Inspiring Writing in Children

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How Can We Support Children to Enjoy and Achieve in Writing?

When the new writing frameworks were released earlier this term, many teachers breathed a sigh of relief. Focusing on "ticking the box" for punctuation and grammatical forms had made encouraging a love of writing challenging. With the change from a focus on technicality to one more on composition and quality, the door has hopefully been opened to a culture of inspiring writing.

Research consistently shows a link between enjoyment and attainment in writing. The National Literacy Trust’s 2016 report found that, “Seven times as many children and young people who enjoy writing write above the expected level for their age compared with those who don’t enjoy writing (23.2% vs. 3.2%).” Enjoyment clearly impacts outcomes and must form a key strand of teaching writing – engagement is key. However, we must still be mindful of the Department for Education’s requirements for Age Related Expectations. The long-awaited updated exemplifications were released in October, though many staff are understandably lacking in confidence as assessment is altered once again. In light of this, One Education are running a briefing on exploring the new KS1 Writing Exemplifications on 12th December to support staff with the new system of assessment.

With this in mind, how can we support children to both enjoy and achieve in writing?

Text-Based Approaches to Writing

Whatever your school’s approach to writing, planning opportunities to expose children to high quality texts is crucial. Only by enjoying, experiencing and exploring the work of real world authors, playwrights, journalists and poets, will children become effective writers themselves. These texts can be extracts or whole books, films, songs, picture books – the possibilities are endless. Using your knowledge of children’s writing and reading lives means that you can encourage engagement through your, or your pupils’ choice of text. What is important is that children are interrogating many different texts and using them as inspiration right across the curriculum. A text-based approach pays particular attention to the craft of writing, using a real world text to inspire and model learning. Reading, speaking, listening and GPS are integrated to become the building blocks for writing. The One Education P.I.C.C a Text approach is one way of structuring your English curriculum to enable text-based literacy to flourish in your school or classroom. We have a selection of free sample resources based on 'Perfectly Norman' by Tom Percival, which are available to download. Our upcoming course ‘Creative Ways to Teach Writing and SPaG’ on 1st December will explore in detail how text-based approaches can be used to support engagement and best outcomes.

Hooking Children into Writing

Starting off a new unit or text can sometimes be daunting, no matter how much time and effort has been spent choosing the focus. A sure-fire way to engage children in the writing process is to begin with a well-chosen hook that takes into account children’s preferences and existing experiences. Not only is it a way to inspire, but it also allows for staff to get the opportunity to provide children with new experiences to support their understanding. Hooks can be simple such as watching a film clip or they can be more abstract, such as the use of a rucksack in the planning for 'The Arrival' - download available. What is important is knowing your children and sometimes letting them take the lead, as they can take you on writing journeys you would have never thought of… if you let them.

Once, as a young teacher teaching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I decided to hook the children in with some homemade Wonka bars. It certainly worked – they were engaged and could not wait to start reading. If I had stopped there I know they would have produced wonderful writing, but a turn of events meant that something even more magical happened. Picture a tired teacher sat marking books at her desk after school. Her stomach is growling but her biscuit stash has depleted. Out of the corner of her eye, she spies the Wonka bars, foil wrappers glistening. Surely the children won’t notice if a little bit disappears, she thinks (naïve, I know!). So sure enough, a Wonka bar vanished. The next morning, the class noticed straight away and the teacher told a little fib about the missing bar. Cue the class deciding that a staff member had stolen the bar and a whole unit of work led by the children to investigate its disappearance. That unit included wanted posters, newspaper reports, instructions and a mock courtroom debate. None of those opportunities had been originally planned for, but the hook and the children’s engagement was unsurpassed. Those same children, now finishing high school, still talk about that writing and despite me owning up, are still convinced that the teacher they found ‘guilty’ was the real culprit.

Providing a Real Audience and Purpose

When was the last time you had to write? If you think back, I can guarantee that you had both an audience and a purpose for your writing. For me, my most recent piece of writing is this very blog, the audience is you and the purpose is to support the teaching of writing. Without knowing this, I would have little motivation to write and would be unable to mould my writing to fit its context. For too long, many children have been expected to write in school for the pure purpose of assessment or because the teacher has asked them to. For some children, this will be enough. They will be able to use their eagerness to please to motivate themselves to write. However for many children, a lack of audience and purpose leads to a lack of engagement and less high-quality writing. What is crucial then, is to provide an audience and purpose for every piece of writing being produced. They may be dictated by staff or decided upon by the children, but whichever way forward, it is crucial that they children have access to them. In this free unit plan for ‘The Arrival’ by Shaun Tan - download available; the audience, purpose and hook combine to inspire and engage children to write a persuasive speech that challenges the Prime Minister through a viral video campaign. 

Promoting the Editing Process

As adults, we automatically proofread and edit our writing as we understand that it is a key part of the writing process. Children need to be supported to do the same, however it is not a skill that is learned organically, it must be modelled. A good starting point is to show children the lengths to which professional authors go to edit their own writing. J.K. Rowling’s edited manuscript for Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone shows just how many changes authors make to their writing. For a child, it is a powerful way to show that editing is not about finding fault, but finding the most effective way to write. From there, staff must build the editing process into every piece of writing, focusing editing on single areas at a time to enable children to build their skills. The benefits of editing will be one of our key focuses in our 'Achieve the Best Outcomes in English: Year 3 and 4' course on 21st November. Once editing is completed, whether independently or with peer support, then comes the decision of whether a final draft is necessary. My personal view is that ‘neat copies’ are unnecessary unless the publishing method requires them. Who is the ‘neat copy’ benefitting? Doesn’t a neat copy hide hours of children’s work and writing process? Regardless of the answer, what is important is that children see editing and proofreading as a crucial skill, and one that all writers, including themselves, do.

Publishing

Ask any aspiring author what their aim is and they are likely to reply that they want their work published. Children need their work to be seen and appreciated by others even more so than professional authors at this crucial stage in their development. Publishing allows for children to see the point of writing, with carefully chosen reasons for writing capable of engaging even the most reluctant writers. If you have carefully assigned audience and purpose to writing, then publishing should follow easily; whether it is sending a letter to a business, tweeting a celebrity or simply being put on a display or the school website. As soon as children see that something, however small, comes from their writing, it spurs them on to write more and more.

Writing for Pleasure

Both inside and outside the classroom, it is important to actively encourage writing for pleasure, just as reading for pleasure has been a key part of the curriculum since 2014. Research shows that children who choose to write for pleasure are far more likely to achieve above expected in writing assessments at school. As Teresa Cremin writes, writing for pleasure is, “Essentially volitional, intrinsically motivated, writer-directed and choice-led; it has meaning making at its core.” Children cannot be forced to "write for pleasure" however as Cremin notes, if we promote the "art and craft of writing" and pay attention to, “children’s attitudes, preferences, pleasures and perceptions of themselves as writers” we will develop children who choose to write. By engaging children with texts; making links to children’s preferences and providing true reasons to write in school, we will impact the writing children choose to do.

Who knows what the future may bring for writing teaching and assessment. All we can be sure of is that there will be change. However, by paying attention to the ‘art and craft of writing’, we can support children to both enjoy and achieve, whatever the changes. One Education’s Literacy Team can support you to audit and review your current provision for writing. To find out more, please contact Laura Lodge by calling 0844 967 1111 or fill in our online contact form.

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