The write time

Too little class time is given to developing a love of writing

Jacqueline Manuel
Don Carter

Create a space for playful and collaborative writing

The seven essential conditions for developing writing confidence, enjoyment and accomplishment in secondary schools are time; choice; understanding writing as process; purpose and audience; craft knowledge and skills; response and community.

Carefully designed writing programs include regular, visible time for writing.

Why?

Regular time for writing “normalises” writing and enables students to build writing repertoires, enjoyment and confidence.

The average time spent on “real” writing in secondary classrooms (as distinct from copying notes and similar lower-order tasks) is one day in eight, when research shows that developing as a writer requires some writing four days in five.

To become good writers, students need time to think, plan, write, confer, read, write again, revise and write some more.

They need time to explore models of the types of writing they are seeking to compose.

Writers need time to experience demonstration, scaffolding and support.

What does this mean for teaching?

Allocating five to 10 minutes’ writing time in every second or third class for individual reflective or expressive writing, writing in pairs using stimulus, or whole group writing is an immediate means of integrating writing time into programs.

It is important to ensure that a proportion of students’ writing is not directly tied to assessment. If all writing is inevitably linked to assessment, students come to see writing in narrowly utilitarian ways — i.e. “writing is what we do for school assessment”.

Find time for writing that is playful and enjoyable, and where possible, collaborative.

A familiar approach to classroom practice is the “I Write, We Write, You Write” approach.

“I Write” (teacher modelling, writing with and for class) involves:

  • students being engaged in a lively demonstration
  • thinking aloud, sharing reasons for decisions while brainstorming; drafting, revising, editing, and publishing
  • inviting questions
  • making explicit the challenges and proposing possible solutions.

“We Write” (shared writing) involves:

  • engaging students in every step of the process, from brainstorming to publication
  • encouraging students to springboard off one another to develop, elaborate, and correct the piece.

“You Write” (independent writing) involves:

  • students having some choice in selecting topics
  • students applying the skills that have been modelled and discussed
  • conferring with the teacher;
  • celebrating by sharing the completed piece with a partner, the class, or via publication.

At the centre of our work as English educators is the ideal of nurturing students who leave our classrooms capable, confident, vibrant and well-equipped to meet the challenges of living and working beyond school.

Our legacy to each young person we teach is far more than the measurable set of knowledge, skills and understandings that are assessed and reported on throughout their secondary education.

To inspire a love of and acuity for language in all its endless manifestations, to empower students to “write their world”, to know that their lives have been shaped for the better because of our attentive and informed teaching – this is part of the legacy that, because it cannot be quantified through instrumentalist means, represents our greatest gift, privilege and responsibility.

This is an extract of “Teaching writing in secondary English: Approaches to building confidence, enjoyment and achievement” . Click here for the full article.

Dr Jacqueline Manuel is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney and Dr Don Carter is senior lecturer at the School of Education, University of Technology, Sydney.