The CfBT education Trust wrote a pamphlet in 2008 to describe the need for a revamped UK National Writing Project along the lines of the USA, where the government had continued to pursue the process, whereas in the UK, the NWP stopped in 1988, at a point where it was argued that the National Curriculum embedded many of the aspects of the project.
The NWP in the USA started in California (Bay Area Writing Project) in 1974 in response to concerns over the level of children’s writing. After a few years this went national and has remained so since.
Basic tenets of the National Writing Project (USA) approach
The basic tenets of the National Writing Project were that:
1. to teach writing, you need to be able to write
2. students should respond to each other’s writing
3. the teacher should act as writer alongside the students, and be prepared to undertake the same assignments as the students
4. there is research about the teaching of writing that needs to be considered and applied, where appropriate, in the classroom
5. teachers can be their own researchers in the classroom
6. the best teacher of writing teachers is another writing teacher
7. various stages of the writing process need to be mapped and practised: these include pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, conferencing (see no 2 above) and publishing.
A fuller account of the way in which the National Writing Project (USA) works to support teachers is contained in Wood and Lieberman (2000), cited below.
The abiding legacy of the National Writing Project in the 1980s was the sharing of innovative practice between teacher and teacher. One of the important gains was an understanding that real audiences were important to emergent writers and that a range of types of writing could be enjoyed and experimented with. In this latter case, the initiative meshed well with the wider base for genres and styles of writing that was established in the first version of the National Curriculum for English, in the late 1980s, as well as with the early coursework-based requirements of GCSE. Any sense of the impact on pupils or of a sustained change in teacher professional development, however, could not be captured in such an exclusively bottom-up approach.
Raban (1990), gives one of the best accounts and evaluations of the project in its Berkshire context.
Raban concludes (p72) that specific gains in understanding and shared practice were made which included the importance of :-
opportunities for reflection and evaluation;
control over the processes of writing;
active re-shaping of past experience;
confidence and time to be tentative and to learn from mistakes;
and the importance of collaboration with others.
The NWP promoted the view that the writing process was paramount, that the different stages were equally important to the final outcome, that writing should not be a solitary activity, but should involve the active participation of others along the developmental route, including the teacher, that the process was enhanced by time for drafting and redrafting, with improvements discussed at all stages. The enhanced nature of audience offered a perspective that can be missing from much writing in class.
Making writing visible, throughout the process, is easy today with visualisers available in many classrooms, to support the developmental journey. Consideration of how to display the outcomes is essential. This can be through simple displays of writing, or within class anthologies, or personal portfolios of final drafts. All of these can then have impact on progress, as they form a new baseline from which to make progress.
The introduction of the National Curriculum brought one dimension which supported the NWP approaches, the introduction of descriptors of progression. It didn’t matter what the context for writing was, the descriptors could be applied to describe achievement and next steps, supporting detailed conversation with learners so that they could become co-labourers in their own progress. Descriptors attached to the edge of the writing book support an on-going dialogue between teacher and child and between children, as an outline journey is described.
The principles of the NWP could be easily adopted within a school or a department, with individual teachers undertaking small scale research activities then sharing outcomes at internal CPD sessions. The process of teachers learning about writing progression ultimately enhances the writing process for learners.
Wood, D.R. and Lieberman, A. (2000) ‘Teachers as authors: the National Writing Project’s approach to professional development’, International Journal of Leadership in Education, 3:3, 255–73
Raban, B. (1990) ‘Using the ‘craft’ knowledge of the teacher as a basis for curriculum development: a review of the National Writing Project in Berkshire’, Cambridge Journal of Education, 20:1, 57–72.