thinking when it comes to story writing or literature analysis. 

I believe that the art of teaching writing comes down to the teacher’s strengths.  If we are passionate, then the children are more likely become alert and more interested – in any subject.  Of course, they way we teach nowadays has SO much to do with the autonomy that we have as professional classroom professionals. If we are told by the powers that be that we all need to teach it THIS way, then will falter – but don’t get me started on all that! That is for another day!

Make sure you check out my ‘Inspiring Writing PowerPoint’ with lots of different ideas to share in a staff meeting!

Why are almost a quarter of children unable to write effectively when they leave primary school?

The development of spoken language underpins every aspect of the English curriculum and features as an important factor throughout the other subject areas. Children need to be able to tell you (or themselves) what they want to write before they actually write it down. Children cannot be forced to write without having a go themselves in an environment that encourages them to take risks. There needs to be some sort of drive there! And a meaningful context. Start an idea or sow the seed with lots of talking first, whatever the age range or ability!  Sometimes let them just go for it. A first draft is just that…let them splurge their ideas and get it down! Become immersed in new vocabulary and talk about what is expected and what needs to be included! Set children up to SUCCEED!

What should we see in a writing lesson?

  • Discussion
  • Sharing the journey / objectives / expectations
  • Modelling
  • Pride / respect / praise
  • Note taking
  • Mind mapping
  • Story planning
  • Vocabulary discussions
  • Challenge

In true Talk for Writing style, I believe that the imitation phase is important. Children look to us as role models and they like to imitate. The highest form of flattery. So, it is no surprise that children tend to copy our ideas if we ever do a guided write! Is this a bad thing at first? So, what IS needed is that story writing experience. Encouraging them to use their wonderful imaginations – this is where children excel!

Selecting just the right texts for the children (considering age, gender, diversity, experience etc) and encouraging children to understand the many skills that an effective author possesses is key!  Read really good books to them. Discuss what is really good books about these books. Sadly, in a bleak educational world dominated by fronted adverbials and embedded clauses alongside testing and nonstop teacher scrutiny, I believe that some creativity is lost forever as apprehensive teachers stick to the rules and rarely go outside of the box. I believe that it is outside of the box where the most magic happens! I recall ‘eureka moments’ of the past where we would focus on drama and the spoken voice to bring a story alive. Now it is more a case of bums on seats and write some more before the bell goes. Guilty! How times have changed…..

Everything that a child writes has been ‘retrieved’ from their little imaginations. If they haven’t had the experiences that come with a certain theme or location or life event,  then it just isn’t there to utilise – simple!  Children can only retrieve those sentences and grammatical techniques that have made a lasting impression on them and that have been revisited (and given kudos) time and time again!

Pie Corbett says:

“Shared writing lies at the heart of teaching writing. This is the generic term for writing with and in front of the children as a precursor to the class writing more independently. It is the key moment at which writing is taught. Teachers who do not do shared writing are not teaching writing.”

I agree with this. Children need a reference point – just like in maths – they need to be taught the fundamental skills. This modelling process puts the teacher centre stage, not simply as a facilitator but as a writer, too. When that happens, good teaching often happens. The flow of writing is taught and children can add to the lesson as often as they can.

Treasure the importance of writing and make it part of the school’s writing remit! Have an English team and not just one coordinator – English is massive to do on your own.  Devote staff meeting time to teaching tips in reading and writing! What works for different groups of children?  Allow teachers some degree of autonomy when it comes to teaching writing. A passionate teacher who is confident in their delivery will usually teach WELL! Don’t stick to one scheme forever. Move with the times! Tailor make it to YOUR school and include ideas linked to your own community and heritage.

See more tips on the English page!

Let me know some of your comments on this in the comments!

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