Recently, I have been asking pupils in Primary and Secondary schools about the part played by response partnership in developing their writing confidence and writing quality. (Examples of 4 relevant 'response prompts' follow each paragraph.)
The first response comes from inside. They treasure their personal writing notebooks or journals as places to experiment and start to trust themselves. At first, some writers may like to be given prompts for writing, but most soon develop independence when they know it's expected: "At night, when the light goes off, things happen. I like to write about them in my journal. I like talking about ideas and sharing with someone." (y3 boy 1.2014) Later, teachers conference with pupils about their journal writing, encouraging reflection, re-visiting, revision even.
R1: Tell me what you're pleased with, tell me where you struggled, talk to me about a piece which you might go back to and work further on.
Online writers' forums give writers world-wide respondents, and a growing number of young writers are, of course, already practised in choosing how to represent themselves and their values through verbal and visual images on Facebook. A y12 Creative Writing A level student and a member of an NWP student group, says that, for his own writing, he prefers the anonymity afforded by online forums, and has even become a moderator on one. Unsurprisingly, his responses are sought by his peers in their early attempts at developing their own poetry, stories and style for AS level Creative Writing. However, most students still prefer the known peer response: "Our group does a lot of free-writing. We're becoming more comfortable and confident. I trust what people say because I know them. I know when they're sincere." (y12 AS level boy 4.2014)
R2: Where are you with this writing? What kind of response would be most helpful now?
The English teacher's response is nonetheless crucial: a first encourager and 'critical friend'. Y13 students say it is especially empowering when the teacher feeds back what their fiction-writing made her feel, the mood created - as well as the conviction of tone and plot plausibility (though discussion of these may have to wait). When fiction writers are learning to let feelings be inferred from actions (show not tell), this can be critical to their confidence. y11 student of her teacher: "She'll talk to you individually and show you what you can do to make things better." (y11 girl 2.2014)
R3: At different points your writing makes me feel ... Was that the effect you expected/ were looking for?
For some year 3 pupils, siblings and family members are often the most valued writing response partners. "My brother - he's told me a few ideas - he's the funniest person in our house. Sometimes he helps me." (y3 boy 1.2014) "My sister - she reads lots of books - she gives me lots of tips - we wrote a book together. I also like to share my writing with my mum. I like her to listen and to think and be interested and to ask me to write more." (y3 girl 1.2014)
R4: The subject matter reminds me of ... your treatment seems ... Are those the connections you're looking for? Maybe you could tell us more about that.
Click here for further ideas for developing response partnership.
NWP outreach director