Why Literacy is better when it’s Wild

by 26 Mar, 2023

I was 8 years old. I’d written half a story, about a boy who escaped to a desert island. But now I was stuck.

“Time to finish your stories,” called out my class teacher. “And I don’t want any of you writing that you woke up and discovered it was all a dream.”

“Bingo!” I thought. My ending had been handed me on a plate.

Answers in advance

My teacher was trying to help me, by pushing me to be imaginative. But I lacked confidence and time. So I chose the easy option.

In literacy education today, a lot of children experience a lack of both confidence and time.

There are learning objectives that children are required to meet. Many are spelling and grammar targets. Some are creative writing targets. Most require a child to achieve the answer that has already been decided in advance.

Not all of this is bad. There are places where commas should go and places where they shouldn’t. Understanding the difference helps with being a better writer.

The problem is that when the focus is on achieving outcomes, the creative process – the pathways where the real learning takes place – gets devalued.

Just as commas correctly placed in a poorly written sentence doesn’t make the writing good, so learning objectives in a poorly designed process won’t achieve better literacy. In fact, many learning objectives actually squeeze confidence and time, and therefore make the process worse.

Building Confidence, Making Time

Confidence in literacy is not just about ‘reluctant writers’. Of course, there are children who really struggle to write and need extra space and support.

However, even high-achieving children can lack confidence with language. They have learned how to tick the boxes. But faced with an unfamiliar task, the need to ‘get it right’ takes over and their creative ideas remain stashed away.

Confidence is built by making time to explore. And making space for creativity that isn’t immediately judged as right or wrong. Reviewing work is a good educational practice. But a lot of work evaluates the person not the process.

Reviewing the process not the person means praising the ways that a child tried new things, or kept working on something that was difficult, regardless of the quality of the final outcome. (You can read more about that in our post on Growth Mindset here.)

It can be difficult to make time for exploration in literacy, especially for teachers who are under a lot of pressure to deliver learning outcomes.

But even if you can’t change the system you operate in, finding small ways to give children more time and space to explore can really help. And over the course of a year can add up to a big difference.

Making literacy wild

Literacy learning can be different. Targets and tick-boxes can be replaced by pathways and process. 

Language can be magical, powerful, unpredictable and inspiring. Building confidence with words involves recognising and respecting language and giving children freedom to explore. 

That’s the kind of wild literacy that can help children find and use their voice. 

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