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Teachers' usual practises concerning "literary" written work: what references to writers' practises?1

Catherine Tauveron


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  • 1 Originally published in Repères, 40, 2009, 79-109
  • 2 Research funded by INRP. Group members: Michèle Ayraud, Éliane Maisonneuve, Vianneyte Roux, Catheri (...)

1The purpose of the research group2 that I lead at the IUFM (teacher training college) of Rennes is to describe “ordinary drafting in literature” and its related aspects in classes taught by 1) 20 trainee primary and secondary school teachers who have not been trained in writing yet, 2) 11 teachers in cycle 3 who have not been trained since they started teaching at least 35 years ago for teachers coded G, V1, Ma, 15 years ago for teachers V3, V4, Sa, Al, Es, R, K, 7 years ago for V2. Teaching writing is probably the most difficult task to perform, including for specialists in literature, because writing is intrinsically complex, because there is no expected answer to given instructions and above all because teachers are requested to teach what they have not been trained to as training to writing is hardly provided in French degree courses. As a result, what resources do teachers refer to and how do they teach this indefinable subject when they have not been trained recently (and therefore without direct information on research findings) or when their writing proficiency is not appropriate? Do they teach differently according to when their initial training took place? Drawing on declared and actual teaching practices, we will examine their representations (representation of the writing process, of the writer in general, of the writer-learner relationship and of the writer in particular, of the relationships between writers’ and pupils’ texts). We made a comparative analysis between trainee teachers and experienced teachers in cycle 3 with the following question in mind: does the degree course in literature of trainee teachers significantly change the above-mentioned representations? Due to lack of space, I will however limit the study to the sole reactions of the 11 primary school teachers.

1. Methodology

2This is a descriptive and qualitative research based on three types of data:

  1. declared teaching practices collected in standard questionnaire-oriented interviews;

  2. actual decontextualised teachers’ writing practices based on a set of compulsory tasks (analysis of instructions, of pupils’ draft and final written compositions, class-like evaluation of pupils’ compositions and of didactical scenarios);

  3. actual writing practices (rewriting of a pupil’s text to understand how, beyond their evaluative judgement and their advice rewriting, teachers would themselves perform the rewriting task).

3Concretely, teachers had to answer the following questions in writing:

    • 3 Production referred to below as “Julie’s composition” (see appendix)

    During reading lessons, a class in cycle 3 studied fantastic stories of puppets mistaken by spectators for women of flesh and bones, stories of life-endowed, evil puppets who turn against their conjurers. Among other achievement criteria, pupils managed to identify that stories are written from the perspective of the spectator and signs enabled readers to understand the mistake or the danger before spectators themselves. Evaluate the composition of this pupil3 on the basis of this instruction: write the scene where your narrator meets a puppet that he mistakes for a human being or a puppet that comes to life. Your narrator speaks in the first person. Write the scene so that a clever reader understands before the narrator what the situation is like exactly. What would you write in the margin, on the copy head and on the copy (proceed as usual)?

  1. Rewrite yourself the text below to make it suitable:

Fantastic story
This is the end of the peaceful summer holiday.
Today I’m back to school. Well actually it’s a boarding school because I hate schoolwork and it will never change.
At 8am the bell rang but today was not an ordinary day because I felt strange.
Two weeks later, I felt even stranger because my pencil was writing on its own. But I had terrific marks in the evening: 20 in English, 18 in maths and in French. The week after, all my teachers and the principal wanted to meet me and my parents. On the following day, my parents and I met the principal in her office. Chattering and chattering and the principal suggested that I should be sent to a boarding school but NO! I shouted with all my strength and energy but my parents acted as if they had not heard me.
That’s why I stayed in a boarding school my whole youth.

4During the interview, teachers answered the questions below:

  1. Cite detailed writing instructions that you will give or gave during the school year. How many writing instructions per year have you given?

  2. What do you think of the previous instruction “Marionnette” (puppet)?

  3. What do you think of the following instruction?

5Here are four characters with their portraits only:

6Character A

7He had a huge bushy beard that covered his face, excluding the forehead, the eyes and the nose. His hairs were standing on end like the hairs of a nail brush. Ugly tufts were even sticking out of his ears and nostrils.

8Character B

9He was all dressed in white and moved around very briskly, tiptoeing forward. He was wearing white suede shoes with little air holes. His accent sounded equally Italian and Spanish. He looked old when seen from a short distance. He looked like he was sixty-eight or seventy years old.

10Character C

11Nothing good brightened up her face. She used a cane as a prop to walk because she said she had verrucas on her left foot. In fact, she used her cane to hit dogs, cats and children. She had a glass eye that would always look askance.

12Character D

13His face was of an annoying beauty of bronze and leather. He was in turn the big-game hunter, the polo player, the successful Everest climber, the explorer of tropics. Bushy eyebrows, a steely look, white and strong teeth nibbling at the end of his pipe. His voice was cutting and spitting out words like a small gun laden with raspberry seeds.

14Write a story that will gather these four characters. You will introduce the descriptive elements above when you think it is the most appropriate. You do not have to introduce all these descriptive elements at the same time.

  1. What type of work do you perform on drafts?

  2. What is a good pupil’s narrative for you?

  3. Here is a sequence named “tétard” (toad) taught at the very beginning of 6e (1st year of lower secondary education in France)

  4. Is the following approach to facilitate writing common practice in your class – collective search of ideas and vocabulary, writing?

  5. In your opinion, what is going on in the head of the person writing? How is a text generated? Do you have an idea of the writing process and how to facilitate it?

15The data collected are used to describe the following correlated didactical variables: writing know-how of selected teachers, their self-knowledge about writing know-how and their capacity to get pupils to write well.

2. The knowledge of teachers about the writin know-how af pupils and the underlying representations of the writing process

2.1. The writing process as viewed by teachers

  • 4 See Marie-Claude Penloup on all these points (2000).
  • 5 Louis Aragon, Je n’ai pas appris à écrire ou les incipit, Les sentiers de la création, Genève, Albe (...)

16The answers to question 8 show a common representation of writing viewed as a hierarchised and linear process, the expression and translation of previously developed reasoning that is partly aside from the very writing process. This classical representation dissociates and prioritises operations and logically does not include revising or only in fine. It is viewed by K. as the model of expert writing: Adults will first outline their ideas and then develop them in writing. Such a “modelling” which does not regard writing as rewriting but as a process imposed on all writers is far from psycholinguistic modelling, from those that geneticists can infer from their study of drafts (variable “profiles” of writers and especially of how operations are ordered) and from the accounts of these particular experts – authors – who argue that reasoning comes with writing4: “I’m writing to read what I didn’t know I was going to write” says Claude Roy, “one day, it dawned on my mind that if I could write, I could say something different from what I thought […] cause secrets to write […] I still believe that we think from what we write and not the other way round. I only make calculations to see figures pop up on paper, unexpected numbers whose meaning escapes me but I dream of afterwards. That’s how I write novels. […] but I was not aware of it in the first pages. It was decided by writing and during writing”, Aragon5 wrote. Al. is the only teacher who seems to underline the recursive character of the writing process and accordingly its intrinsic difficulty: the most difficult thing to do for pupils is to imagine both a story and then write it.

2.2. The obstacles to the application of the writing process

17Against the backdrop of a common representation, teachers sometimes laid the stress on the difficulties relative to the retrieval and mental planning of “encyclopaedic” elements and sometimes on translation. There is a quasi consensus on the difficulty of pupils to plan their work as indeed mentioned by scientific, especially psycho-cognitive literature (Gombert, 1990). However, literature does not say if this planning should be frozen before any translation:

I feel that children don’t have a comprehensive view of what they’re going to write. It’s spontaneous (Es.). Children engage in the story without thinking about the text as a whole, about events or the end. They sometimes lose the thread of their story and don’t know how they can continue it (K.). What is difficult is to have a mental view of their work as a whole. I think that pupils don’t do it or find it difficult to do it, which is why narratives are sometimes incoherent; they go in one direction and have difficulty coming back on course (V3.). Pupils do not anticipate, except in a few cases. Some children are logorrhoeic. They write sentences without having analysed the instruction first. It’s often the case. (V2.)

