Felicity Ferguson and Ross Young from the Writing for Pleasure Centre are experts when it comes to teaching writing.
Chapter One of their latest book, Writing for Pleasure: Theory, Research and Practice, is a neatly structured, meticulously researched summary of teachers’ ideologies and beliefs about or ‘orientations’ towards writing.
Each chapter in the book ends with a set of ‘questions worth asking yourself’. Big Thanks to writer-teacher extraordinaire Jonny Walker from Otherwise Education, who wrote his own honest and insightful responses to the questions in Chapter 1 before inviting others to do the same.
Reflection is an intrinsic part of how I operate as a teacher and learner. I first reflected on my language ‘autobiography’ when beginning a writing journal in my first year as an Undergraduate.
Then prior to establishing The Writing Web four years ago, I wrote this piece explaining how I formed my personal theory of writing teaching up to that point. I welcome this opportunity to reflect on where I am currently on my journey as a writer-teacher.
1) Did you enjoy learning to write? Why? Why not?
Yes and no. I left primary school in 1990, with few recollections of being taught to write. In Infants Three, we were bored to tears when Monday mornings meant writing out our achingly repetitive weekend news. Flicking through it now, it would appear my First Communion was the highlight of my year. It wasn’t though.
Upper Juniors meant creating independent projects like these:
It felt amazing to have the autonomy to create books I was proud of within a community characterised by unstructured collaboration and friendly competition. This type of self-directed learning was a defining characteristic of my primary education. I enjoyed researching the topics and publishing my findings in an attractive manner – I knew I printed beautifully and as an avid reader my spelling was generally accurate.
This reading habit also equipped me with a treasure chest of internalised plot structures and a wide range of vocabulary to draw on confidently as a writer when creating my own stories. When it came to non-fiction, however, I didn’t know where to start. So, I selected the best of examples from the library and copied paragraphs in felt tip. No one else knew this and if they did, they never said – how naïve was I?
English lessons at secondary school focused predominately on text analysis and again, there was little explicit writing teaching. I was ‘saved’ by a family friend who, on witnessing me struggling to organise my ideas for an essay, sat down and showed me how I might organise them before drafting. And then redrafting. It was a revelation.
2) Do you think you are a good writer now? Why? Why not?
I know I am a good writer-teacher but this identity as a writer is naturally bound up with my writing outcomes, which I find lacking in so many ways. However, as with most things in life, regular practice helps. Deadlines help. The writing communities I am a part of support me hugely and participating in them is impacting positively on my writing and identity as a writer-teacher.
Whilst I have loved every moment of this reflection, it’s still a tiny miracle that I’ve actually published it. You see, I have fallen in love with the process of writing and how it enhances my life. The act of writing helps me process and express so much of what is on my mind. When I read my writing post-publication, I am always blinded by the glaring areas for improvement and obvious typos laughing back at me.
3) How does your experience with writing affect your view of how writing should be taught?
I want children to:
- identify as writers.
- be able to express themselves in writing with skill, confidence, and enjoyment.
- experience being active members of a supportive writing community and learn that their words have power. They can persuade, they can explain, they can craft a snippet of dialogue that makes another person burst out laughing or a paragraph that makes them consider something they have never thought before.
- know that whilst the empty page can be daunting, it also presents an opportunity: a chance to reveal who they are, the ideas in their heads, their hopes, dreams, life experiences and practice the skills that they will require in the (immediate and longer-term) future.
- evaluate what makes their pieces of writing successful and how to improve them, developing greater autonomy as writers.
- use their developing writer’s knowledge to give and receive kind, honest and constructive feedback within their writing community.
- live the writer’s life and be authentic writing role models in their own homes and lives outside of school.
I wish this had been my experience.
My role is to facilitate these aims by:
- being an active member of the writing community.
- maintaining high expectation of what writers are capable of.
- committing to finding out who the children are as humans and building respectful relationships where we support one another in working hard.
- celebrating children’s writing with targeted praise focused on the content, purpose, and effect.
- explicitly modelling and teaching the children how to craft their writing to best express what they want to say.
4) Which teacher orientation would you have wanted to have been taught by most?
On reflection, reading chapter Chapter One of Writing for Pleasure: Theory, Research and Practice has helped me recognise that my school experience lurched from a largely naturalistic to a literature-based orientation. I think I was crying out for the structuralist or genre orientation. I just wanted to know what the writing could / should (?) look like and how I could write my own
Which orientation(s) do you feel best represent(s) your personal theory of writing teaching?
Phil and Ross, from The Writing for Pleasure Centre, introduced me to the work of the master: Donald Graves, the benefits of ‘living the writer’s life’ (Douglas Kaufman, 2009) and sharing learned insights about writer’s craft knowledge with my class through a contemporary writing workshop approach.
In additional to this, collaborating with experts in the field and inspiring writer-teachers to curate the monthly #WritingRocks chats has had a transformative effect on my professional identity and classroom practice.
So, it will be no surprise, for me to reveal that I have both feet firmly planted in the community orientation camp when it comes to my own personal theory of writing. I understand writing as ‘an act of identity’ (Roz Ivanič, 1998). It is not merely the act of acquiring skills and knowledge but is also a powerful transformative process of becoming, which additionally encompasses messages about the social function that language plays (Shirley Brice Heath, 1983).
Writing for Pleasure: Theory, Research and Practice is published by Routledge. It hits the sweet spot between theory and practice and is an utter pleasure to read.
- Brice Heath, S. (1983), Ways with Words: Language, Life and Work in Communities and Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Ivanič, R. (1998), Writing and Identity: The Discoursal Construction of Identity in Academic Writing (Studies in Written Language and Literacy), Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
- Kaufman, D. (2009), A Teacher Educator Writes and Shares: Student Perceptions of a Publicly Literate Life. Journal of Teacher Education, 60 (3), 338-350.