Of course it's a statutory requirement to teach writing - both the product and the process. But are the children/students/staff all seen as writers, regularly 'allowed' a free hand to explore, hold, share and shape their thoughts and feelings? How are writerly habits of experiment, and of creative and critical thought, encouraged? And does writing do as much for everyone in your school as everyone in your school does writing?
These were some of the questions discussed in an NWP staff development session this week, in which teachers and teaching assistants wrote together and reminded themselves of what writing could do for them. We discussed where we were as writers ourselves and a range of practical ways of making writing more real for children and for us in the classroom.
First we simply shared favourite words - e.g. mardy, haberdashery, ych i fi, soporific, lellow, plop, splat, ineffable, marshmallow, cow ... - relishing their sounds, their contexts, laughing at their surprising connotations and connections.
Then we put ourselves in touch with ourselves by riffing or free-writing our own thoughts for three minutes using sentence stems in sequences: e.g. - I like it when we laugh; I hate it when Tom doubts himself. I like it when the children move away to be all hugger-mugger; I hate it when they're sullen and resist conversation. I like it when the air is fresh; I hate the fading light on Sunday afternoons...
Finally, having read other texts for inspiration about 'a sense of place', we each drew a diagram of a well-known place, labelled it, shared with a partner and then wrote silently for 5 minutes.
This was all to tap into our own creativity, explore writing notebooks and writing workshops, and prepare for a year in which the school opens up the writer in everyone.
As part of children's entitlement, alongside other learning, it is important for them to own the writing process. Young writers need to behave as writers and have weekly opportunities to do the following:
- play with language and ideas,
- take risks,
- read and write for pleasure
- make their own connections,
- practise precision and conciseness,
- let attitude lead to fluency,
- 'chip away' at things,
- ask questions,
- unravel cause and consequence,
- share, respond and be responded to
Such actions increase engagement, control and confidence - they raise standards, if you like. Although that is by no means the only reason for doing them.
And the evidence is strong that the best teachers of writing are teachers who write. I've just been reading NAWE's 2010 research report - 'Class Writing' - which records the many beneficial effects of writers in schools. The conclusions and recommendations include this encouragement:
'... teachers benefit from development as writers. ... Input to Initial Teacher Training would of course be the most comprehensive solution, as anything else is simply playing catch-up ...'
The report's last words are given to Andrew Motion (NAWE Patron and poet Laureate):
'Even though so much has changed in English teaching during the past 40-odd years, the need to protect space for the imaginative growth of children is as great as ever. ... By making writing a central part of their school experience, we offer children the chance to make heartening discoveries of themselves, and to deepen and diversify their connection with the world.'
On November 15th, NWP will be represented on a panel on the learning of writing at the NAWE conference in Bristol.
NWP outreach director