18However, K. has a broad conception of planning – it is not only a matter of selection and organisation of a subject or of how the purpose of the speech is considered but also a question of interaction. As you write “for” someone, it involves decentring, attracting the other and regulating the activity based on the reader as the writing partner. These are challenging operations for young children: A pupil who writes a story first just writes a story and does not think of the readers who will read his story.

19In terms of translation, teachers often mention the fear of making spelling mistakes (Es.) and the lack of words to convey thoughts: vocabulary is important to convey thoughts, feelings and emotions. Grammatical mistakes are not a nuisance to me (Ma.). Language deficit is linked to the lack of vocabulary and to how say things in writing (V3.). Syntax, punctuation, and connection of sentences are hardly mentioned as difficulties.

20Finally, some teachers praise the hidden potentialities of children while others denounce their incompetence. V1., G. and Es. have a low esteem of pupils’ skills. In their eyes, pupils fail because they have little matter to translate into words:

  • They lack ideas

21When some ask you if 5 or 6 lines are enough, it is often because they have no ideas (G.). First ideas come to your mind and then you start writing. If they don’t have ideas, they don’t know what to write. When unguided instructions are given, they have no ideas (V1.) [This is however in contradiction with his abovementioned declaration: they start writing without thinking and therefore there’s no coherence, end, connection with the instruction, which implies that they have too many unorganised ideas].

  • More specifically, they lack imagination

22They hang on to their daily lives (Es.)

23Ma. lays the stress on the difficulty of children to draw on their internal resources, which are obstacles of a psychological, cognitive and cultural nature. Thus, she assumes the existence of internal richness. She views writing as the expression of interiority, singular imagination, and “haunted” sensitiveness (confirmed by all her declarations) implying self-retreat to draw one’s material, the participation of the whole being to fiction in progress: the difficulty is to focus and create an interior world. Afterwards, you enter an imaginary world and can create your characters. She assumes that imagination is educated (educatable?) through the culture of books: it involves a rich imaginary world but for children who were not fed with stories, this is a problem.

2.3. The aids available for the writing process

24How do teachers come to grips with the obstacles they face? In principle, two options are possible:

  • Dodging or bypassing the difficulty (only requesting the translation of a pre-planned plot, providing the vocabulary, giving up the idea of rewriting for example). While the objective set was to reduce writing insecurity and avoid a blank page is reached, no new competence is developed.

    • 6 There have been many suggestions in the research of over the past thirty years: instructions spurri (...)

    Putting pupils in front of obstacles and providing them with aids to overcome these obstacles or deliberately clearing obstacles through appropriate didactical situations6.

25V1. declared she was powerless to facilitate the writing process. She deplored that pupils felt there was no aim in academic writing (I can’t figure out how to get them to enrich their compositions. They just write to please the teacher or perform the task set in the instruction. They too often believe their writing is useless) but did not contemplate finding a solution by setting a pragmatic goal to this activity. G. said he “didn’t know what to do”. What is the solution when there is a lack of ideas? Requiring pupils to finalise their drafts right from the first time before teacher correction is clearly an obstacle to rewriting. The other teachers make the following proposals:

  • Limiting their ambitions and getting pupils to perform only easy tasks (Sa.: We can ease the process by giving very easy written work in the beginning.)

  • Compensating for the lack of imagination by working on pupils’ personal experience: (Sa.: I enjoy working on reports, mail and functional compositions. I get them to work on their experience because they don’t have much imagination.)

  • Building pupils’ planning capacity through particular attention to instructions (V3.: giving clear instructions; Al.: Children need clearly defined instructions to grow: we can give the incipit for example), through prior research of “ideas” (K.: To help pupils, we can ask them to write down their ideas before engaging in writing. They can give an oral account to have an overall picture.)

  • Making translation easier by providing the vocabulary (K.: We can also help them by writing down the key words) or by collecting it in authors’ texts, especially for the expression of feelings (Ma.: working on vocabulary means becoming familiar with other texts. They can work on feelings through game writing. When words are missing, you cannot name because you don’t even know that exists. Though literature or cinema, they will feel emotions and when they must translate them, they will tell you “ok but I don’t know how to put it”. That’s why it’s crucial to have words in stock; it’s a key resource for writing.)

  • Not paying attention to spelling (Es.: I tell them they can make spelling mistakes) or providing spelling tools (Al.)

  • Providing writer-like models (Al.: We used to write in the manner of…Not any more…For example, we’ve just read albums of witches. We can make comparisons and it’s easier for pupils to write.)

  • Ensuring that the task requested becomes the writing project of pupils: we must give them an attractive goal and writing guidelines and make regular evaluations. It must become their writing project. (Es.)

  • Promoting online revising: All that they write is just a draft. I tell them they can make spelling mistakes (Es.). First I ask them to write down their ideas with a piece a paper and a pencil for them to change all that they want. (V2.)

  • Promoting a posteriori rewriting: interim evaluations are necessary to succeed. A first draft is not enough to say if it is a success. The grid is there to evaluate pupils and see if they have answered the instruction. (Es.)

  • Counting on the powers of reading and on assimilation through authors’ texts (V2.: A writer once asked my pupils: What have you read? You write as you read”. You cannot write if you have no references.)

  • Making readers indispensable partners of writing and regulatory instances (V2.: I always tell pupils to write for a particular reader even if I don’t mention it in the instruction. You write to be read and to read yourself again. K.: I write in the margin the questions that a potential reader might raise).

26Beyond these differences, teachers gave unanimously positive answers to question 7: “Do you practice the following approach to facilitate writing: collective search of ideas and of vocabulary?” In keeping with their representation of the writing process and its obstacles, all the teachers surveyed adopted a safe approach, either systematically (G., V2., Sa., Es., V4., V., Al.) or occasionally (K., V3.). Here is an example of the first case: I don’t know if it’s appropriate or not but this is what I do in my class. I think it’s good because you just can’t leave all pupils on their own; some will manage very well but most of them won’t be able to do it (Al.). Here is an example of the second case: Yes I sometime do it, especially for the search of vocabulary and less for ideas because it is less necessary. I give them some leeway (V3.).

27R. did not answer the question because the instruction he gave – write a narrative based on sequential images – answered in itself the question of the search of ideas. Ma. is a singular case as she viewed such an approach as a means to spur the natural creativity of children that she assumes: This is a very interesting approach that rouses the creativity of children and limits the fear of the blank sheet and of “I have no ideas”

3. Effective teaching of writing: are instructions academic tasks or auhors' projects?

3.1. Guided instructions: prior analysis.

28The two instructions under scrutiny involved performing complex tasks. In the first instruction (“puppet”), pupils were requested to use a competence (being able to create a fantastic effect) that was previously studied at length in authors’ works. Relying on the interaction between reading and writing, it logically turns the characteristics of this competence as identified by pupils (the selection of the spectator’s perspective, the presence of signs that enable readers to understand the mistake or the danger before spectators themselves) into injunctions: Your narrator speaks in the first person. Write the scene so that a very clever reader might understand before the narrator what the situation is really like. The instruction is the concrete expression of a set of performance indicators commonly agreed in class. In other words, in specifying the targeted model reader (very clever), the effect to be produced on this reader and the means to do so and in relying on the memory of readings, the instruction guides pupils when writing but also leaves them a large space of personal appropriation and expression. The requested task is definitely not an easy task but pupils are supposed to have the resources to perform it.

