Becoming a strategic writer
Like reading, writing involves creating meaning through text. The reader integrates prior knowledge with sources of information in the text to decode and to gain meaning. The writer starts with meaning and integrates prior knowledge and an understanding of how language works to encode and create a text.
Learners need to develop knowledge and a repertoire of strategies for writing across the three aspects of the framework so that they can:
The first of these points can be described as attending to surface features of written text and the second and third as attending to its deeper features.
The sources of information in text that are used for reading are also used when writing. Like readers, writers use semantic, syntactic, and visual and grapho-phonic sources and integrate these with their own prior knowledge and experience to create meaningful text (see pages 30–31).
Just as young readers need to become efficient in decoding, so young writers need to learn to encode effectively – to match sounds to letters in the actual business of writing words. Students need explicit instruction to ensure that they learn to form as well as recognise letters and words rapidly and accurately. They need to master phonological processing strategies, such as distinguishing the phonemes within words and making accurate links between sounds and letters, and to develop a visual memory for printed words (see pages 32–37).
Students need to build an ever-increasing writing vocabulary (that is, a bank of words that they can write automatically). This frees up the writer’s resources to focus on meaning and on other aspects of writing, such as developing an author’s perspective and planning the impact on the intended audience. It enables writers to experiment with language and to analyse their work and review it critically.
Students also need to become familiar with the rules of syntax that apply to written English.
Many of the reading comprehension strategies can be related to writing. Good writers, like good readers, synthesise ideas and information. They bring together previous learning and experiences, make connections, visualise, and go on to create imaginative pieces or clear descriptive accounts. They also analyse and evaluate ideas and information as they clarify their intentions, choose vocabulary, begin to compose, and revise their work.
The four main stages common to most writing are:
It’s important to recognise that these four stages are not discrete but are closely interrelated. The writer does not necessarily move through them in a simple sequence. The writer’s movement from one step to the next is influenced by what has gone before and what is anticipated. For example:
The aim of writing instruction is to build students’ accuracy, their fluency, and their ability to create meaningful text. The instructional strategies teachers can use to help students achieve this aim are described in chapter 4. Chapter 5 describes the four stages of the writing process in more detail and discusses what it means to engage learners in rich writing experiences. Young writers need many opportunities to practise, to meet new challenges, and simply to enjoy being a writer.
At this stage, the writer gets an idea, thinks about it in terms of the purpose and audience, and gives it time to grow. As the teacher supports students in forming intentions for their writing, the students will become aware that writing, like reading, is for a purpose.
Depending on the children’s age and ability, forming intentions may take some time or may hardly feature at all. For example, beginning writers are usually not so concerned with a target audience and generally work from a model that the teacher provides. Forming intentions may involve the learner in doing some or all of the following.
Composing a text involves the writer in translating their thoughts, ideas, intentions, and understandings into a written form. This stage is often described as “getting something down on paper” (even when it involves using a computer). Depending on the focus or shared goal of the activity, the learner may do some or all of the following.
Beginning writers need lots of modelling and support from the teacher, for example, through shared writing. For them, composing may be painstaking and slow as they:
At the same time, teachers need to help these students to focus on meaning and think about what they are writing.
Teachers should provide explicit instruction to ensure that their students develop the ability to form letters and words rapidly and accurately. Beginning writers need to:
For more fluent writers, words, phrases, and sentences may appear to flow almost automatically. But, as the text develops, the writer will reread it and may find that they need (with the teacher’s support) to modify their initial plan. Depending on the focus of the writing task, they may correct details of spelling, punctuation, and grammar. However, at this stage it is important that attention to surface features does not detract from the important focus of giving expression to the writer’s intentions.
Revising generally involves reordering, deleting, and adding text in order to represent an intended meaning more clearly. The writer may search for a more accurate word or expression to capture an idea. At the revising stage, students of all ages reflect critically on what they have written and think about how the audience may respond. At more advanced levels, revision often involves substantial changes to content and structure. Revising may involve the learner in doing some or all of the following.
