Friday, 24 November 2017

Writing, what should we really be looking for?

Well I am sitting here amongst 23 learning journals trying to write reports.  With my annual reporting and strategic planning up on my computer screen that I am now officially half way through, as well as planning for 2018 and thinking about our upcoming planning day and Empty Classroom day.

However invading my mind over the last few days has been this blog post, rather than continue to push it to the side, I have decided to just get it out.

Writing, wow, there has been some real learning in this area for me this year.  Which in fact I didn't even realise until last week.  My complete perception of what a child that is ready to write has changed, in fact my thinking has done a complete flip.

I used to love it when children came in already able to write some words, letters and perhaps even put a basic "I went to..." story together.  In fact I would breathe a sigh of relief because I was confident that I could get those children to where I wanted them by the end of they year.  I now realise I had it all wrong.

What I have realised is that children that enter like this have been given a very prescribed view of what writing is about, they are simply regurgitating a pattern that they have been praised for over and over again and in fact have just learned they symbols of writing, but not really the whole point of writing.

Hopefully I am not losing you with my thinking here as I am well aware that my mind is in a number of different places.

These children then enter a classroom like mine used to be and are again rewarded for being able to regurgitate this pattern.  Their view of writing is narrow and somewhat robotic.  In fact what I have noticed is that they don't understand at all that their writing conveys a message that they actually want to write about, when they come to draw a picture, the picture often has nothing to do with what they have written.  Children that are taught this is what writing is all about are the ones that will struggle to take risks, to step out of a comfort zone and ultimately just be able to express themselves through the written word.  They also often need a 'topic' or idea to write about...and guess what in my old life I used to give it to them :)

So what is writing?  Ultimately is is a way of scribing my thoughts through a system of symbols that others understand and could also be spoken out loud. This is the key, spoken out loud.  Oral language and the ability to come up with a message is the unlocking of and whole purpose of writing.

What I have found this year is that children need to be allowed to go through the stages of writing, drawing pictures, talking, scribing symbols and eventually learning the code.  They need to be allowed to explore this within an environment that is rich in talk and experiences that they self-direct and are interested in.  Time to just record symbols and pictures is pressure to scribe words, no teacher marks.

Slowly this year I have watched children that came in unable to hold a pencil begin to understand the code and transition through the writing stages on their own, with very little intervention on my part.  They see it, they hear it, they talk it and so in the end the can write it.

These children, that didn't come in with a definition of what writing is, and already able to 'write' are my best writers, their ideas reflect their interests, they are not narrowed by a sentence structure that I have taught them....the write how the speak and it is gorgeous, they don't leave out details because they 'can't' write them down.

For me this learning has further reinforced the absolute need for play to be the core of our curriculum.  I am sure we have all had children in the past who have said "I have nothing to write about"....well you know what, not one child has said that this year in my play-based room....they have many messages they want to convey, all of the time and because they follow their urges, many ideas to write about.

Of course there are many other ingredients that go into this, as indicated on my play-based learning ingredients mind map that I have shared on here.

What do I now hope walks through my classroom door?

What I want is a child who wants to play and has no preconceived ideas of  what writing is....who has been talked to a lot and allowed to explore their own interests and curiosities, who has been allowed to play outside, to use their imagination and get messy, who has been allowed to develop according to their own needs and in their own time and comes to school with their happiness kete full. 

That's what I hope for....I can take it from there in my play-based room quite happily.

And what if their kete is not full....well I will endeavor to find ways to fill that too!


  1. Yes!!! You put into words my thoughts exactly. Every child enters my classroom with so much to say then I often squeeze it out of them by writing it in " early words" - teaching the formula... "I am playing", "I am five", "I can see the sandpit" !!!!!!! when they are bursting with ideas that they can convey in depth through talk and drawing ( again if we encourage and show I am interested to hear their story when choose to listen and truly see) but reduce it down to those basic sentences that have little richness or depth. I will be brave next year and focus on the drawing and talking first !!!! Thank you for your inspiration yet again.

  2. That's what I do too - with my little ones! I thought I was the only one using an adapted Early Words approach. :)J

  3. Couldn't agree more! I'm a beginning teacher (and experienced mum 😉) who feels that writing in the classroom has been too prescribed. I'm changing the way things are done or have been done..I'm just lucky to have a great boss.Thank you for the thought provoking blog post 😊 I look forward to the next one 😊