Dominic Wyse has a challenge for you: “How often does a child in England get to genuinely do a piece of writing that begins with a blank page and is entirely their own ideas because they think those ideas are important?”
The professor of early childhood and primary education at the University College London Institute of Education already thinks he knows your answer.
“I know from my own research and experience [that] it is incredibly rare,” he states.
And he says that because this is not happening, pupils are not really learning what it is like to “be a writer”.
How to teach writing
Speaking on the Tes Podagogy podcast, Professor Wyse explores several aspects of teaching the writing process. He explains that it has to begin at the earliest ages of school and that, often, this is hampered by teachers not recognising when the youngest pupils believe they are writing.
“They are naturally curious about writing and they play with the tools of writing, given the opportunity," he says. "But in some research a PhD student of mine did recently, they found that adults did not pick up on the fact that the children were writing when the children were very clear that they were writing. That is an important pedagogical lesson for us.”
He argues that teachers also need a broader appreciation of what writing is, and of its societal context. That means including examples of writing in different media or getting children to compose in different media, be it text messages, Snapchats, formal reports, handwritten diaries – the list should be extensive.
“We have to teach writing as it really is, not base it too much on tests or a romantic notion of what it was,” he says.
Writing in primary
That said, Professor Wyse is a firm advocate of a mixed approach to writing: part formal, part informal, so that the conventions are taught but creativity and engagement can also be cultivated.
“A general writing area in an early years setting is vital so children can, in any way they feel comfortable (at tables or on the floor on cushions) be making marks and have children interacting with children about those marks," he explains. "But also there is absolutely a place for more teacher-directed activities where teachers can stimulate with things they would like students to learn. Those things should be based on what the teacher has witnessed in those informal writing periods – that’s how they spot where the challenges are.”
In the podcast, he talks through the different stages of teaching writing and the latest research on how best to do it. You can listen via your podcast provider (type in Tes the education podcast) or via the player below: