The process of writing
Children learn to write through the process of writing. The skill of formalising thoughts on paper needs to be learned. A child cannot normally be expected to produce a finished piece of writing in a single attempt. That first attempt will usually be incomplete and he/she should be given the chance to improve it and to add to it. The child may feel it necessary to make one or more other drafts to get the piece to a 'presentable' state.
This, in summary, is the basis of the approach to writing contained in the English curriculum. This approach concentrates on the detail of the writing process itself in order to develop the child's expressive and communicative abilities. It incorporates a number of significant principles:
- The process of writing is as important as the product because, it is through consistent practice in using that process that children learn to write.
- Children will write for different audiences, on a wide range of topics, and in a variety of genres.
- Children will have a significant amount of control over the subject of their writing and the audience for which it is written.
- Children will have a consistent experience of drafting, editing and redrafting a piece of writing.
- The teacher will act as mentor and guide in this process of drafting, editing and redrafting, helping children to develop expressive abilities and accuracy.
- Through this interactive process children will gradually develop the ability to self-correct their writing and so become independent writers.
The guidance of the teacher
The teacher's guidance is, of course, essential in helping the child to
- choose topics
- choose the genre in which to write
- improve the quality of expression
- elaborate on what he/she says
- add new ideas
- use the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling
- achieve an acceptable level of overall presentation.
Valuing children's writing
Because writing is not a natural form of self-expression for children they need considerable encouragement in order to enhance their confidence in using it as a means of communication. This can be best accomplished through having their writing praised, receiving constructive criticism and seeing their efforts valued. There will be a considerable disparity in the levels of writing competence that different children achieve. The teacher's approach to individual children's writing should always be positive. In assisting them with their writing and in helping them to improve it the teacher should always begin by highlighting the merits of what is there as a basis for suggesting improvements. This gives the children confidence and at the same time stimulates them to want to improve a piece of writing.
Children's writing can be valued in a number of ways, including
- having it read aloud
- seeing it displayed
- having it included in the library corner or classroom library
- taking it home and reading it to parents.
One of the most effective ways of stimulating children to write and of helping them to improve their writing is to ensure that they feel that it is very much their own. This can be achieved if they are allowed a significant amount of discretion in the choice of topics for their writing, the purposes for which they write, the audience for which it is intended and the form of expression they give it.
In infant classes the definition of children's writing will be broad enough to include any graphic representation the child attempts -- lines, scribbles, drawings, etc. -- and the distinction between this and art activity will be very blurred.
Gradually, however, the child's ability to use letters and words will evolve. This can be stimulated and developed through
- the experience of a rich print environment in a classroom that is characterised by the use of words and phrases as labels or signs that are changed regularly
- the teacher acting as scribe and modelling writing for the children
- copying letters and words from the blackboard and the environment
- learning to write his/her name.
However, even when children have begun to write words they will still often use them merely as a comment or a caption on a picture, since it will be some time before their command of the writing medium is adequate to express all that they have to say on a particular topic.
The teacher should not be concerned if a child seems reluctant to be weaned from pictures. Pictorial expression may still be a necessary form of expression for some children even after the junior classes.
The formation of letters will form part of the child's writing development. The teaching of letter formations will be done as one of a number of activities that a child must practice in order to begin writing. The bulk of the time, however, ought to be devoted to expression and communication.
The approach to writing contained in the curriculum, highlighting the child's freedom of choice in dealing with a variety of topics, audiences and genres, presupposes flexibility in the materials and formats in which writing is recorded. Although copybooks will have a function, the use of separate sheets that can be stored in individual folders is more amenable to the methodology and aims of the writing programme.
Fostering the process of writing
Selecting topics for writing
The range of topics the child writes about should be broad and he/she should have a significant degree of autonomy in choosing them. This can mean that, although all the children in the class may be using the same genre (a letter, a story, a poem etc.), each child will choose the particular topic for his/her piece.