29By contrast, the second instruction (“Portraits”) is a problem task or a screen task, i.e. a task whose objectives are not explained at the outset but will emerge from the very activity it created. More exactly, a screen task invites pupils to perform another cognitive activity than that announced but cannot be directly expressed because it is to be discovered and is the very learning objective. As it happens, pupils are apparently asked to write a narrative based on the descriptive information about its potential actors. But the task is not intended to check that pupils can write a narrative based on a prompt (descriptions here) but to identify pupils’ representations of a) the functionality of description (will they identify and interpret the descriptive signs and link them to the behaviour they will give to characters in action? Will they use these descriptive elements to develop a web of alliances and collusions or of dissension and strong opposition between characters? Or will they completely neglect the “irrelevant” material provided? b) How and where descriptions should be placed in narrations (will they insert the whole description as soon as the character appears or disseminate information according to the immediate narrative context? Will descriptive information be conveyed by the sole narrator or by other seeing characters?). As mentioned in the instruction, a selection among these points is necessary but the nature or the reason of this selection is not explained. It is up to pupils to find appropriate answers to the request (is there an alternative to how a description should be introduced?). These are precisely these answers (whether they are conscious or not), the outcome of knowledge and experience-based know-how, that will be examined afterwards. The solutions found by each pupil will be inventoried, evaluated and compared to the solutions of authors. Therefore, instructions are not the outcome of prior learning but are intended to identify and transform primary representations and behaviours and pave the way for subsequent learning at the end of which writing opportunities will emerge. By contrast, only norms seemed to prevail originally. These opportunities will then be compared with authors’ opportunities (in this sense writing precedes the reading of literature).

30Obviously, when we asked teachers to evaluate these two instructions that exceeded academic habitus, we did not intend to be gratuitously provocative. In order to develop an opinion on simple and complex matters, “what is possible vs impossible in my own didactical context”, I found it necessary to resort to instructions that are remote from usual instructions.

3.2. Main opinions on guided instructions

31The two instructions did not receive the same comments. Rejection prevailed concerning the instruction “puppets”. The instruction “portraits” was appealing to teachers (Al.: this is a great exercise – V2.: It’s terrific! – G.: I find the instruction appropriate) but raised some criticism. However, no teacher perceived the nature and objective of the task.

3.2.1. Rejection based on a representation of the simple vs complex task Formal complexity of the instruction equated with the complexity of the task to be completed and by extension complex reading of the instruction equated with complex completion of the instruction

32V1., V2., Al. and V4. found the two instructions too complex because they were too long. When pupils are requested to write a narrative, they must take options and simultaneously solve a set of intertwined writing problems that are well-identified in some limited cases (spelling for example) but ill-identified in most cases (for all that is part of textual management). The teachers surveyed assume that a simple instruction in its expression implies a simple task. Obviously, this is sometimes the case. But a simple instruction such as “Write a tale” lets pupils identify and settle by themselves the ill-defined questions that will arise. The formal complexity of the instruction “puppet” is one of the conditions of its clarity. What makes this instruction difficult to understand beyond its apparent complexity is the didactical context in which the instruction takes shape and makes it legitimate (many previously oriented readings). But this context does not make sense for a number of teachers who are not or little used to practising reading-writing interaction. Complexity of the textual material to insert in the narrative equated with complexity of the task

33V2., V1. and V4. mentioned the too large amount of compulsory descriptions in the instruction “Portraits”. However, in this specific case, the length of descriptions provided has no incidence on the complexity of the task because it is just necessary to insert their material in one’s own material. Open-ended task equated with difficult task

34V3. does not reject complex tasks as long as they are part of a detailed grid of performance criteria. But a complex task that requires some initiative is in his eyes a difficult task: (about the instruction “Portraits”) I think it is quite challenging. Descriptions of portraits are given and they must be inserted in a narrative. Are pupils asked to insert them as such? I find it very difficult actually. I don’t think I would give this instruction as such, there’s not enough guidance. And then it’s a narrative so it’s important to mention the tense requested. V3. does not perceive that the purpose of the instruction is precisely to ask pupils to make a choice and evaluate the relevance of this choice. His representation of writing as the strict application of norms is an obstacle just like his probable lack of knowledge about the functionalities of description. Open-ended task equated with risky task for teachers

35R. evaluated the instruction “Portraits” as follows: I would be afraid of having the same style; in other words, he feared that all pupils would introduce the descriptions provided as a whole. Inducing mistakes and drawing a benefit from them is not part of common teaching approaches. Operations constitutive of literary writing (adoption of a singular discursive ethos, assumption and definition of a reader, fictionalisation of the “I”) deemed beyond the realm of in-class possibilities

  • 7 The secondary school trainee teachers surveyed, who work so much on the narrator in reading, have s (...)

36Here’s Al.’s reaction to the instruction “Puppets”: It’s too much! Pupils are requested to be the narrators because they write in the first person but also to put themselves in the place of the readers who will read the story afterwards…It’s too difficult for pupils in cycle 3. V1.’s position was similar: If I tell them your narrator is in the first person, they will tell themselves: that’s me. Regarding the “I” as an imaginary other, a mask behind which one can hide are operations that are in principle declared unthinkable for pupils7. There is shared knowledge on learners that overshadows experiential knowledge about the very early aptitude of children to “act as if”.

37The confusion (or the fear of confusion among pupils) between the author and the narrator corresponds to an “expressive” conception of writing. Task that is unthought-of or unthinkable by teachers equated with a difficult task for pupils

38K. argued that description in narratives served as embellishment or last-minute finish coming after the construction of the plot. She added that it was useful to the pleasure of the reader but not absolutely necessary in diegesis. Therefore, it was unthinkable for her to request pupils to write a narrative based on such descriptions. Drawing on this didactical way of thinking, she inferred the impossibility for pupils to write such a narrative: Once again, it’s very difficult because we are not used to writing a story using a description. Instead, we tell a story and then add descriptive elements. It’s easier for pupils because they are more engaged in the story than in description. She added significantly: I don’t work much on description with pupils because I’m not attracted by this kind of literature. I prefer working on the construction of the story, on action.

3.2.2. Acceptation of complex tasks Acceptation at the price of simplification or division into micro tasks

39Assimilation from the quantitative to the qualitative results in two practices: simplification through the removal of some data within the instruction or division of the task.

40Facilitating the completion of complex tasks through the removal of its data is a suggestion of Al.: Four characters is too much. Two would have been enough. I like the instruction but four characters is too much. We notice however that one of the attested difficulties of young pupils when they write a narrative is the recruitment of their “staff”. This task is included in the instruction “Portraits” and accordingly pupils do not have to complete it, which facilitates their work. Reducing the number of pupils as suggested by Al. implies it is possible and easier to develop a plot with one or two compulsory characters than with four but the opposite might be closer to reality because pupils are then requested to invent the missing figures themselves, if need be.

