On choosing to write

By Becky Swain, Head of Learning and Participation, Arvon

During the Teachers as Writers (TAW) research, one of the professional writers made the following observation of the teachers who joined us for a residential creative writing week:

“When we encouraged them to really totally switch off their inner editor and just write – they were producing work that was really extraordinarily fresh and powerful because they lost all kind of inhibitions and self –consciousness.”

I saw first-hand that week some of the sheer pleasure that teachers found in freewriting – or what the group termed ‘Just Write: those points in the writing process when writers let the words and ideas have space to form by writing freely without reviewing or evaluating what they have written.

For students who took part in the TAW research project, ‘Just Write’ sessions were also cited as one of the reasons for their increased motivation and enjoyment in writing. One year 8 student remarked that, ‘I like the part where we just kept writing and didn’t stop because it really let my ideas flow.’ The research summary goes on to state that: ‘Students welcomed the introduction of personal notebooks for writing which were not assessed; more opportunities to share and discuss ideas; freewriting activities; and greater choice over topic and form. They attached particular significance to creative freedom, associating gains in enjoyment with less prescriptive writing tasks and more flexible drafting strategies.’

Clearly students found pleasure in this part of the writing process where they had choice and autonomy, but teachers also felt that marrying this with prescribed curriculum requirements is challenging.

Even in the face of these challenges, if the nation’s response to National Writing Day on 21 June is anything to go by, there is a fine appetite for writing for pleasure. Convened by the wonderful First Story, and in partnership with dozens of organisations across the country, the day was beautifully planned to nurture young people’s enjoyment of writing, and encourage schools and communities to put writing for pleasure at the heart of their day. Many accepted the invitation to snap a photo of a view from your window and #TellYourStory, to pen an original six-word story, and many other activities inspired by the resource pack produced for the day. The National Literacy Trust published their annual literacy survey Writing for Enjoyment and its Link to Wider Writing investigating the link between writing enjoyment and behaviour, confidence, motivation and attainment. The English and Media Centre invited all to participate in Let Them Loose!, described as ‘a chance for students to enjoy writing for pleasure, unguided and without the pressure of assessment, as part of the National Writing Day celebrations’. At Arvon we created our own #WriteToLunch activity, encouraging people to write over their lunch break and to post a picture on Twitter and Instagram, inviting writer Femi Martin to comment on some of the submissions.

The whole day felt like a celebration, and a day where anything was possible.

It felt like writing for the sheer pleasure of it was being given space to shout from the rooftops. Imagination was given space. I personally wrote about my garden and about what friendship means to me. I learnt details about colleagues from their writing that I didn’t know before, and felt connected to others through empathy for their stories and a new appreciation of them as people. And if that’s one day, imagine the possibilities for embedding these activities into school writing life.

The positivity of the day reminded me of the launch event for the TAW research findings last month. Guests on the day – colleagues from across the education and literature sectors – heard from teachers and writers who had been involved in the project as well as some stunning readings of teachers’ and pupils’ work. Everyone was fully engaged with the findings and discussions about the value of writers working in partnership with teachers for the benefit of pupils, and ideas about how we can nurture young people’s enjoyment of writing seemed uppermost in everyone’s mind.

Our challenge now is how to move that ‘food for thought’ into an activist zeal to continue to work with others across the country to nurture writing for pleasure as a key part of supporting pupils to engage with and develop their writing skills. It is clear that in some schools there is already a firm push to foster young people’s enjoyment in writing, but there is so much more work to be done to ensure that we support teachers to plan for it to happen with all pupils across the country.

As we disseminate findings from the TAW research as far and wide as we can, we aim to engage others in discussions around the importance of writing for pleasure and its potential impact on pupils’ motivation, confidence and skills as writers, at events through the year. We will also be exploring how we can help professional writers be more explicit about their knowledge of the writing process, to help teachers develop their own understanding of the craft knowledge for writing in order to further inform their teaching. If you know of any forums that might be good places to share these ideas for discussion, and to learn from others, then let us know by emailing us at learning@arvon.org

Becky Swain
Head of Learning and Participation 
Arvon

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