Students often need encouragement to give careful attention to their writing and to spend time revising it, but it is important that they do so. Learning to revise their writing is essential if they are to become skilled, accurate writers, whether their writing is for personal use or is intended for publishing. The term “editing” is often used for this stage of writing.
Publishing or presenting means making a text available for others to read. This stage may involve completing a number of tasks in preparation for presenting, or it may mean simply sharing a piece with the class by reading it aloud. Publishing or presenting may involve the learner in doing some or all of the following.
Proof-reading and correcting are part of preparing an accurate text for others to read: they involve spelling, punctuation, grammar, and legibility. Beginning writers need lots of support from the teacher when proofreading. Often it’s best to identify just one or two features for them to check and correct. But all young writers should expect to check their work for accuracy.
By publishing or presenting, writers find out how well they have met their intentions for writing. Warm responses enhance the writer’s confidence, and informative feedback from the teacher and their peers gives them guidance for further writing.
Not all pieces of writing are developed to the stage of readiness for sharing with an audience. The purpose of the writing may be very personal, or it may be appropriate that the piece remains a rough draft.
Case study: How Tamyka wrote "My Mum Gives Me a Hug'
The teacher of this year 1 to 2 class worked with her students for three weeks on exploring characterisation in writing. She began by reading and discussing lots of picture books and talking about the concept of “characters” with them. Favourite books included My Dad by Anthony Browne, The Kuia and the Spider by Patricia Grace, and The Best-loved Bear by Diana Noonan. Eventually her students started to think about characters as people, animals, or objects.
The teacher particularly wanted her students to focus on real people in their writing, especially people who were close to them. She began to promote this focus by getting the students to talk about the mother in the picture book The Lion in the Meadow, by Margaret Mahy. They used both visual and text clues in the story to talk about what the mother looked like, what sort of person she was, and how she might have talked. As the students discussed their ideas, the teacher recorded them on the board.
The teacher then asked the students to focus on their own mothers. They had to visualise them in their minds and think about what they were like and what they did. She used the five senses to encourage this thinking – for example, “What does her hair look like?”, “How does her voice sound?”, and “How does she smell when she hugs you?”
After the discussion, the teacher wrote about her own mother as a model for the students. She particularly reminded them that she was trying to:
In addition, she reminded the students that she was trying to:
The students now understood what they needed to do. Tamyka, the writer of this text, had a clear purpose for writing: to tell what her mother did and show how she felt about her. She also knew that her teacher expected her to try some new words in her writing and to use capital letters, full stops, and finger spacing well.
She was excited about writing because she had now clearly visualised all the relevant things about her mother and knew what she wanted to say. Her teacher had helped her visualise these images through conversation:
Teacher: I see your mum drop you off at school sometimes. What does she do when she says goodbye?
Tamyka: She gives me a hug.
Teacher: What a lovely mum. I like it when my mum hugs me.
Tamyka drafted her piece of writing. To begin with, she drew a picture of her mum. This helped her to focus on her main message: “My mum always gives me a hug when she drops me off at school.”
As Tamyka wrote, she used her prior knowledge of sound, letter, word, and sentence formation. In particular, she:
The teacher helped Tamyka to revise her story. While roving, she realised that Tamyka could add more to her story because she had not yet met the second purpose for writing (“Show how you feel about your mother”). So she asked Tamyka focused questions that led her to add a second sentence.
Teacher: How do you feel when your mum hugs you?
Tamyka: It feels warm. She goes like this (demonstrates by hugging herself).
Teacher: Her arms wrap around you and make you feel warm. Can you write that?
Tamyka not only used the teacher’s modelled sentence structure and vocabulary to help her; she also used her own knowledge of key content and high-frequency words (“and”, “with”, “two”) and her sounding-out skills (“ams”, “wom”, “hods”). She read her story again and was pleased because she knew that she had now met the purposes for writing. This also gave her the confidence to feel that her audience – the teacher and the other students – would enjoy her writing and respond positively to it.
Tamyka wanted to present her writing in two ways.
Published on: 21 Mar 2016