Less is More – focusing on feedback

By Teresa Cremin, Professor of Literacy in Education, The Open University and Alison Twiner, Research Associate, The Open University

Teachers, Arvon tutors and the Craft of Writing research team all enjoyed a return to Lumb Bank for the second set of Craft of Writing residentials in January – and across the three groups fought off the challenge of snow and a northern chill making the weekends quite different to June memories of sunshine and the World Cup!

During this time the teachers continued their journeys as writers and wrote in workshops and their own free time, refining and revising their writing. They also shared their experiences, challenges and successes of putting the Craft of Writing Framework into practice, and discussed ways of circumnavigating difficulties when seeking to develop children’s creative writing in school. The Framework, as noted in earlier blogs, was derived from an analysis of the craft knowledge deployed by professional writers. The data had been collected in the previous Teachers as Writers project.

The focus of this second weekend was on critical feedback in order to generate a shared vocabulary and language to talk about writing and help revision skills. The tutors Steve Voake and Alicia Stubbersfield prompted the teachers to write and then, working in small groups, to read their work to one another, explore authorial intentions and offer focussed feedback. The teachers also attended one-to-one tutorials and received yet more critical feedback to support them as writers. As a community we reflected on the stubborn resilience in all our writing, of a tendency to tell rather than show – something we acknowledged we all need to work on, and the value of modelling ways to do this in the classroom.

Another recurrent theme was ‘less is more’; reinforcing a mindset in revising to ‘cut, cut, cut’, and we considered how to engage our readers, hook them in, and take out extra filler information that adds nothing to the image, character or atmosphere. We discussed how through feedback we can encourage young authors to make meaningful choices based on their knowledge of effective writing rather than simply adding more adjectives or fronted adverbials for the sake of it. The teachers used the Craft of Writing Framework to give feedback to each other and were supported to make explicit use of it in focused feedback conversations with children too, to help them develop a better understanding of what needs to be done to improve their writing.

On Friday night each weekend we relished the opportunity of hearing the Year 5 children’s work, written for each class’s seasonal short story collection and on Saturday evening we celebrated the production of the teachers’ group anthologies. These were variously entitled: Words from the big chair (the tutors’ old wooden bench); Stationery not provided (hints of pen and paper borrowing!) and Writing from the cold face (linked to the chill conditions!) The pleasure and pride the teachers took in voicing their poems and short stories were a delight to see.

Two fairly typical comments from teachers sum up the atmosphere and impact of this time to write, review and revise their writing:

“I felt settled and ready to write. The supportive approach of everyone here infused and enthused us all and gave us the confidence to share and open up.”

“I’ve begun to write a story of my own – something I’ve always wanted to do. I have a Framework and a plan as to how I can enable children in my classroom to become writers.”

It was a chance to celebrate what has been achieved so far, reflect on challenges and plan forwards. Now the teachers are seeking to further embed the Craft of Writing Framework in their classroom practice in order to create communities of writers where writing is shared, critiqued and celebrated, and where feedback purposefully supports the children’s learning about writing and being a writer.

Teresa Cremin
Professor of Literacy in Education
The Open University

Alison Twiner
Research Associate
The Open University

Living the Craft of Writing

By Teresa Cremin, Professor of Literacy in Education, The Open University

We’re off! Over the last three weekends we’ve welcomed over 40 teachers to Lumb Bank, the Ted Hughes Arvon Centre in Yorkshire.  The project, which is a partnership between Arvon, the Open University, and the University of Exeter is exploring how the opportunity for teachers to work with professional writers might change their understanding of being a writer, how they teach writing, and improve both children’s outcomes and attitudes to writing. The project, (which is funded by EEF and the RSA as part of the Learning About Culture fund), is a randomised control trial with a comparison group of Year 5 teachers who are not involved in the intervention. The work is being evaluated by University College London and the Behavioural Insights Team for EEF/RSA.
Continue reading “Living the Craft of Writing”

Writing and Rewriting

By Professor Debra Myhill, Director of the Centre for Research in Writing, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean, The University of Exeter

Reading through our interviews with professional writers – acting as Co-Mentors in partnership with schoolteachers on our Teachers as Writers research project – I am struck by the variety of words that are used to describe the process of creating text.   These include: drafting, rewriting, reviewing, revising, editing and proof-reading.  Apart from proof-reading which is consistently used to refer to the final checking of the accuracy of the writing in terms of spelling and punctuation, the other words are often used inter-changeably with no clear distinction between them.  What is clear is that this process of moving from ideas in the head, to words on a page, through to a finished piece is a messy process, or a recursive process, as the cognitive psychologists would term it.  Continue reading “Writing and Rewriting”

Do children have agency as authors?

By Teresa Cremin, Professor of Literacy in Education, The Open University

Over the last three months the Craft of Writing team, (Debra Myhill and I, Becky Swain, Becky Coles and Sara Venner) have been recruiting schools to this new project. Funded by EEF and the RSA, it’s a partnership study between the OU, the University of Exeter and Arvon and a rare opportunity for deep, sustained CPD in the teaching of writing. The project, which involves teacher residentials at Lumb Bank (Ted Hughes’ old home) and CPD days, focuses both on writing standards and children’s motivation and engagement as creative and effective writers. Continue reading “Do children have agency as authors?”

