Non-fiction recounts, newspaper articles, persuasive letters, haiku, play scripts and the occasional fairy tale.
These are genres of writing.
To inform, to persuade, to advise, to hook the attention of the reader.
These are reasons for writing.
When is the last time you wrote a play script or felt the need to produce an advert advising about the merits and demerits of making a sandwich safely?
Perhaps we ought to widen our parameters a bit more and equip the bambinis with some more accurate and empowering reasons to write.
One of the most powerful pieces of writing I have seen from a child recently was not a newspaper report (sorry literacy class) but was a scrunched up post it note that a boy gave me in which he described feeling like he had ‘a black hole like a void’ inside of him. He wasn’t writing to impress me but because he chose such powerful words, i attributed so much gravity to his words. I spent a morning talking with him, getting to grips with how he feels and working to find ways to support him. If he didn’t write and didn’t choose those words, I would have been unaware of how bad he was feeling, and wouldn’t have acted on it.
I have another pupil who has a grasp of English and its intricacies which goes beyond that of the other kids. She writes with a real flourish and the more independently I allow her to work, the better it is. As an intervention, she and I are secretly writing a story together. She writes until she is bored then gives it to me – if she writes six pages, I have to write six pages. If she feels anything like as giddy as I do about seeing the book left in my drawer, she is having a great time. Through the playful project of writing for its own sake, we are communicating and I am giving her the boost in support that I can’t always give in class.
To create sociopathic sloths and community
Stalybridge Sloth is a dynastic part of my teaching. Born in 2013, Stalybridge – a plush sloth toy – began as a toy the kids would take home each week, and a kid would jot down what they did with Stalybridge, as well as sticking in some photos. Over time, Stalybridge evolved through the kids’ writing into a fully fledged character – anarchic, toddleresque, prone to fits of violence, witty and food-obsessed (sounds familiar…). He was in our class photo. Then some kid from another class left Stalybridge on a bus… So we had a memorial service and erected a plaque. We celebrate the anniversary. Then his ambiguously related Uncles arrived named Gilbert and George. Gilbert is goofy and loud and George is stoic and intense. The kids take them home now and through their weekly weekend writes, these characters have become ‘real’, with their own mental states, histories and dispositions. We discuss having ‘George’ moments. Writing created these sloths and bonded the class.
It is easy for us as adults to say that thinking is meretricious in and of itself, that it is a social good sui generis. For the kids, it is a lot harder. There is no LO and success criteria for an idea, and you can’t mark a thought. Sometimes, writing is the pure and unadulterated manifestation of thought. We can elicit kids instinctive and brilliantly automatic responses in writing, and can prompt their thought through questioning. I genuinely think that a lesson spent just writing questions in books and having kids answer them could be brilliant. Our questions respond to their answers, their answers respond to our questions.