Are we too busy promoting reading for pleasure to help young people discover the joy in writing? Jonathan Douglas fears we are – and it needs to change…
Es every teacher knows, writing well helps us communicate effectively, think creatively and express our personality; and now, the undeniable link between how frequently children write, how much they enjoy writing and how well they do at school has been highlighted in the National Literacy Trust’s latest research, Children and Young People’s Writing in 2015, where we surveyed over 32,500 pupils aged between 8-18.
Our results revealed that children and young people who enjoy writing very much were seven times more likely to write above the expected level for their age, compared with those who do not enjoy writing at all; and pupils who write daily outside school were five times more likely to have levels of writing above those expected for their age, compared with those who never write outside the classroom.
However, despite the undeniable correlation between writing frequency, enjoyment and attainment, our research also brought to light a sharp decline in how often children are writing outside school for pleasure. Just one pupil in five now writes daily outside the classroom; falling considerably from one pupil in four in 2014. What’s more, where almost half (49.3%) of children enjoyed writing in 2014, this dropped to 44.8% in 2015.
And when it comes to primary and secondary school pupils, our research exposed a real gulf between attitudes towards writing. Primary school pupils are far more enthusiastic about it; two in three KS2 learners enjoy writing, dropping to two in five at KS3 and just two in six by KS4. Similarly, primary school pupils are much more likely to write something that isn’t for school on a daily basis than their older counterparts.
What can be done to reverse this downward trend? Creating the right school culture and ethos to encourage young writers and to help develop positive attitudes is at the heart of success. We know that many teachers, to great effect, use some of the latest trends and hot topics to tap into children and young people’s interests to improve outcomes in literacy. The National Literacy Trust’s Craze of the Month facilitates just that by offering teachers free themed resources and activities that pupils can do in the classroom, library or as homework (ow.ly/LUho306iANH). Crazes have so far included Pokémon Go and the Great British Bake Off, with all activities relating to the English Programmes of Study from the National Curriculum in England. There are also some fantastic books available to help make teaching of spelling and grammar engaging. The Usbourne Book of Grammar is the perfect starting point for demystifying grammar and English Grammar and Teaching Strategies: Lifeline to Literacy by Joy Pollock and Elizabeth Waller is packed full of games and activities to make the process fun and engaging.
Reasons to write
For children to enjoy writing, they need to understand its relevance to their lives, their employment prospects and their future success. They need to see the adults around them writing, both for purpose and pleasure. Anyone can become a writing role model – from teachers and parents, to chefs and police officers, to celebrities and sports stars.
Young people also need to be encouraged to write about things they are interested in and to explore different ways of writing, enabling them to develop genuine enjoyment in the activity. Depending on their taste, for example, students could produce a match report after watching a football game; write a comedy script inspired by their favourite comedian; or pen a newspaper article about a real life event.
Without solid writing skills, young people will have fewer opportunities open to them, ultimately impacting on their own social mobility and therefore on the wider UK economy. Whilst the new curriculum focus on spelling, grammar and phonics is important, it must not come at the expense of encouraging writing for enjoyment, which is part of the primary and secondary curricula, but has not received the same support and funding from the government as reading for enjoyment. If we don’t act now, the futures of children who cannot write well when they leave school could be limited before they’ve even started.
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