Teachers as Writers Full Research Report

By Becky Swain, Head of Learning & Participation, Arvon

We are delighted this month to be able to publish Teachers as Writers: A report for Arts Council England on the value of writers’ engagement with teachers to improve outcomes for all pupils.

We hope you’ll be sufficiently curious to take a closer peek at the detail of the findings. We would love to hear from you about anything that strikes you as helpful, or maybe surprising or unexpected. I’ve already got myself hooked on the appendices at the back that detail the research questions that we asked teachers, professional writers and students as part of the project.

The report shares research findings from the partnership between Arvon, The Open University and University of Exeter. This two year project reveals new insights on the value of teachers expanding their own understanding about writing and being a writer through working with professional writers.

As Professor Teresa Cremin detailed in a recent blog post, the report highlights consequences for classrooms, both primary and secondary, including:
• the significance of time and space to ‘Just Write’ (who owns the space to write?);
• the potency of the personal and drawing on life experience (who frames their content choices?);
• the value of investing more energy and effort in revising (whose choices are these?);
• the need to develop students’ autonomy as writers (whose writing is it anyway?).

Over the last six months, since we published the Research Executive Summary, the research team around this project have enjoyed leading writing workshops with teachers in schools from London, Merseyside and Oxford. Teachers have expressed how much they have gained from time and space to write together, alongside the chance to discuss implications for teaching writing in the classroom.

Thanks for everyone who has engaged with this work already as it’s been great to learn from each other’s practice. If you would like to connect with Arvon about the report, or our work with teachers, please do email

And before we break up for the holidays, just a reminder that Arvon are now recruiting schools for The Craft of Writing – a project with schools that continues our partnership with The University of Exeter and Open University in 2018-19. Funded by Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA), this project will explore further how the opportunity for teachers to work with professional writers might change their understanding of being a writer, how they teach writing, and improve children’s outcomes in writing.

The Craft of Writing is a rare opportunity for deep, sustained CPD in the teaching of writing that focuses on both writing standards and children’s motivation and engagement as creative and effective writers. It is a national project, but we are particularly keen that it benefit primary schools in the North of England. The project is targeted at Year 5 teachers and involves two significantly subsidised weekend residentials (at Lumb Bank, The Ted Hughes Arvon Centre near Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire), three free CPD days and some funding for supply cover.

If you are interested in this opportunity to improve children’s outcomes in writing and motivate young writers, please email: or or phone 01908 653212. The deadline for joining the project is until the end of January 2018.

Can writing be taught?

By Rebecca Coles, Research Associate, The Open University 

It is one of the premises of The Craft of Writing project that in order to teach writing, we must know what writing is. We must understand what one needs to know, and be able to do, if one is to write. The project will bring professional writers together with researchers to compose a ‘Framework of Craft Knowledge’ around writing. ‘Wow’ I first thought when I heard: ‘Is that even possible?’

But the craft of writing is already very much discussed, and not only by instructional texts. There is a fascination in popular culture too with how writers write. Continue reading “Can writing be taught?”

The Craft of Writing

By Professor Debra Myhill, Director of the Centre for Research in Writing, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean, University of Exeter

Writing is a craft, a hefting of ideas, phrases, images into shape; a weaving of words into worlds.  And writers know this.  One of the striking aspects of the creative partnerships that writers forge with teachers on the Arvon Teachers as Writers residentials is a sharing of their craft.  We were privileged to witness rich conversations between teachers and writers, exploring the teachers’ unfolding texts and discussing everything about the craft of writing, from the choice of a word to the narrative perspective taken.  Continue reading “The Craft of Writing”

What do you know about your writers?

By Teresa Cremin, Professor of Literacy in Education, The Open University

As the year begins, what do you know about your young writers? Indeed, what do they know about you as a writer – anything?

Many teachers will want to add to information transferred from last year and assess their students’ writing, offering a range of activities that seek to establish a baseline, and enable tailored targets to be set. Fair enough.  Such knowledge is needed. But is it enough?

I worry that these early formative assessment activities will focus predominantly on the writing skills, as currently defined by national assessment rubrics, and may not include attention to the young writers themselves: their attitudes, everyday practices and sense of themselves as writers. Merely identifying that more work on aspects of SPaG is needed will tend to frame both the year’s work and the children’s perceptions of what writing involves. Continue reading “What do you know about your writers?”

What if

By Nick Stimson, playwright, theatre director and Writer Co-Mentor on the Teachers as Writers project

Whether it be writing a poem, composing a song or symphony, labouring at a novel or a play, painting a picture or making a sculpture, or participating as an active maker in any creative art form, we have but one aim: to unlock and access the imagination. The complex skills and techniques we acquire along the way have only one purpose: to crack open that well-guarded safe that contains the imagination. Continue reading “What if”

A fun place to write

By Alan Durant, author and Writer Co-Mentor on the Teachers as Writers project 

I visit schools a lot as an author and I often ask the children if they have a special place they like to think and write at home. A few hands go up initially – “in my bedroom”, “under my bed”, “at the kitchen table” – then suddenly everyone wants to join in – “in my tree house”, “under the dining room table”, “in the attic”, “in my dad’s shed”. That’s the cue for me to tell them that for years I wrote in a shed at the bottom of the garden (“like Roald Dahl”) Continue reading “A fun place to write”