What the resource is:
This resource is a 'Topic' article now available from the Practical Research for Education website. It is a reflection on a classroom-based investigation undertaken in one school as part of the Effective Learning Project, a collaborative research initiative with researchers from Homerton College, Cambridge. The investigation posed the question: "What excites primary pupils about writing in school and what switches them off?" The investigation focused on groups of 6 children from each year group in Key Stages 1 and 2 - these groups were balanced for ability and gender.
Key findings or focus:
The analysis of the data from this investigation raised five key findings:
- Imaginative presentation of story-writing tasks had an impact on children's enthusiasm and motivation for writing
- Children wanted a sense of ownership over their writing
- Children liked an element of choice and enjoyed making ‘creative decisions' about their writing
- Children's understanding of the teacher's intentions in setting creative writing tasks and the learning involved varied with age and writing confidence.
- Classroom conditions affect children's attitudes to creative writing and the quality of their work.
In addition, the resource emphasises the importance of talking to children to find out their perspectives on the learning process.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource:
The resource is an overview of the investigation rather than the report itself; as such there are times when more detailed information would have been helpful. For example, the author mentions that the school had recently introduced new approaches to creative writing, but does not say what these were; we are told that the data was analysed using a ‘qualitative framework' but not given any further details.
The findings are presented positively and it appears that practice in the school has been influenced through participation in the investigation. However, the conclusions appear rather broad and simplistic and further critical scrutiny would have helped offer more focus.
The finding that exciting and imaginative ways of presenting story-writing tasks will influence children's responses seems obvious. This is likely to be true of children's learning in any context. Again we are not given information about how the children's responses and the quality of their writing were measured, nor what these exciting and imaginative teaching approaches might be (except that they include ‘drama').
A key question addressed in the research is children's understanding of the purposes of creative writing. The author claims that some children expressed ‘sophisticated understanding' of these purposes yet the quotes provided from children do not seem to support this; a child stating that "We were asked to do it because it's a good activity and interesting" is offered as evidence of the pupil enjoying the opportunity for creative expression. There is no mention of the purposes and audiences provided for the children's writing or children's empowerment. The model of creative writing which seems to be presented is one of ‘schooled literacy' - tasks which are done for school purposes rather than those which provide children with authentic writing opportunities such as those advocated by Vygotsky (1978), Graves (1994) et al.
A key finding outlined is that of the impact of classroom conditions; children found that older children and more confident writers tended to prefer to work independently rather than a collaborative approach which was preferred by younger children and less confident writers. In addition, children, particularly more able, expressed concern about noise levels in the classroom hindering their writing. It would be interesting if this was simply a reflection of the current experiences of those children.
The finding that less confident writers tend to focus on presentation of their writing rather than creative content is important, but something that is perhaps generally accepted.
The report appears to celebrate how children's opinions, when sought, can influence practice. Children's own involvement in their own research, including the analysis of the data, is also briefly described. This is linked to children talking about their learning and seems to provide the derivation for the title of the article, although this is not completely clear.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors:
This would be useful to look at alongside other research into children's writing, for example the use of writing journals (Graham 2003), writer's workshop approaches (Graves 1984, 1994), and the work by Grainger et al (2005) on 'Voice and Verve'. It could be also offered for critique by students, as there are aspects of both methodology and data analysis that could be questioned, as discussed above. The terminology associated with ‘creative' writing could be explored and linked to discussions about how authentic writing purposes can be provided for Primary children.
The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
Students may be encouraged by the small-scale nature of the research and the straightforward approach to data collection, although the limitations of this should also be discussed. It is also helpful for students to consider the ways in which they can consider children's perspectives on a range of classroom practices.
Graham, L. (2003) Children's Writing Journals, UKLA
Grainger, T. , Goouch, K. and Lambirth, A. (2005) Creativity and Writing: Developing Voice and Verve in the Classroom, London: Routledge Falmer
Graves, D. (1982) Writing: Teachers and Children at Work, SOS
Graves, D. (1994) A Fresh Look at Writing, Heinemmann
Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society, Harvard University Press