“Umm, Mr. Gingell, what should I write about?”

This afternoon, I implemented the use of ‘free-writing books’ in my Y3 classroom. The idea is that every morning, the children will have some time to write whatever they like in their journals and that this will not be ‘marked’ by anyone else. 

Having completed a summative assessment task earlier on in the week, I was keen to find out what the children found easy and what they had struggled with in their writing. They talked about how it was hard to write to a specific title and criteria, so I thought it would be interesting to see how their writing, and attitudes to writing, would change if they were allowed complete freedom. 

As soon as I introduced this idea to the children, they all became very excited, which was great to see! Some children who have, in the past, shown some negative feelings towards writing, could not wait to get started! However, when it came to putting that first word down on paper, a wave of hands rose high across the classroom. 

“Umm, Mr. Gingell, what should I write about?”

I had not planned for this. I had, perhaps naively, assumed that all the children would just, well, just write. It had not dawned on me that there may be children who struggled with this task. After talking to the children again for a few minutes, reminding and reassuring them that they could indeed write whatever they liked, that, yes, they could choose if they wanted, to write about soldiers and fighting and best friends and (in some cases) farting, the pencils slowly began to move and quickly found pace. Discussions were audible from every corner of the classroom as children spoke to their partners about their stories, about the characters and the settings, about the plots they were dreaming up. The atmosphere was great. 

This experience has certainly made me think. The fact that many children did not have a clue what to write, that they were almost restricted by this freedom, made me consider the impact prescribing writing can have. I am not saying that children should be free to write all the time, or that the prescribed writing of the curriculum is a bad thing altogether. However, I have realised that to ensure children enjoy writing and to help children develop a ‘love’ of writing, perhaps allowing them some freedom can help. Also – I realise that this idea is nothing new, and that I am only a trainee teacher, however, this experience has certainly given me food for thought and I wanted to reflect on it!

The results have already been very exciting! One child, who wrote less than a page during the hour-long summative assessment task, wrote almost twice this amount in half the time. Alongside this, they had used speech in their writing for the first time and experimented with the structure of their sentences.

I am hoping that the children will experiment, explore and ‘have a go’ at writing imaginatively and interestingly in this ‘uncontrolled’ environment, and that this experience will eventually follow through in their more formal, assessed pieces. 

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