The topics on which children write should arise from the reality of their lives or imagined experiences and should reflect their concerns and interests.
Children should be encouraged to list topics that they would like to write about. They may draw on experiences both in and out of school and on areas such as hobbies, friends, parties, trips, television programmes and children's literature. Sources of topics for children's writing might include
- personal concerns
- everyday experiences
- life at home and in school
- social needs, e.g. a letter, a note
- personal reading
- topics arising from other areas of the curriculum
Early writing includes any graphic representation the children make to express themselves.
The prescription of topics that do not relate directly to children's experience should be avoided. In senior classes children will sometimes be expected to write on prescribed topics without redrafting but the success with which they do this will depend on their development as independent writers. This is a measure of writing competence rather than a strategy for learning to write.
Occasionally, some children will have difficulty in choosing a topic or in advancing a piece of writing that they have already started. The following strategies may be helpful in these situations:
- Brainstorming: a group of children offer ideas or suggestions. At first every idea is written down without comment. When every child has had a turn different children may elaborate on their own ideas, offer comments, or ask questions about other children's ideas.
- Webbing: children may test out ideas by using a "web" or "map" to jot down their thoughts about a particular topic and make connections in relation to ideas on the map. This may help them to clarify their thinking or, perhaps, to discard an idea,realising it was not what they wanted.
- Research: children can often obtain information through research and investigation. This may involve interviewing people or using reference material. Such research lends authenticity to their writing.
The importance of oral work
Although the stimuli for children's writing will have many sources, assignments in writing should generally be preceded by extensive oral language activity on the topic or topics in question. This may take place in wholeclass, group, teacher-pupil or pupilpupil contexts. The particular topic, the occasion from which it arose and the genre being used can all have a bearing on the particular organisational approach chosen.
Oral discussion can explore
- various facets of a topic
- why the topic is chosen
- the language that might be used -- words, phrases, expressions peculiar to the topic
- the type of format required by the genre in which the piece is to be written.
Audience and purpose
As well as choosing topics that are 'real' to them children should be encouraged to write for a real audience and a real purpose. This will help to define the form and style of the writing and provide it with a raison d'être.
Very often the audience and the purpose of a piece of writing will be dictated by the topic or the genre in which it is written, for example a diary entry or a letter, but even where this is not the case children should always be encouraged to approach any piece of writing with a particular reader or audience in mind. Likewise, in the preparation of a piece of writing it is important that the teacher establish a sense of purpose for the writing: for example, he/she might say 'we're going to write about how cold it is today so that we can read it and remind ourselves about it when the summer comes'.
It is important that the range of the audience for children's writing expands as they mature. At first they will write mainly for themselves, for the teacher and for their parents, but later the audience for their writing will include other adults, other children, relations, pen pals, institutions, firms, etc.
Registers of language
In becoming independent writers children will, among other things, learn to use language in ways that are appropriate to different audiences and to different genres. In junior classes children's writing may be no more than written speech but, gradually, they need to become aware of the differences between oral and written language. This is not to say that children's written language should be formal or stilted in any way; rather they should come to recognise that different registers of language are needed for different purposes and audiences. For example the register of language required for a greeting on a birthday card would be quite distinct from what would be usedin a letter to a firm seeking information for a project, and different again from the language appropriate in an adventure story. The range of their reading experience will have a great bearing on this. Through the approach to reading the teacher can help to make children aware of the appropriateness of different registers of language.
The genres in which children write will also vary. As with the audience, the range of this will expand as children grow older.
This is important in a number of ways:
- Different purposes and audiences require different genres -- a story, a recipe, a telephone message, a poem, a letter.
- Children's writing should reflect the real purposes of written expression.
- If writing ability is to be developed properly children need to have the experience of using language in different ways.
The more obvious genres they should experience are
- writing in other curriculum areas
- records of learning
- reactions to reading
- complete books.
