How often do we comment that a certain child has wonderful ideas and makes a good oral contribution, but fails to match this with the quality of his or her written work? By writing with children, we can make use of their verbal contributions. For example, a short story could be constructed with children working on mini whiteboards in pairs and the teacher drawing ideas as the story unfolds. Conducted well, such writing sessions can engage children's interest and provide them with material to continue stories and write their own endings.
Giving children ownership
It is important that children feel that they have genuinely contributed to a piece of writing in order for them to take pride in it. We need to avoid taking it over or being over-prescriptive about the content and style, while still guiding them and making teaching points.
Respecting children's ideas
Children sometimes want to take a story in a direction we had not anticipated or even wanted. It is important not to simply dismiss the children's idea and to seek an appropriate compromise to take the story forward.
Reading and re-reading
Throughout a joint writing project, it is vital that the text produced is read and edited and revised in light of the authors' comments. If momentum is to be sustained everyone needs to see how the plot is developing and what their role is in moving it on.
Everyone can contribute
When teachers write with children there is an opportunity for every child to contribute in some way. This might be through oral suggestions, supported writing, illustrations, typing, proof-reading, editing, design or discussion.
The end product must be 'published'
Children need to see that their work is valued and can be presented attractively.This does not necessarily mean printing, but may involve electronic presentation and distribution.
Emphasise the importance of planning and research
Encourage children to use time outside of the allocated writing time to plan and conduct research on their chosen topic
Invite published authors to talk to children
Having an author show her or his work with a class, read extracts and discuss where ideas came from and how they were woven into a story can be fascinating and often inspires children to want to read and write.
Remember the ZPD
Vygotsky's zone of proximal development is the concept that children can achieve more when working under the guidance of more experienced or competent peers and adults. Writing with children provides real opportunities to develop their skills as well as an understanding of the writing process.
*This is an edited extract from Modelling Exciting Writing by Adam Bushnell, Rob Smith and David Waugh.