Why Writing Histories Are ImportantFeb 04, 2024
Every writer has a 'writing history'.
This history is made up of all the positive and negative writing-related experiences we’ve had in our lives.
Importantly, each of these experiences has helped shape our current beliefs and attitudes towards writing.
Students’ writing beliefs
For students, this means their past writing history can impact their current motivation, engagement and achievement in writing. Too many negative experiences in the past, may have them reluctant to put pen to paper now. A history of success, on the other hand, may have them desperate to share their writing with anyone who’ll listen.
“Students with more favorable attitudes toward writing have higher efficacy beliefs and are likely to write more often and exert more persistence and perseverance when obstacles arise” (Hall and Axelrod, 2014).
Teachers’ writing beliefs
In terms of teachers, research has shown that our beliefs and attitudes towards writing (which are formed through our own personal writing histories) can impact how we teach writing:
“Your attitudes toward writing can affect the strategies you use, how much time you spend on the subject, the quality of your instruction, and your willingness to try new strategies” (Williamson, LeeKeenan and Peixoto, 2020).
Learning about your students' histories
With individual writing histories having such a major influence on current beliefs and attitudes -for students and teachers alike- it makes sense to pause and learn what these histories are.
You can then use this valuable information to inform your future planning and support (for both your students and your teachers).
Hot tip: The writing histories activity I'm going to share with you can be especially helpful to use with either students who are reluctant to write, or teachers who appear reluctant to change how they teach writing. In both of these cases, I always suggest the mantra: Don’t get furious, get curious!
Rather than getting frustrated with these people, do you best to work out what the underlying vulnerability is that’s causing their resistance. You may just find it’s a culmination of negative writing experiences in their past.
Your writing history- An activity for the start of the year
Ask your students/teachers to share their ‘writing history’ with you. They can do this in writing or orally.
Let them know that you want them to describe themselves as a writer:
- What memories do they have of writing in school?
- What’s a positive experience they’ve had with writing?
- What’s a negative experience they’ve had with writing?
- How do they feel about writing now?
- Has this feeling changed over time? How? Why?
- What is a piece of writing they’re proud of? Why?
- What’s something that is challenging for them in terms of writing (or teaching writing)?
Share your own writing history with them first, to help model the vulnerability required in this task (and also to share a piece of yourself with them.)
Here’s my short writing history as an example:
My personal writing history:
My year 1 and 2 teacher, Mrs Brown, had the biggest influence on who I am as a writer today. She filled me with self-belief and a willingness to take risks in my writing. She loved us playing with language and trialing new words- even if they didn’t quite work. She praised me regularly and constantly urged me to share my writing with other teachers and classes.
My love of writing changed in high school. This was where I suffered my first major writing wound. I distinctly remember the negative feedback on a creative writing task I’d poured my heart and soul into. It was a poetry task that required a lot of risk taking on my behalf. The red pen that came back scribbled all over it introduced me to the idea that writing could be WRONG (and VERY wrong in my case!) I clammed up. I stopped writing. I lost my writerly voice.
I didn’t pick up a pen to write creatively again until I started teaching, when I was lucky enough to participate in a writer’s notebook PD. The workshop reconnected me with my inner voice and reminded me that I used to love writing.
Now I have a love / hate relationship with writing. I LOVE having written, but I HATE some of the hard work and idea wrangling that’s required in order to write well (#hellounfinishedbook).
Give it a go!
If you use this writing activity with your class / staff, I’d love to hear about it! Let me know over on the Oz Lit Teacher Facebook Group.
P.S Are you focusing on improving student writing growth across your school this year? This Thursday (Feb 9th) at 3:45pm (AEDT) I’ll be running a free one-hour webinar called Leading Writing in 2024. In the webinar I’ll be sharing the three most common issues I see affecting student growth in writing. I’ll be letting you know what they are and what you can do about them. You can learn more and sign up to the webinar here.
Related Blog Posts:
- Strategies For Supporting Reluctant Writers
- The Critical Kep To Improving Student Writing Data
- The Problem With Mentor Texts
Hall, A. and Axelrod, Y., 2014. “I am kind of a good writer and kind of not”: An examination of elementary school students’ writing attitudes. Journal of Research in Education, 24(2), pp.34-50.
Williamson, T., LeeKeenan, K. and Peixoto, S., 2020. More, Faster, Neater: Middle School Students’ Self‐Assessed Literacy Concerns. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 64(3), pp.291-300.
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