This month’s chat was based on Dr Murray Gadd’s paper, What does an Effective Teacher of Writing Do that Makes a Difference to Student Achievement?

BIG thanks for your contributions: @one_to_read @sam_creighton @lit4pleasure @ImposSynteacher @TobiasHayden @smerchant13 @lynseyhunter @jonnywalker_edu @WinterImagines @aschoenborn @MrMJLane @Marcelavb3

We’re grateful to Dr @MurrayGadd for writing this month’s questions and helping us reflect on our understanding of his identified dimensions of effective practice and how they might influence our teaching.

Question 1

  • I think what may be more critical is practical definition of some of them…what does ‘direct instruction’ LOOK like – cause to me it isn’t putting up a model and teaching for 30+ adapted copies.
  • Might be nice to ask @MurrayGadd what direct instruction means in his view…
  • Well he’s put ‘questioning’ etc. Looking at how a writer has done something (in a published text) and questioning it needs a teacher to help (in the early stages). I could look at Pullman/Aiken/Reeve and pose ‘How/Why did they do that?’ To me that’s a part of direct instruction..
  • I mean these texts themselves are ‘instructors’! It’s where it becomes superficial and where text is used simply to regurgitate what Pullman/Aiken/Reeve have *already* done – not much thinking about why or how they did it.
  • 100% agree with this.
  • Yes, this is crucial!
  • My feeling is that direct instruction in the processes and craft of writing and being a writer is one the most overlooked aspects of effective writing practice. Too often you simply don’t see writing being taught in writing lessons.
  • I think there is a leaning toward ‘procedural instruction’; instruction that is specific to completing that particular part of a writing task. However this kind of instruction isn’t often taught in a way that it is transferable or encourages self-regulation.
  • I think it is a key problem that writing teaching is often based around getting kids to write what the teachers want rather than facilitating and supporting children to express themselves truthfully through writing.
  • Or the idea of being a writer.
  • I agree but I think the teaching of self-regulation is even more lacking in many writing lessons atm sadly. Teachers are teaching students how to ‘do’ a certain piece of writing but aren’t helping them to develop as independent and confident writers.
  • Not really because isn’t it part of direct instruction? Learning how to be a writer by how other writers have achieved their aims. Too often nowadays the links between reading and writing are fatuous and superficial. Connecting the writER and the readER is neither.
  • I don’t think it necessarily comes as part of direct instruction (although it should). I think a lot of writing teaching sadly relies on a single teacher model or out of context sentences showing the ‘thing’ teachers want kids to write.
  • And if the teacher has decided what the children are going to write, where on Earth is the Self Regulation in that?!
  • Writing is one of the last areas where lots of teaching is still task-based rather than learning/development-based
  • Not really because isn’t it part of direct instruction? Learning how to be a writer by how other writers have achieved their aims. Too often nowadays the links between reading and writing are fatuous and superficial. Connecting the writER and the readER is neither.
  • I don’t think it necessarily comes as part of direct instruction (although it should). I think a lot of writing teaching sadly relies on a single teacher model or out of context sentences showing the ‘thing’ teachers want kids to write.
  • And if the teacher has decided what the children are going to write, where on Earth is the Self Regulation in that?!
  • Writing is one of the last areas where lots of teaching is still task-based rather than learning/development-based.
  • I’m not surprised, as you say it’s implied within a number of dimensions. However, I think that when viewed through the lens of a book-based approach to the primary English curriculum it’s notably absent.
  • But hasn’t ‘book-based’ teaching become rather superficial?
  • I’m no longer a fan of simply writing something which is a bolt-on to what an author has already written e.g. character descriptions of characters that already exist.
  • I agree and whilst there’s an argument that this is a valuable reading comprehension exercise, I think that this objective is met much more powerfully through Book Talk.
  • That’s a reading activity more than any kind of writing. But there’s other stuff too that gets shoehorned into genre: a balanced argument why Edmund should/should not have betrayed Aslan…etc .etc. The question is ‘Why are you writing this? Why? ‘
  • I hear you.
  • Basically, longer versions of the above that tick the genre coverage boxes.
  • Writing should always be about the what and the why and this should come from the writer, informing their writerly choices. Otherwise, they’re not really writing.
  • We are most definitely on the same page, Nicola!
  • That’s a very good point. In my experience, there is such a link between the two, readers are more confident and competent writers and writers are more insightful readers
  • I generally find that even if my best readers are not my best writers they tend to write more grammatically complex sentences and use more effective vocabulary.
  • I love the way the dimensions are woven together, like @lit4pleasure’s Writing for Pleasure Manifesto. Personally, I believe that self-regulation is a key consideration when supporting writers throughout the writing process.
  • Yes, it’s interesting how none of these 8 on their own would be much use. But we were talking today in INSET about self-regulation being the most effective in learning. ‘I am a writer, I know what I want to do, I know ways in which I can achieve that goal…’
  • It’s at the heart of their distinction between teaching writing and creating writers. The shift from the former to the latter is hard for many teachers/schools but is vital to creating a real Writing for Pleasure culture
  • ‘…for and with…’ are some splendidly simple words to express what should be at the heart of any writing classroom: a culture of collaboration and real community. Quality stuff Murray. This is what the research told you, yet other approaches dominate. Why?
  • This is a really interesting question
  • There’s nothing on the list I’m surprised by. They all match with what I know from experience/have read in research. In terms of omissions, perhaps the creation of a culture that encourages experimentation with ideas and techniques. Also, a culture of sharing
  • Pretty conclusive I’d say lol