41Facilitating the completion of complex tasks through division into micro tasks is a suggestion of K.: It’s not guided enough. I would first ask pupils to write the story but not completely just to have a framework and then add elements for a very clever reader to be able to understand. I would give the same instruction in the same order but not all data simultaneously because there would be too many things for children of that age: 1) Write the scene where your narrator meets a puppet that s/he mistakes for a human being or for a puppet that comes to life. 2) Your narrator speaks in the first person. 3) Write the scene for a very clever reader to be able to understand before the narrator what the situation is like exactly. K. divides the writing process by copying it exactly on the components of the compulsory task: first planning the plot, then planning the mode of enunciation and finally textualising. She does not realise that the succession of micro tasks involves the complete rewriting of the text already written. But moving from the first micro task to the second involves first making a narrative choice before constructing the plot. It is likely that pupils will spontaneously narrate in the third person and will therefore have to fully review what they will have written when the injunction comes: your narrator speaks in the first person. Indeed, the shift from a third to a first person narration not only involves a change in pronoun but also a selection of information, subjective screening and the axiologisation of this information. Rewriting, especially when it involves overall replanning, is always extremely costly for young pupils to the point that some do not take the next step. When the task is divided, it is also probably complexified and actually reduced to just performing the first micro task. The task is accepted if the interaction between reading and writing is mobilised

42V3. underlined the complexity of the task requested by the instruction “Puppet” (It’s very difficult. It might even be too subtle for a child.) but also hinted that this complexity can be overcome provided that reference works were studied beforehand (It’s true that it depends on what she studied on fantastic stories) and that the instruction was more “detailed” (she should have given details on the form). V3. and Es. were the only ones who perceived the didactical contextualisation of the instruction (this instruction implies that we worked on puppets before).

3.3. The actual instructions given by teachers

3.3.1. Typology of requested tasks

43The tasks requested were distributed as follows

Complementing existing plots (beginning, middle, end)








Transformation of an existing narrative



Rephrasing of stories read



Writing based on sequential images


Writing of decontextualised narrative elements (dialogues, portraits)









Writing full, genre-based narratives (a fable for example)



Writing full, genre-based narratives collectively (a detective novel for example), writing poems



Imitation of an author’s text




Linguistic motives behind writing (working on infinitives, the conditional, shift from speaking to writing)




Writing based on a word, a sentence to express images, feelings



  • The degree of variety of instruction according to teachers

44R. opted for a single instruction (Writing a narrative based on pictures: Look at the following pictures. They tell a story but they are not in order. Cut them out and put them back in the chronological order of the story. One of you will then describe what he sees. Others can complete the description orally. You will then write the story corresponding to these images) while Es. opted for a variety of instructions (Sum up the story that I’ve read – Write what the characters think – Write a new account in The child-ocean – Give a voice to objects – Invent a sequel – Write what you have done during the holiday to introduce the passé composé – Write what you would like to do in the future and use the conditional – Write a dialogue based on a given situation – Choose a title and a moral then write a sort of tale – Invent animals – Write a calligram)

  • The recurring character of some instructions among all teachers

45The same typical instructions (sequel to a narrative, decontextualised descriptions or dialogues) are very often, if not exclusively found in teachers’ practices. As school genres, they are apparently essential to primary education.

  • The varying scope of the task requested and the varying sense of initiative among pupils

46V1. and V2. stood at both ends of a continuum. V1.’s arguments (It’s always very specific. For example I asked pupils to replace the names in La cigale et la fourmi and write the seventh name that followed in the dictionary. There was no really unguided composition. For example in literal and figurative expressions, I just asked for the punch line. I did not embark in the narrative) are the sign that the teacher did not believe in the capacities of pupils who were only given tasks with minimal cognitive and affective investment.

47Sophie David and François Le Goff (2009) pointed out that:

It is difficult for pupils to take action in a system where instructions restrict writing and does not envisage the cooperation of writers, especially in a system in which written performance is not intended to be turned into a specific project or in a temporality within which the initiative could be taken at different times, where the very idea of initiative would be prepared and gradually mobilised thanks to educational situations designed by the teacher.

48By contrast, the arguments of V2., who is the youngest teacher, (The idea of writing a tale or a novel is absolutely fantastic. They feel they are writers, especially if it is typed. I organised dedications and it motivates them: “Miss When I grow up, I will write in large characters”) show confidence in pupils’ capacities and the desire to guarantee the proper didactical conditions towards capacity-building. Project-based writing and the quest for some form of mimesis with the writer are part of these conditions.

3.3.2. Rationales behind instructions

49Instructions are closely correlated to the conceptions that teachers have of the childlike writing process and its obstacles. In the logic mentioned, complexity is equated with difficulty and risk-taking is avoided

50Instructions have a fragmentary character

51Writing is not thought and taught as a systemic activity (to adjust multidimensional narrowly and diversely connected problems). The complex task of writing an autonomous narrative is divided into tasks that are deemed more simple, examined separately and rarely connected. This is the case of all the tasks aimed to complete a compulsory plot, to write bits of decontextualised narrative, develop a previously provided plot or to transform raw material (Write the thoughts of this character, Write from the perspective of the person looking at the scene, Es.). Pupils are not put in the situation of completing all these tasks (I didn’t embark on the narrative, V1.; I give writing assignments every two weeks without being too demanding, we’re still in the stage of enjoying writing, starting to write, V4.). When pupils are never requested to write a full narrative, a risk factor is ruled out but others are probably introduced unwittingly. Out-of-context description is more embarrassing than in-context description because the latter requires selection, ordering and the argumentative orientation of traits. In addition, writing out-of-context dialogues or descriptions does not teach to write functional descriptions set in a narrative context and writing the end of a narrative or expanding on a compulsory narrative framework does not teach to plan a plot.

52Instructions have a narrowly formal character

53This is the case of all the instructions designed to mimic authors when there is a language learning objective (To work on language: for example infinitives based on a text by Perec. It’s almost similar to fill-in-the-blanks exercises. V3.)

54Instructions are part of a supposed gradation from the simple to the complex

55V4. declared: We worked on portraits. We started with the portrait of a real person in pupils’ environments then we wrote the imaginary portrait based on the readings of imaginary portraits. Such a conception of progress is based on the following assumption: there are degrees of difficulty in the art of constructing portraits in connection with the real or imaginary nature of the referent; describing an existing person is easier than describing an imaginary character because the competences gained from describing a real person are a prerequisite to start the portrait of an imaginary character. We have disputed the validity of this assumption (Tauveron 1995, 1999). In a different logic developed by imagination-based teaching practices in the 1970s and 1980s, it was assumed that pupils were creative

56Instructions, thanks to appropriate prompts, are intended to act as spiritual midwives

57The references of Ma. are those of the period – the 1970s – when she started teaching. In keeping with her singular representation of the writing process, she upheld the instruction-oriented discourse that prevailed in those days. It was important to “give power to imagination”, develop the expressive function of writing, and find the prompts appropriate to naturally creative children. She suggested the instruction: “I dream that…” and explained its foundations: It is necessary to make the most of their richness because they don’t know they have it inside them. They tend to say: “Can we do this?” In written instructions, creativity is roused. Instructions, depending on how they are formulated, are either strict or unguided.

58Instructions contribute to providing a space for self-expression

59Ma. also declared she gave the following instructions: In poetic writing workshops, “Read authors’ texts and then focus on yourself to imagine pictures that can express your feelings.” – “what change would you like to see in your environment?” – “Write what you have thought of the film you have just seen. What you liked or disliked.” – “In a film, if you were a particular character, how would you have reacted?” – “Draw your portrait; describe your physical aspect, your character, and your tastes.” All these instructions are focused on a psychological, affective and sensitive character.

60Es. does not claim she is a supporter of imagination-based teaching practices. By contrast, she argues that writing situations should be set in children’s daily lives (about the instruction “Puppet”: I feel it is quite far from their daily lives. Can they be inspired by this kind of instruction?) but she still relied on poetic writing and added she gave more importance to imagination than to how it was written when she evaluated pupils’ compositions. In the logic of the reading/writing interaction and of the criteria-based formative evaluation modellised in the 1980s by the EVA group, instructions were the concrete, tool-based expression of knowledge gained through text analysis

61This is the logic of teachers who have taught for some fifteen years and studied the approach to the formative evaluation of written compositions of which they did not however retain all its aspects. Two female teachers explicitly followed this approach.

