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What’s Going on with Writing Lessons?

We can teach our children to flap their wings, but conditions have to be just right for them to fly.

— Annie Campbell

One of my enduring memories from my primary school years is standing up in front of the whole school to proudly read yet another of my long, long, long stories.

I loved writing, way back then, and my teacher supported me in my passion by encouraging me to go public with them. I suspect, however, they were filled with tedious dialogue and peppered with ‘and thens’ but the point is, we devoted a lot of time to writing. Just writing. Whatever we wanted to write.

Forty-odd years ago, this style of ‘process writing’ was the thing to do. I have zero recollection of having to write in any genre other than fiction. Non-fiction was the realm of high school.

How things have changed.

These days, the Australian Curriculum dictates that between the years of Prep to Year 6, students need to have covered all text types. Narrative, persuasive, informative, explanatory — you name it, we have to have ‘done it’.

And therein lies the problem.

‘Doing it’ often entails exploring that week’s text type, identifying the key features, then reproducing it in a formulaic manner. Tick all the boxes. Move on to the next one.

I’ve simplified it slightly to highlight my point, which is this:

Writing in schools has become more about ‘getting it done’ than enjoying the process. It’s more about covering the outcomes than exploring the wonder of words and how we can put them to work to create magic.

  • Who made the rule that every piece of writing you start has to be finished?
  • Where is it written that persuasive text has to have three arguments and you can’t use ‘I’?
  • Why can’t an information text be written in narrative style?

Some may argue that young children need to know the basics before they can experiment, but the problem is that once they’ve had those basics drummed into them with the formulaic process, their creativity has wilted beyond redemption from being undernourished.

The enjoyment of writing I experienced has all but disappeared from our teaching and has been replaced with the ‘right way’ to do it.

And, while I am not a lover of NAPLAN in any way, shape or form — the published results are pretty telling when you look past the school comparisons and focus on the big picture message about writing.

We’re not doing our kids any favours.

Writing lessons need to be more flexible – more real – more creative. If we want our students to become writers, we need to bring enjoyment back into the process.

Surely, it’s worth a try?

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