In this blog, we will share how we have managed to create a writing community within our classroom which allows children to write high-quality assessed pieces independently.
What are the demands that we place on children when we ask them to write independently?
To begin with, it’s important to understand that writing involves both composition and transcription. Frank Smith, in his book Writing & The Writer, uses the analogy of a writer and her secretary. This helps visualise the different processes that have to take place when anyone is writing. Remember, this is also what your children have to negotiate when writing too.
The writer (composition) has to attend to the following:
- Generating ideas,
- Turning thoughts, opinions, feelings into words/sentences,
- Use of grammar for function,
- Word and tone choice,
- Keeping cohesion,
- Thinking of the purpose of the text,
- Keeping the reader in mind throughout.
The secretary (transcription) has to attend to the following:
- Physical effort of writing,
- How it will look (including multi-modality).
It’s important to remember that we place this burden on our children when we ask them to write in the classroom on their own. However, consider this for a moment: Teachers often place further cognitive workload upon children. These burdens can include:
- Being set a task you know little or nothing about,
- Writing about something you have no direct interest in,
- A need to use certain vocabulary or linguistic features whilst trying to produce a first draft,
- A time limit,
- A high-stakes working environment.
So when they are writing, your children have to attend to all of the above -- and often at the same time.
The Power English: Writing approach
To help the children in our class, we decided to separate the writing process for them and teach each stage explicitly. This is what we called our Real-World Literacy approach and it is at the heart of Power English: Writing.
First, we taught children how to attend to all the compositional aspects of writing – that is:
- Generating Ideas,
- Drafting and
We then taught them how to attend to the transcriptional aspects of writing:
When children are learning to write, composition and transcription can interfere with each other. The more attention you give to one, the more the other is likely to suffer. The problem is essentially a competition for attention.
When children are learning to write, composition and transcription can interfere with each other.
The rule in our class is simple: composition and transcription must be separated, and transcription must come last.
At the end of the process all the children will publish a piece of interesting, neat and grammatically correct writing. Their edited drafts will show evidence that they have attended to spellings, provided evidence of certain linguistic features and punctuated fully. Their final published copy will also show they have attended to their handwriting in a focused way.
A new approach to teaching and assessing writing
I think it is fair to say that the current state of writing-assessment is far from perfect. So how can we ensure that we at least assess children’s writing in a humane way?
We undertake it in a low-stakes way where children are simply allowed to write through the writing process organically; at their own pace – producing a variety of pieces independently for pleasure.
The popular alternative currently employed in schools is the giving out of a writing stimulus where children are then given limited time and a high-stakes pressured environment in which to complete it. I know, as an adult, which way I’d rather be asked to write.
We are not advocating that every piece is assessed formally, but it is comforting to know as a teacher, that I have a whole raft of varied and interesting writing from which I can find evidence of good independent writing being undertaken.
This piece originally appeared on the Literacy For Pleasure blog, which is written by the series creators of Power English: Writing, Ross Young and Phil Ferguson.
Power English: Writing is a new, dynamic and evidence-based writing approach which is genre-focused and encourages children to write for pleasure.