62K. gave the example of an instruction about a genre (the etiological tale), a genre that can be easily modellised because it varies little and is little practised by writers with the notable exception of Rudyard Kipling. The writing instruction was given after the detailed observation of authentic texts belonging to this genre and the subsequent explanation of their common characteristics: We studied 4 or 5 tales but I also read many of them. We analysed the structure of the tale, the beginning point, how animals were beforehand, to understand that they were not as now, and a triggering element that brought about a change in the animal. Tales were studied first and then I gave a writing instruction. It depends on the type of text but it is often better to read before to see how it functions. This is a condition for writing. However, this approach was implemented only once during the year.

63Es. has similar references to those of K.. When she explained her own instructions (writing of fables and poems), she stressed that: Before inviting them to write, I ask them to read fables and poems. When asked what a successful narrative was for her, she answered: This is a narrative that answers the instruction requested. If we want them to succeed, children need to know what is expected from them. And therefore an evaluation grid is necessary. We first give them an instruction, they write a draft, we read it, and infer together what we will keep and we develop a grid to help them in their task.

64Sometimes only the criteria without the approach are retained from the principles of the criteria-based formative evaluation. V3. is a case in point because she used recurring terms such as “framework, framed, aid, guided” and argued: When I write instructions, they must include such and such elements. But when I read the instruction, I tend to present it as a succession of tasks and a framework so that it is easier to go back over point after point. When they have finished their draft, I tell them to review each point and see if they have answered it. An example - writing a news item – illustrated her argument: I designed a grid and gave a few hints such as an introductory paragraph, a summary of the article had to be mentioned and where, when and how also had to be specified in the article itself. The listed criteria were presented before the task was completed to guide it and also orient self-evaluation. These criteria were imposed to pupils and were not the sign of developed knowledge.

65They are not concretely useful to rewriting. V3., who claimed he worked towards effective teaching, did not work on rewriting: it’s too difficult to always refer to a text, it’s long.

66In the other cases in which teachers referred to a reading activity prior to writing, they did not go beyond imitating a single text (The basis is always one text that we study and then we move on to a short writing assignment, V4.).

4. Teacher's capacity to get their pupils to write: reading of a pupil's composition

4.1. Reference reading of Julie’s composition subjected to evaluation

67Here is a brief reminder of the analysis we made of Julie’s composition (Tauveron, 2002-2003). Julie first explicitly decided “not to get too straight” (to the point!), i.e. she wanted to postpone as much as possible the introduction of the fantastic and simultaneously distill the hints of its advent, lull or even confuse readers to better surprise them, develop suspense and arrange an ending. That accounts for her choice of narrative dialogue which, by offering scenes, precisely avoids the summary. In addition, the mastery of this choice is remarkable. Julie can play with the apparently meaningless details of everyday conversation to build an effect of reality to the point that the whole could be played and still seem natural (as one of her peers said “that’s the way we speak”) and also divert attention. At the same time, she does not get lost in endless, comprehensive dialogues as most young children do. She can stop conversations at the right time and sequence them like a succession of flashes and put dialogue in the service of plot development. The advantage of narrative dialogues is that raw facts unfiltered by the narrator can be delivered and subjected to one single interpretation by the reader. Writing for a “very clever reader” compels the said reader to identify by himself when the different characters speak in turn (no “said x” or “answered y”). She did not explicitly indicate changes in places either, which was to be inferred from the context.

68This pupil’s composition was selected because it does not meet the traditional standards of pupils’ compositions but strictly answers the instruction. As a result, we assumed that it could be examined in two ways: if the idea that children can have singular writing projects is taken for granted, then it can be interpreted as an author’s project with its bold and effective narratological choices. If children are considered budding writers who do not master their resources, then the deviation from the school norm can be regarded as a flaw. We are precisely interested in what teachers think about it as much as in the possible contradictions between the criteria used to evaluate Julie’s text and the explicit answers to the question “What is a successful narrative for you?”

4.2. Nature of the criteria used by teachers: study of a few cases

4.2.1. Non-interventionism out of powerlessness and/or will: Ma.’s case

Successful narrative

A narrative is successful when the instruction is answered on the one hand and when chronology is respected and sentences are understandable on the other hand

→ declared criterion: when the text matches the instruction

→ declared criterion: respect of chronology (implying that a narrative is necessarily chronological)

→ declared criterion: clear syntax

Julie’s composition

This is the kind of text that makes me powerless

She did not write a story but a dialogue. There was no progress in the story. I feel that a narrative embedded in a narrative is the most difficult to bring aid. It’s easier with a report, a letter because there’s a framework. As part of a narrative, it’s more complex.

→ admission of powerlessness: no detailed criteria and indicators for narratives (type of composition not based on norms), especially for this type of narrative

→ however an underlying prescriptive criterion: a story cannot be told in dialogue because dialogue cannot advance the plot and is not “in the story”.

On Julie’s copy:

(head of copy): no comment

(in the margin): punctuation of the dialogue

About “I said hello to her, she did not answer”.

(in the margin): repetition about “yes”, underscored six times

→ underlying criterion: any speech should be in brackets

→ repetitions are excluded from texts: therefore writing six times “yes” in a very long dialogue is a mistake…

69Ma.’s words when speaking about her evaluation express her powerlessness (I feel helpless – I didn’t find the right method – I can’t do it):

This is the kind of texts which leave me helpless.
She does not write a story but dialogues. There’s no progress in the story. A story within the story is what I find the most difficult to control. There’s a framework in a report, a letter and it’s easier. It’s more complex in a narrative. As adults, we should not discourage budding writers. If we make a lot of comments, they take it negatively. We must find a clever procedure to make pupils progress.
The thing is that I didn’t find the right method. It does my head in because I don’t know how to do.
I don’t even feel discouraged. Symbolising mistakes kills creativity. What I find the most positive is the oral reading of the text with children who gave their opinions, who said “he repeated, etc.” This is a discussion with and between children of the same age and the adult who speaks out can be “castrating”. It’s easier for children because they won’t say everything is bad. So we focus on the pupil who wrote the story, the sharp attention of the others and their analysis.

70Ma.’s words and acts are characterised by a set of tensions (some of which have already been mentioned) which testify to her feeling insecure. We notice a tension between the institutional necessity for the teacher to correct pupils’ compositions and her reluctance to do so based on her personal convictions (her conception of writing as unguided expression, her representation of childhood and its powers, her “castrating” representation of adults). Admittedly, her powerlessness is connected with the daunting task she has to complete and the total lack of resources to act but, above all, is the natural result of a will not to act for her to preserve what she considers sacred. This teacher’s reasoning implies that any intervention by an adult is a rape or the sign of a “castrating” will, including when the objective is simply to identify spelling or syntactic mistakes, that is the failure to abide by inescapable social norms which leave no room to personal creativity (Symbolising mistakes kills creativity). Therefore, only children can have a fair and sound perspective on children’s texts: As adults, we should not discourage budding writers. If we make a lot of comments, they take it negatively. Therefore, teaching writing or correcting pieces of writing after the first draft becomes impossible, if not blamable. Teachers can only be maieutics specialists participating in “delivering emotion without labour”. Simultaneously and paradoxically, Ma., who considers all children budding writers, never mentioned Julie’s creativity and her criteria for a successful narrative do not include inventiveness.

4.2.2. Prescriptive protectionism

71By “prescriptive protectionism”, I mean the way in which teachers protect themselves against the spectre of change and variety (labile and open-ended writing as a teaching subject might any time escape teachers’ mastery) and are trapped into stable norms but also how they protect pupils from possible mistakes. This type of protectionism shows in V3. and Al..


Successful narrative

A narrative that seems clear to me: I’m not going to waste time looking for…clear things.

Reading must be enjoyable.

And then is the instruction followed in form and content?

