At all stages of primary school, students need the opportunity to deploy their existing skills in acts of meaningful, communicative writing. Even when still very new to writing (and grappling with the fine motor skills of holding a pencil), young children need the freedom to experiment with drawing and writing.
It is through this active attention to encoding text that existing skills are consolidated and developing strategies are put to work, reinforced and extended. Independent writing is therefore a time to write and utilise the strategies and understandings gained through whole class, small group and one-to-one instruction.
Rationale for a focus on independent writing
Students engage in independent writing at all phases of the writing process. Independent writing is not just ‘free choice’ writing but what the student does with their work as a result of the explicit instruction and scaffolds offered by the teacher. In this sense, it is the independent phase of the gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983; Duke, Pearson, Strachan & Billman, 2011).
Independent writing is both the culmination of the genre curriculum cycle (Christie, 2005; Gibbons, 2015; Hammond, 2001) and of ideas around a gradual release of responsibility (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983; Duke, Pearson, Strachan & Billman, 2011).
As well as forming a part of staged, sequential teaching, independent writing can be a time the student writes with little support from the teacher, trying out ideas in a risk-free environment where genuine writing attempts are recognised and rewarded.
Wilson (2006) sees independent writing as an opportunity for children to write “exploratively and wonderingly” (p. 9), finding voice through writing about things they find important.
Independent writing provides students with the opportunities to employ the various skills and knowledge they have developed throughout the more supported teaching practices of modelled and shared writing as well as those areas which have formed the focus of the mini lessons or writing conferences.
As part of the writing lesson, students are provided with clear learning intentions as they write independently.
As students write independently, the teacher:
- guides the students in their composition, supporting them to design and compose their texts independently and creatively
- conducts writing conferences with individual or small groups of students to provide additional support
- monitors the students’ writing to identify strengths and future goals
- provides opportunities for the student to self-assess
- provides feedback about the processes of writing and intended message
- engages the students in conversations about their writing, building their capacity to talk about their texts, the choices they have made and how these choices reflect their intended meaning.
During independent writing, students might:
- plan, draft, revise or edit their texts
- work on completing a final copy of published text
- compose a text related to an area of study set by the teacher, for example, an information report about an Australian animal
- research a topic and take notes
- compose a text on a topic of their own choice
- add to their writing repertoire
- consult with the teacher or peers for advice on their writing.
Christie, F. (2005). Language education in the primary years. Sydney: University of New South Wales Press.
Duke, N.K., Pearson, P.D., Strachan, S.L. & Billman, A.K. (2011). Essential elements of fostering and teaching reading comprehension. In S.J. Samuels & A.E. Farstrup (Eds.). What research has to say about reading instruction. (4th ed.). (pp. 51-93). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Gibbons, P. (2015). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning: Teaching English language learners in the mainstream classroom (2nd ed.). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Hammond, J., ed. (2001). Scaffolding: Teaching and learning in language and literacy education. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association.
Pearson, P. D., & Gallagher, M. (1983). The instruction of reading comprehension. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 8, 317-344.
Wilson, L. (2006). Writing to live: How to teach writing for today’s world. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.