How schools teach writing
Writing is like an iceberg - there's more to it than meets the eye. On the surface we see how the writing looks (eg how words are spelled and the neatness of the handwriting). But what lies underneath is far more important: the planning of the writing, the words that are chosen and the types of sentences used.
These aspects are far harder to get to grips with but they are the elements that make a piece of writing worthwhile.
Gone are the days (hopefully) when a teacher would just give children a topic or title and expect them to write. The National Literacy Strategy has encouraged teachers to build in more support for children when they're writing. In fact, teachers now provide support even before the writing process begins.
They do this in various ways (eg through role play or by surrounding the children with examples of good writing). These could be picture books, stories or interesting information books, but this will vary depending on the type of writing the class is focusing on.
Good writers are thieves - they 'steal' words and phrases from their reading - so teachers want to introduce children to as many stories and other pieces of writing as they can.
Teachers of young children (age 4–6) will provide many opportunities to play and experiment with writing. This could be through 'role play' areas (eg a café, a post office, a travel agent's) or through areas linked to stories (eg Grandma's house, the giant's castle, the Three Bears' cottage). Here children are encouraged to develop their spoken language.
These learning experiences help to build their ideas, concepts and skills, which then support their writing development.
Older children also need plenty of opportunities to orally rehearse their ideas. Teachers aim to do this in several ways (eg drama activities, paired talk, storytelling etc).
Following the oral rehearsal, the teaching of writing then usually goes through several phases.
First the teacher may model or demonstrate some writing. This could be the opening of a story or part of an information text.
Again, this will depend on the teacher's writing focus. The teacher might model a few sentences, or for older children he/she might model one or two paragraphs. Different aspects of the writing process may be modelled.
- Planning a piece of writing
- Composing sentences and choosing words
- Using punctuation
Throughout this, the teacher will involve the children by asking them questions. They might also be asked to help with the composition of one or two sentences. This could be done out loud or the children might work in pairs and write their ideas on small whiteboards.
Once the teacher has modelled an example, the children will then work on their own pieces of writing, either individually or in pairs.
The teacher will then work with a group to support their writing. This is usually referred to as 'guided writing'. The teacher is there as 'a guide by their side' to support children in their thinking and composing.
In the initial stages the teacher may emphasise the importance of the composition of the writing and may not focus on the secretarial aspects (ie spelling and handwriting).
Depending on the age of the children, they might be asked to check their writing once it is completed to see if they can improve it. This might also involve checking for spelling errors and so on.
Sometimes teachers get children to work in pairs to check each other's work as it is easier to locate someone else's 'errors'. Once completed, the writing might be displayed in the classroom (eg on the walls, in a class book) to show it is valued.