Building a strong foundation for writing
JS DATES TO REMEMBER
Thursday 29 April
Year 6 Snowy Hydro Excursion
Tuesday 4 May
JS Cross Country
Wed 5 May
Matt Giteau Cup
Year 1 Incursion – Dr Graham Walker
By Emily Begbie, Assistant Head of Junior School, Teaching and Learning
“Writing is a craft before it is an art; writing may appear magic, but it is our responsibility to take our students backstage to watch the pigeons being tucked up in the magician’s sleeve."
Like reading, writing is a key to achieving success at school and beyond. The ability to write clearly and purposefully continues to be a critical ingredient for educational success, and it is one of the main mediums through which children both learn and demonstrate their understanding. So, what do children need to know and be able to do to succeed in writing? What skills and understanding support them to write for meaning and for pleasure?
The task of writing is complex and needs to be taught like any other skill, with explicit instruction, and ample opportunity for practice. Most of us are aware of the importance of learning spelling and writing conventions but we may be less familiar with other areas of writing instruction. In the Junior School years, two aspects of writing that are essential for students of all ages to understand are the writing process, and the qualities of great writing. We will look at the writing process in the following paragraphs and will explore the qualities of great writing in a future bulletin.
The Writing Process
Images used with permission from https://www.allaboutwriters.com
A sound understanding of the writing process is one of the foundations of effective writing. Whether a person is composing a story, a news report, a poem or a novel, they will follow a similar process to complete their piece. All writers benefit greatly from being taught how to use this process.
“…real writing is a much more complex process than a one-shot act… it is literally ‘a process’, a predictable series of stages and drafts that most writers undertake between their first thought and their final piece, whether the piece takes an hour, or weeks, or several years to write.”
The terms we use for the different stages of the writing process are rehearsal (including thinking, talking and planning), drafting, revising, editing and publishing. Let’s look briefly at each of these stages.
Also referred to as ‘pre-writing’, rehearsal involves the writer coming up with ideas for the work. When writers take time before writing to pause and consider what they are doing and why, it sets them up for purposeful and satisfying writing.
Rehearsal is asking ‘What do I want to say in this piece of writing? What do I want to show? Who am I writing this for?’ It is taking a moment to develop an intention for the writing before beginning. Rehearsal can involve thinking, planning, drawing, sketching, jotting, talking and storytelling.
People are generally more familiar with drafting. Drafting involves the writer getting ideas down in rough form. The aim is to write reasonably quickly, so that words can flow onto the page, and the focus is on ideas and overall organisation of the piece. Sharing drafts with a reader or listener is vital for writers to get feedback on their writing before they revise.
Revising – often confused with editing – is a vitally important stage in the writing process. As the word suggests, it is ‘re-seeing’ a piece of writing, with a view to making it better. Revising involves asking ‘How can I improve this piece? Does this say what I really want to say? Does it say enough?’ It is an opportunity to add what is missing, and to remove what is no longer needed.
Editing is about the writer ‘cleaning up’ a piece of writing. It is a chance for writers to fix up their writing for readers. This involves checking for correct spelling, capitalisation, punctuation, grammar and paragraphing.
Some pieces of writing are selected by the writer for publication. Publication can take many forms, and the focus is on presenting the writing in a way that is appealing and accessible to others.
All writers benefit greatly from being taught how to use this process, including our youngest students, who begin with a simplified version of the process.
The writing process is not a recipe for writing, rather, it is a series of flexible steps for writers to use to help them write well. Providing students with an understanding of the process is a keystone in building a foundation for successful writing.
The next article in this series will look at ‘the qualities of great writing’, what we refer to as the ‘writer’s traits’ (based on the work of Ruth Culham). These are:
- Ideas – the meaning and development of the message
- Organisation – the internal structure of the piece
- Voice – the tone of the piece; the personal stamp that the writer brings to it
- Word choice – the specific vocabulary the writer uses to convey meaning
- Sentence fluency – the way words and phrases flow throughout the text
- Conventions – the mechanical correctness of the piece
- Presentation – the overall appearance of the work.