And finally simplicity is important. Most texts are confusing because they are too complicated due to unstructured sentences

And also the child’s vision of the narrative

→ declared criterion: the effect on the reader here understood as teacher readers (who do not read pupils’ texts as they would read a novel) that arouses his interest and pleasure

→declared criterion: following the instruction because V3 repeatedly stated that an instruction was a constraining algorithm

→ declared criterion: syntactic simplicity

→ declared criterion: originality

Julie’s composition

There are quite few spelling mistakes…It’s more a question of content

When we read, we do not identify at all the narrator. It found it very difficult to understand.

It’s spoken language. It’s a form of drama. But dialogue is not requested.

The form of drama would have been clearer: we would have been sure of who was speaking

She didn’t stick to the instruction…There are many things that are not requested. She developed a sort of useless plot. There are many useless things compared to the initial instruction. I would tend to focus on the initial instruction.

What’s more, she extends the story in time, because there’s Monday…It often happens that children extend the story sometimes over the whole year: “one year later,[…] this is what happened”. In general, I invite them to stick to the instruction. I would have told the pupil to remove some passages…She should start all over again and remove all that does not make the story progress. She must go straight to the point

→ used criterion: immediate clarity, not satisfied here (any “I” narrator is necessarily unclear at the incipit but s/he is eventually identified as a young man thanks to many contextual elements)

- dialogue is not blamed per se. What is blamed is the lack of information on speakers, hence the suggestion to transform dialogue narrative into a play to solve the problem

→ used criterion: failure to comply with the instruction interpreted as an undue initiative. Good pupils are not expected to do more than what they are requested and it is not up to them to choose dialogue. The criterion “compliance with the instruction” prevails over the criterion “originality”.

→ underlying criterion: a good narrative sticks to the main plot, without digression or catalysis; occurs over a set period of time (but the present instruction did not set any temporal framework…)


Successful narrative + Julie’s composition

I look for a beginning, a middle and an end. Initial situation…The different stages of the narrative. Anyway, it’s necessary to identify the five stages and this is not the case here

→ textual morphosyntactic criterion: compliance with typical scheme presented as a norm

- on July’s copy: You didn’t follow the instruction – evaluation: C (out of 4 possibilities A, B, C, D)

- Julie’s text censored because the scheme is supposedly not observed but she actually did write a narrative

I like it when there’s a balance between narrative and descriptive parts and dialogue. Harmony between description and narration is necessary: a story is told so we need more description and narration than dialogue. In July’s text there’s only dialogue. This is not a narrative actually. The dialogue is a tool but the story can’t be based on it.

There’s a lack of descriptive parts to put the different elements in context.

→ criterion of quantitative balance between narration/description/dialogue presented as a norm: the narration must be quantitatively more important than dialogue which is not the right tool to make the plot progress

- on July’s copy: You wrote a long dialogue but we don’t know who speaks. The narration is ill situated in time. There are no descriptions. Try to rewrite your text with fewer dialogues.

- Julie’s text censored because dialogue is privileged but it is actually a mastered narrative dialogue

It’s necessary to put oneself in the place of the reader who must be able to situate actions and clearly it’s not the case in July’s text. I’m not sure everybody can understand. We don’t know when or where it happens, who speaks to who. We can’t identify her narrative and the reader can get lost.

The tenses of the narrative must be observed.

→ pragmatic textual criterion presented as a norm: immediate clarity and maximal cooperation of the text with the reader

- July’s text censored because maximal cooperation of the reader with the text is required

- requests July to add the names of speakers in dialogue and descriptive passages to enable the reader to find his bearings

On July’s copy:

(on the back) In your text, nothing indicates that the puppet is alive until the last quarter

(in the margin) Circled all the time markers such as “a quarter of an hour later”, “ten minutes later” and wrote: You must write a complete sentence

→ textual morphosyntactic criterion presented as a norm: compliance with expected verbal system that July cannot follow because she opted for dialogue narrative

→ underlying pragmatic and semantic criterion: a good narrative should not build suspense and yield its secrets straightaway

→ underlying syntactic and phrastic criterion: an acceptable sentence is necessarily a complete sentence

74The prescriptive protectionism of V3. shows in the prescribed writing framework which sets all the operations to be completed and nothing else so that the pupil has no leeway because it might be destabilising. This teacher practices a form of prescribed writing that does not allow for initiatives. Paradoxically enough, she said she studied Les contes de la rue Broca “where there were true dialogues”. After the reading, the instruction she set consisted in writing a dialogue (meeting of a potato and a guitar in a bin) but she censored July who wrote a story in dialogue because it was not explicitly mentioned in the instruction that dialogue could be used. In addition, V3. is a singular case because she made a comprehensive reading of July’s text, identified its characteristics and what made its originality but evaluated her text negatively for its very originality as if she did not expect a pupil’s text to be that singular.

75The prescriptive protectionism of Al. lies in his look at compositions. He reads them through a standard filter. This teacher, who was trained in the late 1980s, has the largest range of criteria, especially textual criteria, at his disposal. These criteria are inspired by the works of the group EVA and are their natural reification. The main idea of these works is not retained: writing involves both complying with objective norms and making tactical choices according to the communicational target. Al. referred to an ideal type of a narrative impervious to generic and idiosyncratic variation which makes any pupil’s attempt at literary effects impossible and any teacher’s acknowledgment of an attempt at literary effects equally impossible. This ideal type excludes the emotional dimension but includes the following components: an action placed under the authority of a narrator which takes place chronologically over one single, invariable sequence: initial state, complexity, resolution, final state with a few catalyses and informants (little developed passages in dialogue and descriptive notations to show the reader the shifts in space) and complete sentences on top of that in the imperfect and past simple. This sequence is focused on the main characters of the plot where building suspense, delaying information and diverting attention are absent. The reader must be provided with all the necessary information to understand: all the pieces of information useful to understand the narrative are provided and those that are useless to the progress of the plot are removed.

764.2.3. The recognition of a pupil’s project


Successful narrative

First compliance with the instruction compared to teacher’s expectations

Text coherence and clear links between characters and between the beginning and the end

But a successful text goes beyond complying with the instruction, it also means enriching one’s text

Enriching means being able to tell more than the instruction and add details about the description or the places. For good pupils, it means adding elements that are not crucial to the story but make it more pleasant to read. They will insert things that are not requested by the teacher but make the story more exciting because you don’t have an immediate answer to the question.

When additional elements are brought in, the reader can imagine things.

→ declared criterion: match between the text and the instruction

→ declared criterion: coherence. Describers: links between characters, between initial and final state

→ other semantic and pragmatic criterion: initiatives taken by pupils

Julie’s composition


Writes in the 1st person: very good

Some good ideas: the marketplace, the description of the woman, the presentation of the setting (but you didn’t have to write dialogues)

End: very good


A title is missing

Dialogues are too long and too confusing (who is speaking?)

There’s just one hint to imagine that the puppet is alive: “scary look”

The introduction is too long: bringing the puppet to the fore (description), a few complementary hints to make readers understand that the puppet is alive.

→ how the declared criterion is used: compliance with the instruction (selection of the narrative mode + readers alerted by hints)

→ how the declared criterion is used: initiatives taken by the pupil

→ Narrative dialogue not blamed in principle

→ Play with the reader acknowledged and to be strengthened

78K. argued that a good narrative was not limited to complying with the traditional stages of the plot. Additional elements can also make it specific just as descriptions can create an effect of reality, the catalysis of actions can arouse curiosity and build suspense, attention can be diverted through expressions not directly linked to the plot, and the outcome can be delayed, etc. In short, a good narrative for the reader is pleasant to read and gripping. For pupils, writing this good narrative implies having an acute sense of initiative and exceeding the explicit expectations of teachers. It is to be noticed that K. gave rewriting advice in keeping with her/his evaluation criteria.

