We have to keep thinking about why we write
The writing that happens in K-6 classrooms ostensibly meet the guidelines of curriculum documents. Three types of texts, and that choice of structure, grammatical features and literary devices will be made on the basis of each type.
Writing is certainly being taught, but the results on national and international standardised tests continue to indicate worsening achievement levels for our students.
The political disquiet about this apparent decline is often couched in terms of a decline in students’ ability to write as measured by the standardised test results, or describing students’ writing skills as ‘going backwards’.
Are students not able to write? Can skills really ‘go backwards’?
The essay Where has the joy of writing gone and how can we get it back?, (Creely and Diamond 2018) drew my attention back into this discussion.
The popular noise continues to insist that teachers are not doing their job (again!). Reasons include the usual bagging of teachers, like
they are: not clever enough
not well enough qualified
using outdated methods
using new, untried methods
not using evidence-based teaching and learning strategies
using the wrong evidence-based teaching and learning strategies
not using the syllabus
focusing too much on syllabus content
not getting enough professional learning opportunities
are out of the classroom too much attending professional learning
having too many holidays
being too well-paid
too young/too old etc etc.
All the hoary old attacks on the teaching profession that are trotted out with monotonous regularity.
To which teachers are now responding by walking out the classroom door and not coming back.
This time the sky really does appear to be falling for our students and the teaching profession…
Teachers and parents are aware that our students are increasingly reluctant to write, and this adds to the general hysteria.
Constraints and controls put on teachers’ work and students’ writing have tied our teachers and our students to an activity that has little to do with expression, and everything to do with being able to tick inspectorial boxes.
It has been suggested that the data-gathering political imperatives of the tests and constant requirements for teacher accountability have in fact pushed the curriculum aside.
‘Has the test, in effect, replaced the curriculum?’ (Carter, 2017).
Carter continues, NAPLAN results are being perceived as measures of both teacher and school effectiveness.
How did the art of writing – the joy, the challenge, the wonder and miracle of the written word – become so formulaic and clinical that students no longer want to engage with this most basic way of expression? It’s not the ability of our students, or our teachers, nor is it that their writing skills are plummeting.
Reasons for writing
Currently, writing takes these general forms in the primary classroom:
- To tell a story
- To describe
- To persuade the reader to see things a certain way
- To explore current issues
- To inform
Not exactly gripping stuff.
Our students have major issues to address in their present and future worlds. They need to be able to express themselves as effectively as possible.
Here are some reasons to write that we can include in our classrooms:
- To unmask an injustice or cruelty
- To show a journey of change
- To describe a community or country’s way of life
- To show that life is absurd
- To explore deep truths
- To bring about change
- To connect with others
- To enjoy humour and be playful
- To imagine the future
- To process pain and bring healing
- To reveal a truth
- To show a relationship
- To piece clues together
- To leave a trace behind
- To show that life has meaning
Purposeful, heartfelt and real. This is gripping stuff. Not bland, not formulaic, not prescribed.
How could it be if we began with these intents and purposes? The joy of writing; writing being more than work for achieving an outcome. It’s identity work.
In the enjoyment of writing, student writers can find themselves and discover the power of language. Powerful literacy skills can be gained in this discovery, with lifelong implications.
Creely & Diamond (2018)
Repeat that. Identity work.
In our schools, teachers are being expected to ignore the ample evidence that supports calls for greater freedom and autonomy in the teaching of writing. They want the best for their students, and know that the current emphasis is not achieving anything like that.
Teachers need to have – to make – the freedom to be able to tap into their own students’ interests, to explore writing for the pleasure of it, to be able to respond to the immediacy of events and emotions through the creation of text.
It is when students’ own ideas are valued, and their writing is valued for its power, that they willingly demonstrate their ability to write, and their willingness to learn the skills of real writing.
The key to promoting the effective writing skills needed by students is to be found in making writing engaging, meaningful and pleasurable. Every opportunity should be taken to open up the possibilities of writing for students so they want to do it and see its relevance to their lives.
Creely & Diamond (2018)
We know that children have to learn to read and write to take their place in society’s work and play. Less certainly, we know too that children are deprived, emotionally and spiritually, if they don’t have the sheer pleasure of words sparking along their nervous systems as early in their lives as possible.
Sedgwick Introduction, p. xvii
- An interesting view on the entire purpose of education itself has been explored in Michael Anderson’s Why do we educate our children? Is why being lost in the how (all the testing and measurement) in Australia?
- Jacobs, Racheal (2018) NAPLAN writing tests hinder creativity, so what could we use in their place?
- Carter, D. (2017) The dark side of NAPLAN: it’s not just a benign ‘snapshot
- Davis, A. (2013) Effective Writing Instruction: Evidence-based classroom practices(available through Booktopia)
- See Chamberlain’s Inspiring Writing in Primary Schools (2017) Chapter 1.
References and resources:
Chamberlain, L. (Hutton P. Ed.) (2017) Inspiring Writing in Primary Schools PETAA: Newtown
Creely, E. & Diamond, F Where has the joy of writing gone and how can we get it back? The Conversation: November 21, 2018 4.18pm AEDT at https://theconversation.com/where-has-the-joy-of-writing-gone-and-how-do-we-get-it-back-for-our-children-101900?fbclid=IwAR1x3icz_Ug7LF5VXARh3gRKHeP014pYYkHoF30mPNuKcXnL3BTYGZs0QKg
Holloway, S. (2016) Why the teaching of creative writing matters in The Conversation, November 9, 2016
Sedgwick, F. (2000) Writing to Learn: Poetry and literacy across the primary curriculum Routledge Falmer: London