Growing Self Directed, Independent Student Writers

Last week I was privileged to witness for myself ample evidence of what happens when young writers are encouraged to become self -directed writers. I spent two days with teachers and students at Sorrento Primary School. As I moved between classrooms I was able to see student writers choosing not only their topics, but also the genre for their writing. These young writers were fully engaged in matching their words to the needs of their readers. They were exhibiting an authentic sense of purpose and genuine ownership of the writing tasks they had chosen.

They were writing productively, taking action and making decisions. Young writers do not achieve this state of being because teachers merely get out of their way. They achieve self-direction because teachers actively support and nurture student growth towards independence.

In one classroom (Grade 3/4) I visited the diversity of writing was clear evidence of self-direction and purpose. Let me present the following examples to illustrate the breadth of the writing that is possible when young writers are encouraged in this way:

Surfing Buddies With a Bird
‘I surf with a gannet. This may sound weird but this bird is my instructor. It is my instructor for surfing. I’ve only caught a couple of waves with the gannet. He duck dives with me and when I fall off, he sits on my board, so I know where it is,’

First Time Playing Cricket
‘My heart was pounding as I walked out onto the field. I was on strike. The first ball I faced I hit for four…’

Memories of Bali
‘We’re here, I said to myself. We hopped off the plane and got into a taxi van. Well, at least I think it was. Anyway, I was really hungry, so I got a bag of chips. Me and Auntie Anna were sitting in the back of the van and when it stops at the resort, we check in and I find my room. After this I go outside for a look. I was amazed to find two giant swimming pools…’

‘At my old school I had friends that were very humorous. Let’s start with Lexi. Now she was funny. She could this weird thing with her eyes. They would shake like a rattle snake’s tail. Lexi was the best at cart wheels and she had a really funny laugh (hee, hee, ha ha) She has blue eyes and blonde hair and is the best at gymnastic. Her favourite colour is blue. Now onto Jemma. I called her Jo Bobo. She was good at maths and basketball. She was in my basketball team…’      

Things I Never Do
I never sit on the friendship seat 
I never eat tomatoes                          
I never cut down trees                                                                                  
I never not listen to my teacher                                                                     
I never ride my bike to school                                                                       
I never try to be sad                                                                                     
I never swing to the sixth bar on the monkey bars
I never like bragging                                                                                    
I never get bitten by bull ants                                          
I never sleep without my Ewok   

Time to Cook
Enough chitty-chat                                                                                        
Ingredients –flour, eggs, flour                                                      
Cream, chocolate, pretty much the same
How hard can that be?                                                                                   
Putting some water in the saucepan                                               
And bringing it to the boil                                                                                
Soon the boiling water begins melting the chocolate                                         
Brrriinngg - Brrriinngg                                                                      
A phone rings…                                                                                              

As well as these pieces I saw:

The emergence of a graphic novel

A first person account of the life of a pencil
A story about a cat called, Custard
A report about possums
A poem about a dream
A story told in code
A story accompanied by a map of the setting

All the writers in this class displayed a similar commitment to their own writing projects. They all knew what they wanted to work on and how to approach their own particular writing challenges. They had invested time in identifying the purpose of their writing and had talked about their writing intentions with a partner. They had been encouraged to narrow the gap between their intentions and actions. In this classroom and the others I visited, self-direction is being actively nurtured. The teaching of craft sits comfortably alongside independent action. These young writers are being actively supported to believe- writers make decisions.

For Independent writing to be true in name, students need to be trusted to choose topic and genre and provided with support to grow into self-directed writers.


  1. Thanks Alan for great incentives to have children write about their own ideas and in their genre of choice. Sandra Pizaro


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