An important aspect of the teacher's role is planning the appropriate contexts that will encourage children to select and explore their own experiences through using a variety of genres.
Drafting, editing, redrafting
Drafting, editing and redrafting lies at the heart of the approach to writing contained in the curriculum. It can
- reinforce children's ownership of their writing
- help to develop their expressive and communicative abilities
- help children improve their writing skills through self-correction
- give them responsibility for their own writing efforts
- provide the means through which they can come to control the conventions of grammar, punctuation and spelling
- lead them to become independent writers.
Writing the first draft
When writing the first draft children should be encouraged to write as much as possible and not to discard any ideas. They should be reassured, at this point, that the most important thing is to get their ideas down on paper. Presentation, spelling and handwriting will be attended to later. In this way children realise that what they have to say is valued and that the primary function of writing is to communicate.
Discussion between the teacher and child
After a child has made a first draft a process of discussion or 'conferencing' between teacher and child can follow.
- give the child the opportunity to ask questions and seek advice
- give him/her the opportunity to talk over ideas with the teacher
- give the teacher the opportunity to prompt the child to a more detailed,
expressive use of language, for example:
Could you write that sentence in another way?
Can you tell me more about the bird?
I wonder how Sam felt when he got lost in the shop?
Perhaps you could write more about that.
A child may also read his/her writing to a friend or become part of a small group that provides feedback to each other. It is important to structure the work of the groups so that children get positive comment as well as suggestions for improving their writing. Children could for example, be asked to find one thing that they liked about someone's writing and to make one suggestion for improving the writing. At this stage children should keep their writing in a folder and add to it on a daily basis. The folder would become a portfolio of their written work.
Armed with the suggestions from the conference with the teacher and the feedback from other pupils the writer can then return to the first draft and proceed to polish it by
- adding to it
- deleting from it
- reordering it
- rewording parts of it.
The amount of revision will depend on the age and sophistication of the writer.
The revision of the writing should produce a fuller, better-expressed and more accurate version. A further conferencing session can then take place. It is at this point that the child should be led towards a consideration of the level of presentation the writing might require. This would involve questions of grammar, punctuation, spelling, handwriting and general neatness. A final draft of the writing could then be prepared.
Children will learn about these conventions in the context of their own writing and come to realise that if the conventions are not attended to the clarity of the passage can be affected. The teacher can take note of particular conventions that need attention and schedule mini-lessons with the whole class, or with particular children who demonstrated a need or a readiness for a particular skill.
|Drafting, editing, revising and publishing -- stages in the writing process|
It is important that, throughout the process, the child will be led to selfcorrect his/her work as far as is possible. He/she can attain more and more facility in this respect through a consistent experience of conferencing with the teacher and redrafting writing. There should also be variety in the ways in which the writing is discussed.
Although conferencing between pupil and teacher will have a consistently central role to play, opportunities should be given to groups and pairs of children to discuss each other's work and to offer advice.
It is essential, however, that if criticism is offered it should be constructive. The way the teacher models the conferencing process can do much to lead children to a helpful and affirmative attitude towards each other's work.
The final version of a piece of writing should be in the child's best handwriting or it may be typed. It may be put in a book of the child's own writing or form part of a class book of writing to which each child contributes. At this stage children may wish to illustrate their writing. This can be done using a variety of media or using painting and drawing software on a computer. Presenting the final, polished, perhaps illustrated version of children's writing may be called 'publishing'.
It is important that children see their writing displayed on the classroom wall or in a public area outside the classroom. It may also be added to the classroom library. Children may share their writing with each other through reading it aloud or through silent reading. They may share it with other classes also. The sharing of writing enhances children's feelings of success and accomplishment and will inspire and motivate them to further writing.
Grammar and punctuation
The curriculum is specific about the knowledge and the command children should have of grammar. It is not intended that this should be taught formally or that it should be approached out of context. However, it is important that, by the end of the senior classes, children are able to recognise and name the principal parts of speech and their more common properties, and to be aware of their functions.