5. Of a few trends and few causes

79Because of our limited sample, it is impossible to identify clearly circumscribed didactical profiles. We notice that to varying degrees words and practices are nurtured by an inviolable, cross-generation professional culture that affects how the writing process is viewed, the selection of instructions and the type of evaluation. Teachers live on a legacy and probably survive thanks to it, even if younger teachers add elements drawn from more recent sources.

5.1. Tensions between declared and used criteria

80Concerning the nature of the criteria declared or used, there have been few developments since the findings revealed by the research EVA (1991). Teachers still focus mainly, sometimes exclusively (G. for example), on the sentence. However, school norms shifted from the sentence (“Repetitions are forbidden”, “do not use ‘there is’”) to the text (“the narrative scheme has to be observed”). When they are not connected with school norms, some criteria are received as value judgements for lack of concrete indicators. This is the case of the “coherence” criterion used by most teachers. This word, which is often used in its negative form – “incoherence” –, is now used to refer to all that is confusedly felt as “something wrong” in the very content: knowledge about the sub-generic specificities of the narrative and the concrete indicators of the coherence of the fictional worlds is missing.

81All the abstractly declared criteria for a successful narrative are not necessarily the criteria concretely used to evaluate Julie’s composition. They can even be contradictory, which can be interpreted as a sign of flexibility and of adaptability or as a sign of insecurity. Everything happens as if the declared criteria and the (unanimously shared) criterion of compliance with the instruction were at odds. There is indeed a conflict because most of the declared criteria apply to any narrative but to none in particular. V2., who emphasised the effect to be produced on readers, used no pragmatic textual criterion in his evaluation of Julie’s composition. By contrast, V1., who seemed to have no writing objectives in terms of teaching/learning, appreciated the quality of Julie’s composition: What is positive is that the instruction is observed because “I” is used and the puppet is mistaken with a human being. The hints are quite good. All that is about the eyes. The impression of fear as well (“blood-chilling”). The conflict is resolved to the benefit of one or the other party.

  • 8 D. Perrin

82Teachers are expected to complete the tasks they assign to their pupils, to identify their procedural shortcomings, the failure to mobilise supposedly gained knowledge. Symptomatically, over half of teachers have not rewritten the composition entitled “Fantastic story” as requested and preferred sticking to their routine tasks (writing annotations in the margin). As Marie-Claude Penloup (2000) pointed out when she studied the (shared) conceptions of writing among lower secondary education pupils and their teachers, everything happens as if starting writing implied a disturbing or indecent exposure. We assume that this trouble or fear of being judged would not have been felt if writing the solution to a mathematical problem had been requested. The teachers who accepted the test not only failed to eliminate the major problem of pupils’ compositions but also introduced additional problems. This is a sign that they do not have a clear representation of the nature of the problem to be addressed and of a positive alternative solution. Only V4. came to grips with the problem but it obviously contradicted the child’s explicit intentions. Teachers who feel insecure when writing also feel naturally insecure when it comes to teaching writing. While they are used to checking if a task can be completed before assigning it to their pupils and think of a correct answer, at least mentally, none of these precautions is taken concerning writing and rewriting. None of the teachers surveyed has ever made the effort to write for themselves the composition they request their pupils to write. As one the teachers said: Writing is the only activity that I do not complete when I hand in the assignment. None of them has been dedicated enough to write an alternative solution to a mistake identified in pupils’ texts. The “experiential importance of a personal practice of writing as part of teacher training” should be once again emphasised8.

5.2. A problematic relation to childlike imagination which sometimes hides a problematic relation of teachers themselves to their own experience of school writing

83Within the group of teachers surveyed, the opinions on children’s imagination are not homogenous. I distinguished the teachers who questioned their imagination and do not seek to develop it from those who are wary of its possible excesses and seek to restrict it and finally from those who praise it and believe that nothing (and certainly not teachers’ activity) should thwart it.

84Beyond these diverging representations, Es.’ didactical approach was twice determined by her personal writing reluctance governed by her affects. She refused the instruction “Portraits”: I wouldn’t like to do that. I wouldn’t like to write a long enough text. She refused the instruction “Puppet” because the prescribed fictitious situation scares her or makes her feel uneasy and believes that her pupils will have a similar reaction. I found the instruction a bit scary. It made me think of a film, Le Clown, I think. As a result, she reads Julie’s text by projecting her own anguish onto Julie. Julie got lost and hung on her daily experience to write her story but still it’s quite far from the instruction: maybe she wrote this way because she was scared.

85R.’s case is similar. When she ritually requested pupils to only write a predetermined plot, she by no means aroused creative thinking. Her concern was quite different and precisely utilitarian: I also think of children later. When will they have the opportunity to write? For Father’s and Mother’s day, they’ll write invitation cards for the drama performance. It’s difficult for some of them. I would like what I teach them to be useful to them in the future. That’s why I do simple things. Indeed, developing (narrative) imagination seems absolutely useless in such a project. R. added: “I opened my own notebooks of when I was a kid. My writing was poor. And yet I liked reading but I had no ideas. It’s probably why I give my pupils pictures as prompts. In my class, the teacher taught all grades from the first year of pre-primary education to the final year of primary education. Stories were often focused on everyday life. The flaws in her reasoning are a sign of her helplessness. It is her personal (often disappointing) experience that is at the origin of her professional initiatives. As she was confronted in her childhood with a writing problem, she now strives not to repeat the same suffering, which leads her to dodge the problem (“do not look for ideas, they’re brought to you” through prescribed pictures). In addition, she repeats the writing situations of her childhood: writing about one’s daily life without realising that confinement in everyday life impedes any attempt at literarising and arousing imagination accordingly. In other words, the cause of the “lack of ideas” is probably to be found in the writing situations suggested, hence the same “poor” compositions as those completed during her childhood when she was in class.

86Literary writing (like reading) is a field in which personal experience and affects permanently rise to the surface. It would probably be useful to study their weight and role.

5.3. A hardly identifiable aesthetic attention

87The observed teachers are not in a position to exert the same skills (and goodwill) that enable them to cope with the resistance of legitimate works when they read pupils’ texts. The value of texts is not appreciated in terms of the quality of the game initiated whereas the instruction given to Julie precisely mentioned that she had to arrange a complex game with readers.

88V2., V3. and Al. are first disappointed by July’s text because by definition a child’s composition is necessarily faulty. Ma. had the same reaction although her presupposition was opposite. The reading obstacle (and July’s text is definitely riddled with reading obstacles) is attributed to a structural flaw. By contrast, K., V1., and Es. (It’s well written but) identified the positive before the negative points. But only K. focused on the aesthetic aspects of July’s text. Besides, she was the only one who had a more complex representation of state-of-the-art narrative going hand in hand with a strategic (and not algorithmic) representation of the writing process (when readers are given additional elements, they can imagine plenty of things).

Conclusion: writing literature, a set of "(partially) ignored knowledge"

  • 9 As Nancy Huston wrote in L’espèce fabulatrice (The Storytelling Species) (Actes Sud, 2008, p.17 and (...)

