An interesting question from a child in school today made me reflect and write this post. I’m not sure if it was interesting or scary. The question was, ‘Why do we have to do this again?‘ This was in response to the prompt to write a draft for a persuasive narrative. The topic that they had been working on for about 2 weeks now was, ‘Should animals be kept in zoo’s?’ They could be for or against it.
I was there supporting one of our teachers for the lesson, so, although I had not planned the unit or the writing process, I had to defend it! We decided to take a learning walk and my first question to the students was, ‘What if I asked you to write a persuasive letter about the need for zoo’s to exist?’ ‘What would happen?’ There was silence and that affirmed my belief that they didn’t know why they had been doing all that writing!
I invited one of the children to show the class the jotter and look back at the first writing activity they had undertaken on persuasion two weeks ago – it was a writing frame with the three parts stated clearly.
- Main body with three arguments
The topic was the same as that shared above (zoo’s).
The next activity in the jotter was of elaboration. Step by step, children had to elaborate on the three arguments, stating reasons and supporting those with valid points. This was done over a week, it seems.
The following (this week) was a focus on the opening or introduction and closing or conclusion.
While we were looking at all these, we also touched upon the fact that in lower classes the expectations would be simpler and the steps in the process fewer. The process had obviously helped clarify the steps but then what was missing? Why did some children question the need to write a draft?
Finally, I showed them the blank sheet, in which they were expected to write their draft and asked them why they think they went through the parts? Their response was to make the whole! They got it!
But I learned something in the process.
Do we explicitly walk children through the process?
Do we ensure that they understand why they do things the way they do?
Do they know why focusing on the parts is essential to completing the whole?
Do they understand the purpose of writing?
After this short but significant explanation, the children seemed more convinced. The discussion then became more meaningful and moved towards the use of written feedback and it’s purpose in the framing of the first draft. One child, clearly upset about having to rewrite his ideas, responded by saying “I don’t like English”. Oops!
Another, who is a reluctant writer, chose to do nothing and sat twiddling his thumbs. Most of them even the one who said he disliked English ended up finishing his introduction and his 1st argument within the next 10 mins.
Coming to the reluctant writer. He was given the same empty sheet of paper as everyone else. We decided that, obviously, the task seemed daunting to him. He was not going to initiate all that writing. There was not enough matter in his jotter anyway. We quickly changed the layout of the sheet for him and gave him writing prompts and a one – on- one chat with clear expectations and a positive word or two, got him started. He too, finished the introduction (although shorter) and the 1st argument. A little improvisation goes a long way!
As far as I’m aware, the children will be completing their drafts next week, self editing and then publishing it using technology.
- the lengthy process (we’re looking at at least 3 weeks on one topic),
- repetition, as they are all writing about the same topic so, their narratives are going to be more or less the same.
Luckily, for me, I’ve also been working closely with another class on persuasive texts, a younger class. Their overview comprised three phases.
Phase 1 – An exposure to a range of persuasive stories, paired role playing of instances where persuasion is used in everyday life (mum and child, dad and child, student and teacher), shared writing of persuasive reasons for a topic of personal significance e.g. wanting a free choice lesson in a week.
The next phase included, persuading someone in leadership what they believe, by sharing the reasons they wrote as a class. Then they had to write three reasons for a topic of choice (out of the ones pre-selected by the teacher). Just the fact that they had choice, they took more interest!
Finally, after careful modelling and shared writing of a persuasive letter, the audience was identified, rubric for criteria created and children were able to write their own letters. The process was finished in three weeks and their writing is now on display. I think the fact that they had choice and there was en element of novelty and newness throughout the cycle, the variety and quality of work was high.
My take away about the writing process:
- Keep it short and achievable to ensure that boredom or repetition does not set in. When something carries on for too long, interest is lost.
- Give choice – provide a range of interesting topics. Every child does not have to write about the same topic.
- Explain the process at the beginning. Better still – create a timeline and refer to it regularly. Don’t slavishly follow the writing process visual below, the process is fluid.
- Provide writing-frames to those who need them.
- Ensure the process includes opportunities for shared writing, joined or paired work, scaffolded writing and then independent writing.
- Include talk for writing
- Writing should be for a purpose and must be meaningful
- Identify the audience for the writing – it will automatically lend more meaning!
- Share the success criteria / rubric before the writing activity.
- Pre-decide whether the writing activity needs to be published or not.
- Keep feedback simple. Too much corrective feedback is not strong feedback.
- Refer to anchor charts to support simple procedural writing.
- Teach writing as a process not product.
Please feel free to share other such essential pointers that have helped your learners during the writing process.