The ability to use the parts of speech accurately and to observe the conventions of grammar can be developed in the context of children's general language development. In particular, the process of writing, editing and redrafting gives the teacher ample opportunities to guide pupils towards an appreciation of the functions of the parts of speech and a control of the conventions of grammar and punctuation.
A multi-dimensional approach
Control of the conventions of spelling can be achieved progressively through a multi-dimensional approach. This should be planned at school level and be used consistently in each class.
It would include
- accepting approximate spelling
- linking spelling with the development of phonological and phonemic awareness
- linking it with 'onset and rime'
- building up a bank of commonly used words
- having a rich experience of environmental print
- compiling personal dictionaries
- using dictionaries and thesauruses
- using strategies such as predict, look, say, cover, write, check
- becoming familiar with common spelling rules.
Developmental stages in mastering spelling
When children attempt to master the complexities of English spelling they go through a number of overlapping developmental stages:
- using sound-letter relationships
- using pattern
- using meaning.
Many children move through this developmental process without difficulty and arrive at correct spelling through trial and error. The use of approximate spelling allows children to self-correct their attempts as they move through the different stages but direct instruction can be of benefit to those who fail to spell accurately, particularly children who find it difficult to develop literacy.
Direct instruction in spelling should be undertaken in the context of reading and writing and should be guided by information derived from the children's approximate spelling.
Children who are beginning to show some sound-letter knowledge in their reading can be taught to reproduce correctly the features of words that have a one-to-one correspondence to sounds.
Word study involving picture sorting, word sorting and word hunting is particularly effective.
In picture sorting activity the children categorise words according to rhyming word families, starting with short vowel sounds:
At the word sorting stage children sort written words according to short vowel rimes:
Word hunting requires children to list words from their reading according to short vowel rimes.
At the second stage when children are beginning to use vowel patterns such as 'ee' or 'ai' the same activities can be used with words containing long vowel rimes and rimes with silent letters:
At the 'meaning' stage of the developmental process children are beginning to use their knowledge of particular characteristics in the spelling of nouns, verbs and adjectives, for example, in their spelling of polysyllabic words. Word study at this stage focuses on roots and prefixes and on examining words according to parts of speech:
-or -author - conductor - sculptor
-ate -educate - decorate - separate
-al - topical - dental - musical
Teaching spelling strategies
Progress in spelling takes place when children experience a consistent and systematic approach to its teaching. They need to master strategies for learning new words which ensure that they don't rely totally on spelling out words letter by letter. Their attention needs to be directed to the whole word with the intention of reproducing it.
Predict - say - look - cover - write - check .
One useful strategy for learning spelling is to follow the process
Predict - say - look - cover - write - check .
Children's attempts at spelling should be mainly in written form. When they are engaged in a piece of writing, for example, they will be attempting to spell words. They should predict what the spelling might be and then say the word as they write their attempt. The teacher's input in this strategy will come at the conferencing stage. In discussing the writing the teacher will correct or normalise a misspelling.
When rewriting, the child will follow the process of
- looking at the correct spelling of a misspelt word
- covering it or turning it face down
- writing it
- checking to see if the last attempt is right.
These last four steps, look, cover, write and check, are also used when the child is learning spellings. He/she will look at a word, cover it and visualise it, write it and check if the attempt is correct.
By the time children reach the senior classes they should have begun to master the common spelling rules. English is noted for the irregularity of its spelling in relation to its pronunciation, and this is one of the reasons some children find it so difficult to gain a control of conventional spelling. There are, however, some spelling rules that can be learned, for example:
- delete 'e' at the end of a word before adding 'ing'
- most plurals are formed by adding 's'
- 'q' is always followed by 'u'.
During the writing process the teacher should constantly refer to these and other spelling rules and the child's attention can be drawn to any exceptions that may arise.
EXEMPLAR 7 - Mini lessons in writing