Ask the experts: Year 6 writing

In this ‘Ask the expert’, Jo Shackleton and Margaret Fennell, highly experienced writing moderators and authors of NFER's Bite into Writing, answer some FAQs on year 6 writing. 

After a disrupted year of learning, what is the current appetite for writing in young people?

It’s disheartening to read the findings from the National Literacy Trust’s recent research into children and young people’s writing, not least the decline in the number that say they enjoy writing. And it’s a decline that, according to the report, has been evident for the past three years. But there are many positives in the research too, with 1 in 2 saying that they write to be creative, and 2 in 5 saying that writing makes them feel better. That’s an important finding for these turbulent and challenging times.

The Making Good Progress research conducted by the Department for Children, Schools and Families (now the DfE) found that able pupils at key stage 3 who were making slow progress tended to write at home for pleasure and welcomed the freedom to write without constraint. A parallel group of pupils at key stage 2 said that they preferred to write at home as they didn’t like to share their writing with a wider audience.

So it’s a complex picture... And whilst we have international studies such as PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study), they tell us more about reading rather than writing.

What key messages can we take from all of this to support children and young people as they move forward?

The past sixteen months have been unusual to say the least, and these findings are clearly part of a broader picture. Perhaps we tend to be more inclined to read – rather than write – for pleasure in our free time. Reading is a receptive skill and may be more associated with relaxation. As a productive skill, writing demands more of us, not only in terms of having something to say, but also in terms of orchestrating all the various elements of writing on page or screen.

We should continue to give pupils choice in their writing, and support them in writing for a wide range of real purposes and audiences. And we shouldn’t underestimate the power of quality texts to stimulate writing, and the value of modelling writerly behaviours in our day-to-day teaching. We must continue to encourage children to write – and to see themselves as writers. That’s what Bite into Writing sets out to do too.

How do the quality texts at the heart of Bite into Writing help inspire year 6 pupils to write?

Each Bite into Writing book is based on a quality published text – a short story in Book 1, an illustrated non-fiction text in Book 2, and a full-length novel in Book 3. These books inspire year 6 pupils to write, capturing the imagination and sparking ideas. Books that are language-rich invite pupils to visualise and recreate other worlds; books that are plot-driven invite pupils to speculate and predict at every twist and turn; and books that deal with difficult issues invite pupils to empathise by stepping into another character’s shoes for a while.

Alongside this, the Spotlight texts in Bite into Writing focus on writerly behaviours – drilling down into language to understand the craft of the writer. And that’s empowering – by helping pupils to understand what good writers do, they can begin to see themselves as writers too, with something to say and with a reader in mind. And the thematically-linked texts support pupils in making connections between texts and so widen their reading repertoire. How often do we recommend books to each other by saying, ‘If you’ve enjoyed this, you might like...’?

We’re pretty good at encouraging and supporting reading for pleasure in schools; it makes sense to draw on this to develop ks2 writing for pleasure too.