Why writing is so vital

6th July 2007 at 01:00
We need to separate its targets from reading if we want to raise standards, argues academic

CONCERN ABOUT the right sort of phonics is a red herring, says John Stannard, the original director of the National Literacy Strategy. Improving writing is far more important.

Mr Stannard, a visiting professor at Southampton university, believes that with English test scores for 11-year-olds expected to stall at 79 per cent this year for the third time, the two greatest challenges for literacy experts are how to improve writing and reading comprehension.

He supports good phonics teaching which shows children how sounds are represented by letters. But he said Sir Jim Rose, the former chief primary education inspector whose review of reading recommended synthetic phonics is taught to all children by the age of five, should have been allowed to look into how to teach writing as well.

"We think, on balance, the benefits of the systematic teaching of phonics will be measureable but not as great as people think, because the changes needed for a big overall improvement of English scores need to take place in writing and reading comprehension," said Professor Stannard.

"If the Government is serious about raising standards in English to 85 per cent of 11-year-olds achieving level 4, then it needs to separate reading and writing targets. They need to tackle writing more systematically."

Last year, although 79 per cent of pupils reached level 4 in English, the percentage reaching he same standard in writing was just 67 per cent. The difference between girls' and boys' scores was more glaring. There were only 11 authorities where 67 per cent or more of the boys reached level 4 in writing compared to 144 authorities where 67 per cent or more girls reached this level.

Barbara Conridge, the chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English's primary committee, said: "Standards of reading have gone up faster than standards of writing because writing is more difficult. Even if you have mastered the complexities it doesn't make you a good writer. You could be boring people to death."

She said there had been a push on boys' writing over recent years.

* Everybody Writes is an online initiative to provide ideas and resources for writing in schools. It is being run by the charity Booktrust and the National Literacy Trust and is inviting teachers to put themselves forward as Everybody Writes enthusiasts.


The American way

Professor Steve Graham of Kansas University has trawled through many studies into writing to find the 10 most effective ways to teach it. They are:

Teaching children ways of planning, revising and editing what they write

Showing them how to summarise text

Children working together to plan, draft and revise their compositions

Setting specific goals for the work

Using computers

Combining basic sentences to make a more complex sentence

Extended writing opportunities, including for real audiences

Pre-writing activities, like brainstorming, to generate ideas

Carrying out an inquiry, which could involve collecting evidence

Studying models of good writing.

The professor also found teach-ing grammar in a formal way could have a negative impact on writing.

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