Question 2

  • ‘learning tasks’ = one of the most misunderstood principles of effective writing teaching. One of the least observed principles in my own research. Real issue to address if we want to pursue world-class writing teaching. IMO.
  • How misunderstood, Ross
  • Relates to this
  • Those books the Year 6s made at the end of last year were absolute pinnacles (so far!) of the ‘worthwhile fruit of labour’ – they so wanted to do them and attitudes to writing were even further transformed.
  • https://writing4pleasure.com/thats-my-book/
  • Cheers Ross! Even more so last term with a new book they wrote: The book of memories. Those bits of writing were some of the best children have done than I’ve ever seen!
  • I smell an Example of Practice …
  • I need to get some of those books BACK!
  • Phew! That needed some careful thinking on the eve of going back to school!! Answer: Yes – it’s the ‘What am I doing this for? How am I doing it? What do I know that can help me do this?’ A really important triangulation.
  • These are exactly the 3 I would pick. The writing opportunities need to be well-planned, the writerly behaviours & focus techniques need to be well taught & then children need to be supported as independent writers rather than just scribes of class/teacher ideas
  • I also thought that there is an association with expectation and vision – but I am pondering whether I mean the adult and the child in my situation. Or both. I also thought that there is an association with expectation and vision – but I am pondering whether I mean the adult and the child in my situation. Or both.
  • Great questions here… I suspect both but let’s ask @MurrayGadd
  • I would add to that the correlation between the expectation of the teacher and what the child understands that expectation to be. My brain is fizzing now!!!
  • Agree! Needs to be done as a whole class & not done by the teacher in their planning time at a cool distance from their class.
    • Distant goal for the project discussed together.
    • Product goals for the project discussed together.
    • Writing deadlines discussed together.
  • And this also comes back to self regulation and empowerment to choose in writing and I think it’s the biggest, hardest but most important shift from current approaches to writing teaching. Giving children the space and support to write about what actually catches their passion.
  • And our part in teaching is to help cultivate the garden of those kids’ lives to enable them to identify the uniqueness and vital importance their lives have to their writing.
  • Help them find what they want to express and teach them how to express it effectively in their own voice.

Question 3

  • YES! YES! YES! The key to it all as @DouglasKKaufman very much helped me to see is to LISTEN; learn to listen so all of @MurrayGadd‘s sentence there actually happens in a symbiosis of teacher and learner. (Note I don’t specify adult or child!)
  • Love that teacher-learner groove. I’ve learned a lot from my army of little teachers. So true what @lit4pleasure say: you may not be the best writer in your class, just the most experienced. Leave your vanity and your presentational orientation at the door please.
  • I had a conference on my writing from a girl in my class two years ago. Won’t forget it. Best teaching I’ve ever seen.
  • Love this!
  • I learned more about my writing and its impact from her honesty and lack of pretension than anything I’ve had from a grown up teacher of mine. Shows who we need to give the steering wheel to more often, doesn’t it?!
  • It really does. I bet she got so much understanding from critically evaluating your work too. Plus, it must have been hugely powerful in culture/community building
  • I was actually really proud to see how she talked about the writing. We didn’t agree on everything, but she stuck to her guns and we just had this brilliant conversation where we both felt comfortable enough to agree/disagree with each others’ thinking. More please!
  • I’m going to say yes but add the caveat I am still very much learning & developing in this area of pedagogy, especially around meaningful purpose & self-regulation. It’s continually improving & I’m seeing very positive results from this. It’s a whole school journey
  • From how you talk, you’re *well* on the way in my view Sam!
  • Moving towards responsive teaching can unlock this for so many teachers.
  • @lrwhaxby is doing some really great work around this at the moment. Get that self-efficacy and self-regulation up.
  • There always has to be a purpose but I find sometimes ticking boxes can mean the purpose loses importance or focus.
  • Get your distant goal established first and then the tick boxes will take care of themselves. Speak to @TobiasHayden and @one_to_read about this – they are experts at this.
  • Those tick boxes are often strangulators. (PS that’s a new word btw but I like it!)
  • I’ll put that one on my new vocab board!!!
  • Yes – authentic and with freedom. This doesn’t mean ‘free for all’ at all. My role is to facilitate, which takes thought and consideration beforehand.
  • Exactly this! Giving children personal responsibility actually means a greater focus on organisation and management by the teacher than most. A ‘hippie free-for-all’ environment = disaster. Believe me I tried it!
  • So have I. Dreadful.
  • EYFS teachers know that this approach is hard work. I always admire them.
  • Sorry, interrupted. So explicit and direct elements in a meaningful writing experience that the child feels is real and has a point to it. One of my pupils said his writing had to ‘breathe for him.’ I like that.
  • I like that too. V. MUCH

Question 4

  • Love to hear what you’re most proud of from your writing teaching!
  • Often it’s seeing those kids, who *used* to sit there with a frozen pencil, a few weeks later burning holes in the paper with the intensity of their writing. Something’s worked I think.
  • I’m most proud of how much the kids in my class view themselves as writers and are keen to share their work. Plus, how they are confident enough to run with their own ideas and reflective enough to change things if needed.
  • When I hear the children’s voice in their writing. When they say they are writers and cheer because it’s writing time. When they help me and peers to see life from a different point of view. We learn from each other. When we smell the writing community we’ve created in the air!
  • Ah Marcela! This is beautiful in and of itself. If all children got the chance to experience this kind of community, we’d have pretty much hit the jackpot.
  • The children feeling that what they choose to write is important and worthy of time.
  • Yes, children will never become writers unless they are involved in writing tasks and activities that are meaningful and purposeful to them. They may learn to write but that is another matter.
  • The moments when students and I chat writer to writer. When I ask, “What are you trying to do with this piece?” and the conversation turns to a thoughtful reflection on their purpose and audience instead of a grade I know they see themselves as writers.
  • The focus on How (structure, presenting voice as a writer) rather than What (specific content to include).
  • Often it’s seeing those kids, who *used* to sit there with a frozen pencil, a few weeks later burning holes in the paper with the intensity of their writing. Something’s worked I think.
  • ‘Beliefs about literacy teaching’ and ‘personal disposition’ are massive barriers to effective/affective practice gaining a strong foothold. Resisting presentational / Iiterature orientations is like trying to turn the Titanic. Maybe we just need an iceberg.
  • Certainly need to think better about what we should use reading for!
  • Absolutely! Volitional reading into volitional writing; personal response; dabbling while you read; sparklines; writing like your hero etc. There are endless ways to use reading to generate writing ideas.
  • Some of the writing over the summer that I’ve done are burning needs to write about the book I’ve just read. Not a review as such but a crystallising of thinking. 100000x better than a book review book!!
  • Hi there! How do you see the connection between reading and writing linking to the eight areas you address in Q1. Great chat tonight – been really exciting!
  • Thanks Ben. Connections between reading and writing are so important and need to be made explicit to kids, eg. just as a reader infers by looking for and ‘solving’ clues in texts so a writer implies by placing clues in texts for readers to look for and ‘solve’.
  • I am grateful for the opportunity lockdown has given me to reflect on my practice and read lots of books for both adults and children. I would like to talk to my pupils even more and learn about what they would like to write and why they want to write it.
  • AMEN! Brilliant idea Sarah!
  • My sharing of books and authors with the children is the biggest influence on their writing. I need to model more and prepare by writing excerpts in advance. I’m a bit of on the hoof man .
  • Pleased to hear you say that you need to model more. One of the biggest learnings for me from my research has been the critical importance of active (as opposed to) receptive modelling. Do we write with our kids? Do they see us as writers?

It’s been brilliant to see Dr @MurrayGadd‘s paper and related questions fostering such deep reflections.

He has published a collection of excellent resources on his site: http://murraygadd.co.nz