updated Sept 2011
As a result of the ongoing NATE/ UEA/ Buckinghamshire project, ‘Teachers as Writers’ (TAW), the following advice will help schools wishing to develop their writing practices. 1. Teachers should write with and for their children. Teachers should sometimes respond to the same writing tasks they set the children, sharing their work openly with the children, explaining where they found difficulties and what choices they made in their writing. They should practise the whole writing process from early jotting, free writing (without plans), thinking aloud about content purpose and audience, reading into writing, planning, drafting, response partnership, editing, proof-reading, presenting and reflecting. They should be prepared to share some or all of this process with their children when ready. Children enjoy and respect this. 2. Teachers should allow children the experience of keeping writing journals. This puts ‘expressive’ writing and personal meaning-making at the heart of writing and allows children to develop their own thoughts and their own ‘voices’. Journals nurture trust (journals would be supervised but not marked, and responses would be given only when sought). Journals also lead to greater fluency. The experience of keeping a journal gives children greater confidence to reach out later to specific audiences for particular purposes in different kinds of ‘transactional’ writing. The following research and reflections from the TAW group provide further detail. Lynda Graham: ‘Organising Writing journal Sessions’ in ‘Children’s Writing journals’, 2003 Graham describes how to establish guidelines and sustain writing journals with Primary children, encouraging both personalisation and responsibility. This requires a trusting classroom relationship in which all are given the opportunity to behave freely as writers. The teacher needs to ensure that all are included and to respect different ways of working in journal-time: drawing/illustrating, teacher-scribing, discussing, sharing, collaborating, cutting and sticking, re-reading – as well as writing. These sessions provide valuable time to observe the children as writers as well as to: • •
Be ready to respond to invitations to listen (non-judgementally) Arrange sharing times, reading aloud and responding at the end of sessions
Establish and maintain the sense of a writing community Allow freedom of choice about what to write, where and how (eg lists, scripts, cutting up magazines, devising and participating in surveys and questionnaires) Time to continue, to rework pieces at their own pace, or to abandon them To revisit and choose their favourite journal entry at the end of each term/year
The main benefit of working with journals is that pupils write better when they have developed the habit of writing about their own concerns and interests. In Reception classes pupils may use journalling time for telling and re-telling stories, and so begin to tune into the rhythms of written language. In year 1, pupils’ writing is helped by following their own interests, being ‘held’ in picture form and added to by speech-bubble and caption. In later years journals allow pupils to develop self-confidence by reflecting on their friendships. When their own culture, ‘crazes’ and common interests are shared and explored with a trusted audience (Bernstein 1970: “ the culture of the child must be in the consciousness of the teacher”), writing becomes ‘a tool for social learning’ (Dyson 1997). Children’s budding personalities will not grow if they write only what the teacher thinks (Vygotsky 1978). Buckinghamshire postscript Teachers have given children small notebooks and set up regular writing opportunities, negotiating use of journal time and content. 10-20 minutes daily or 3 times a week, may be enough to get children into the habit of recording reflections, but 20 minutes weekly can also be useful to start or end a week with ‘thinking time’. Some people have found it useful to tell or read a story and then ask pupils to respond privately in their journals, before and after discussion. Others have suggested writing ideas, quizzes and adverts. But many have found that the greatest benefit of the journal is that pupils can write exactly what they want – and get into the habit of doing so regularly. This enables them privately to confront their own meanings through writing; it develops their own voice and identity, giving them confidence to reach out to a wider audience when they are ready. Experimentation will soon tell teachers what works best for their groups. Journals can be quite like scrap books with the content personalised and ‘owned’ by the children. Equally it is good to allow quiet collaboration from time to time in journal sessions. Many have found that the principle of privacy is important, but that, after a few weeks, children may be asked to select one piece of ‘raw material’ from their journal to work up - over a day or so - into a piece of writing which they are happy to share more publicly. Simon Wrigley
JOURNALS – further testimony of their effects Writing and mental wellbeing by a teacher from Buckinghamshire’s ‘Teachers as Writers’ project: June 2011 During this academic year I have had two children in my class, both boys, for whom the writing journal its freedom, its privacy and sometimes its associated activities has been a refuge and a balm. I don’t feel I can take any credit for this situation, as it has been unplanned and unexpected, except I suppose I did give them access to the journals. Child number 1, whom I shall call James, arrived in my class, intelligent but underachieving with a reputation for bad behaviour and also with a severe anger management problem that had resulted in outside agencies being brought in. Quite soon in the autumn term it became evident that James was using his journal, in his words ‘to swallow his anger’. One of the clearest evocations of this is this short poem: The words hit the page Better than me hitting the boy. The letters scratch and pinch His face stays unbloodied. The swear words splatter in ink, Nobody hears them shout. The anger pours out of me And I can slam the book shut. James frequently chose to take his journal home and his mother reported that he began to run up the stairs and shut himself in his room (admittedly slamming the door first!) and take out his frustration and anger on the journal rather than on his brother or sister. Occasionally when he was in the right frame of mind he would share his journal with me and somewhat shamefacedly would show me pages of fierce scribble where he had been too cross to write. However, it seemed to be fulfilling a need and a useful purpose. Later in the spring term, by which time he had provided himself with a larger and posher writing book than school could afford to provide, he had become adept at turning any writing exercise I provided to his own means. Hence the anger again flows in a Kenneth Koch scaffold: ‘I used to ... but now …’ I used to spit and scream,
But now my anger comes out through my pen. I used to hear my heart thumping in my brain, But now I turn and breathe out my crossness. I used to hit and kick at nothing, But now I hope things will get better. I used to see things in red and black, But now life is sometimes bright and yellow. I am under no illusion that this is some sort of magic panacea for all ills in the classroom but it has been of therapeutic use in this particular case. As well as finding an enjoyment in expressing himself through writing, this child now makes better eye contact, uses more positive body language, will smile and say good morning and I suspect has an overall more positive attitude to life. Child number 2, let’s call him Jordan, was totally different. Very poor basic skills, still couldn’t write meaningfully or indeed legibly at age 10 and with his selfesteem at rock bottom. Why should I bother to try, his whole demeanour seemed to say. Jordan had large amounts of one to one and small group help and he frequently objected to this, sometimes quite noisily. It took Jordan some considerable time to get the hang of the writing journal. He couldn’t believe it wasn’t going to be marked and so tested the theory by filling a page with swear words, incorrectly spelt of course. Inevitably a child on his table told on him! However, gradually his behaviour changed at free writing times and he actually wanted me to look at what he’d produced, usually he had to decipher it for me. I am not about to tell you this child is now a level 4 writer, but his mental wellbeing has definitely improved. He will choose to write during a wet break time, he will sometimes choose to share when offered the opportunity and, most significantly, his attitude and behaviour when being helped has improved enormously. He wants his handwriting to be better so others can read his writing and he wants to build up his skills so that, in his words, his sentences ‘can be good’. What pleases me most is that he seems to feel a little better about himself and that can only be good for his learning. Writing as therapy, in practice.