With so many hefty components involved in teaching English at KS2 and KS3 (vocabulary, genre, class readers – the list goes on), it can be tempting to “double up” by using class texts as a springboard for teaching writing skills. As an English specialist, I believe this runs the risk of failing to distinguish sufficiently between the study of English Literature and the study of English Language. There is a pure craft to writing that can be diluted when it is only ever approached through the lens of a class text.
That being said, I have taught (and will continue to teach) some writing modules through a class text – Macbeth, for example. I have seen some amazing pupil outcomes from colleagues and Lit-Twitter where writing has emerged from a set text. Teachers who ardently adhere to a literature-based approach to writing argue that it provides children with something concrete and meaningful on which to hang their hat. This is true, but I also firmly believe that not all writing should be derived from a set text, and here’s why:
- What if not all the children enjoy and engage with the book? Is it the teacher’s choice and passion for this book that drives the writing curriculum? If so, is that fair? If every writing activity is initiated from a lengthy set text, that’s a long time for a child to be writing from a context that they perhaps do not enjoy or relate to. This will inevitably lead to disengagement and lower writing outcomes for that child.
- Some teachers have a class reader in addition to the book used to stimulate writing, which seems to be an awful lot of reading, and from just two authors. Nobody is disputing the value of reading in depth, but where is the variety in author voice and genre, both of which provide variety and broaden vocabulary and schema?
- Writing tasks derived solely from a book can be arbitrary and unrealistic, so the pupil misses out on real-life writing opportunities.
- Although published authors do read a lot and gain inspiration from their reading, they are not always moved to write through reading. Authors write from all kinds of creative sources, and this is what I like to teach my pupils to do. It is imperative that we include writing opportunities in our curriculum that stem from experiences other than reading: for example, touching and feeling objects, listening to music, watching films, or going out into nature. Writing does not and should not need to start with the work of another.
- Writing is an incredibly powerful tool and there are many purposes for writing. There are so many reasons why we are “moved” to write, and this very human trait of “mark-making” needs leveraging. Teachers should be finding out what pupils want to write about. As a class, do they share a common interest/aim/passion? Does the teacher allow enough time for personal writing projects?
- The study of a book and any creative writing stemming from that is, for me, more closely aligned with the study of English Literature than English Language. We must allow writing opportunities to emerge from both a book and other stimuli if we are to balance these two very different disciplines. This is one reason why English is the only subject to take up two GCSEs. It’s easy to lose sight of this when teaching younger pupils.
To be clear, I am not claiming that teaching writing through a book is “wrong”. Indeed, an in-depth book study is a joyous activity to engage in as a class and can serve as an excellent springboard for creative writing. However, there must always be a place for a writing curriculum that is separate from the study of literature if we are to do both skills justice.
Further Reading on the Teaching of Writing:
* Writing for Pleasure – Felicity Ferguson and Ross Young
* The Writing Revolution – Judith C. Hochman and Natalie Wexler
* Talk for Writing Across the Curriculum – Julia Strong and Pie Corbett
* The Write Stuff: Transforming the Teaching of Writing – Jane Considine