Children’s intellectual progress depends very substantially on their ability to read. Exam results at the age of 16 and even earnings at the age of 42 are predicated on the speed with which children get out of the reading gate. (Read On, Get On, Save the Children 2014). We also know that good readers are the most likely to become good writers.
Writing is not the flip side of reading (apart from for spelling). It cannot advance at the same pace. Even as adults, we cannot write at the same level of sophistication as we can read – unless we are Dickens. This idea came from the flawed premise in the old national curriculum assessments that expected seven year olds to achieve level 2a in both reading and writing. However, the new National Curriculum has it right:
‘Pupils’ writing during year 1 will generally develop at a slower pace than their reading. This is because they need to encode the sounds they hear in words (spelling skills), develop the physical skill needed for handwriting, and learn how to organise their ideas in writing.’
That’s why Read Write Inc. schools teach children to read very quickly and – though they teach writing very thoroughly – they don’t expect young children’s writing to keep up with the rapid pace of their progress in reading.
Writing isn’t easy for anyone, least of all children. We/they have to:
- Decide what they want to say and how they want to say it (we all know how hard it is to formulate an idea, ready to write)
- Spell each word correctly (and English spelling is tricky)
- Form each letter and word onto the page legibly and speedily.
It’s a big ask for most five and six year olds. This is why we teach one new thing at a time. We teach handwriting, spelling and composition discretely, gradually introducing each skill and bringing them together, step by step.
First, we focus children’s efforts into forming letters and spelling simple words and encourage them to build sentences verbally, saying them out loud rather than writing them down.
Next we teach them to “hold” simple sentences in their heads and put their effort into transcribing them onto paper. Then, when they have mastered handwriting and simple spelling, their effort can go into the creative side of deciding what they want to say and how they can organise their thoughts on paper.
This is why in Read Write Inc. schools we group children according to their word reading and fluency, not on their writing. The sooner they read, the sooner they will have access to the words and ideas that will ultimately make them better writers.