89The words “literature”, “writer”, and “author” are mentioned only four or five times in all the interviews with teachers. Their representation of the writing process behind their practices, the writing assignments they give and therefore the type of writings they expect, and the opposition experience/imagination they draw on are quite remote from the writing processes of writers, the types of writing they deliver and the relation they build between matter and language, and between the reality they or others live and fiction9. However literature is present in class in different forms (as a writing support, a model to be imitated, vocabulary provider and more rarely as the place to observe expert practices). But the look of teachers at childlike compositions is different from the look of readers at writers’ works. Al. is a case in point. Al. is an avid reader. As such, he necessarily reads novels that do not meet in any means the model that he teaches as these novels overemphasise the descriptive to the detriment of the narrative, obliterate the initial situation, if not the nature of the complication, do not unblock the final situation, and accumulate hint-based information external to the plot of which one of the functions is to build an effect of reality. These novels raise implicit questioning “narrative tension” (Baroni, 2007). These criteria of a successful, gripping narrative that includes the reception effects (in their cognitive and affective dimensions) are those that a master trainer, a member of the research team, uses spontaneously: the reader is eager to see the puppet come to life and anticipates it thanks to the suspense built by willing to read the final situation. But the formal, structuralist grid preestablished by Al. prevents from taking it into account. By contrast, Julie applied these criteria in her narration. Al., as a reader or as a film, sit-com, and drama spectator also necessarily came across dialogue narratives that are all based on the capacities of dialogue to play the role of action conveyor. In academic representations, descriptions and dialogue are against all reason outgrowths that should remain at a distance from the “burning places” of anecdotes. Hence the following question: how is it that a teacher cannot reinvest his experience as a reader in his teaching of writing or more exactly how can s/he adopt a reading approach to pupils’ compositions and evaluation criteria that is clearly at odds with his experiences as a reader? Marie-Claude Penloup (2007), who placed herself on the side of pupils, studied what she calls the “ignored knowledge”, ie pupils’ personal, extra-curricular knowledge that is not part of socially recognised and institutionalised knowledge and that is accordingly ignored by the school institution. Her reflection is focused on the ways of identifying this ignored knowledge, to raise pupils’ awareness about this very knowledge and to invest it in a learning project. Symmetrically, it represents a “set of experiential knowledge” ignored by teachers (because institutionalised pseudo-knowledge – referred to as “professionalised knowledge” – comes on top of it in the academic sphere). It raises the question of the means to find for this ignored knowledge to be included in teachers’ teaching projects.


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Author: Julie LacroixOne day I was at the market when I saw Romuald, my best friend. I ran towards him. But on the way I saw a woman who was selling puppets. She was a fair-haired woman, with freckles and fixed eyes. I said good morning, no answer. I said again good morning, very rude, this woman. That was when Romuald arrived.- Are you OK Antoine?
- Yes I’m OK but look at these beautiful puppets
- Oh yes! They are gorgeous
- Yes but the lady who sells them is apparently deaf or very rude
- A deaf seller? What are you talking about? MA’AM!!! You’re right, she’s deaf.
- Well, You want to spend the night at home tonight?
- OK I’ll ask my mother and you’ll ask yours…We’ll meet in a quarter of an hour.

A quarter of an hour later- Are you here Romuald? My mum agreed. What about yours?
- She agreed
- Cool! Tomorrow, we’ll go back to the market and I’ll buy a puppet to my sister…Or at least I’ll try if it’s not the same lady. Here we are
Your preparation is cool!
- Let’s go upstairs to my bedroom
- What about playing tricks on your sister?
No, let’s watch a movieThe morning after- Hello. You’ve woken up at last. Let’s get dressed and go to the market.
OKTen minutes later- Are you ready?
- Yes.
- So let’s go
- Good morning Mum. Good bye Mum
- Eh! Where are you going?
- To the market.
- Don’t you want to have breakfast?
- No it’s OK. We’ll buy something at the baker’s
[…]- Come on Romuald let’s run otherwise she’ll be gone
- We’ve arrived at last. You know I find this woman scary with her eyes
- What a chicken you are!
- So let’s go back home…
- Let’s go and ask her anyway
- Madam could we have a puppet, please?
A woman had just appeared suddenly from behind a curtain- Ah, you’re speaking to my daughter
- Is it your daughter?
- Is she deaf?
- Yes

- I’d told you!
- Do you want a small puppet?
- Yes we’d like two of them. Could you giftwrap one of them?
- Here it is
- Thank you
- We’ll go back home now
- Wait a minute. You’re right, when you look at them, they’ve got bewitching eyes

- Yes…It’s late. We’ll go to the baker’s and then home
- Yes, let’s have something to eat!
You want to run?
- OK
- You’ve come home at last! Romuald, your mother’s called: you’ve got to go home
- OK, I’ll take my belongings. Good bye Antoine see you on Monday
See you on Monday
- Antoine, It’s 9pm. Go to bed!
- Anita, I’ve got a present for you.
Will you go upstairs?
- Here I am. Where’s my present?
It’s here
- Great, a puppet! Thanks!
- Good night. Where will I put mine? Here on this trunkI was falling asleep when I suddenly heard:AH AH AH AH AH- Oh my god!I crept under my bed and saw bewitching little black eyes…- AH AH AH AH AHI fell asleep, completely exhausted- AH AH AH AH AHI went to the market as early as 6 o’clock. As soon as I arrived at the puppet stall, I heard a strange noise: AH AH AH AH AH“Help!” I ran homeMondayBack to school at last- Will you come downstairs?
- Yes I’ll come!When I arrived at school, I told everything to Romuald. Ding, Ding. The bell at last!I arrived home. Everything was devastated but not at the height of an adult but that of a little child rather. I ran to my bedroom. The puppet was not there any more. An hour later, everybody got home and we tidied up.At nightWhile the city was asleep, the puppet was walking around in the streets with a specific target: the seller. She recharged its batteries and the puppet started off again.The following dayThe puppet was there, in its placeAH AH AH AH AH AH!

DAVID S., LE GOFF F. (2009). « Initiative du lecteur, initiative du scripteur ». In Dubois-Marcoin D. et Tauveron C., Français, langue et littérature, socle commun. Lyon : INRP, p. 179-186.

DELAMOTTE R., GIPPET F., JORRO A., PENLOUP M.-C. (2000). Passages à l’écriture. Paris : PUF.

GOMBERT J.-É. (1990). Le développement métalinguistique. Paris : PUF.

MAS M., GARCIA-DEBANC C., ROMIAN H., SEGUY A., TAUVERON C., TURCO G. (1991). Comment les maîtres évaluent-ils les écrits de leurs élèves ? Paris : INRP, coll. Rapports de recherche.

PENLOUP M.-C. (2000). La tentation du littéraire. Essai sur le rapport à l’écriture littéraire du scripteur « ordinaire ». Paris : Didier ENS.

PENLOUP M.-C. (2007). Les connaissances ignorées. Approche pluridisciplinaire de ce que savent les élèves. Lyon : INRP.

TAUVERON C. (1995). Le personnage. Une clef pour la didactique du récit à l’école. Neuchâtel : Delachaux et Niestlé.

TAUVERON C. (2002-2003), “L’écriture littéraire : une relation dialectique entre intention artistique et attention esthétique”, Repères, 26-27, 203-215

TAUVERON C., SÈVE P. (2005). Vers une écriture littéraire ou comment construire une posture d’auteur à l’école. Paris : Hatier.

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1 Originally published in Repères, 40, 2009, 79-109

2 Research funded by INRP. Group members: Michèle Ayraud, Éliane Maisonneuve, Vianneyte Roux, Catherine Vilbous, Franck Douet.

3 Production referred to below as “Julie’s composition” (see appendix)

4 See Marie-Claude Penloup on all these points (2000).

5 Louis Aragon, Je n’ai pas appris à écrire ou les incipit, Les sentiers de la création, Genève, Albert Skira éditeur, 1969.

6 There have been many suggestions in the research of over the past thirty years: instructions spurring imagination, involving the writer in a collective or individual project, appealing to the reader as a regulator and operator of strategic choices; development of new knowledge and know-how based on the reading of authors’ texts; specific procedures of task organisation, implementation of “rituals of writing transition” and “side practices” (drawings, scribbles, words, sentence beginnings or complete sentences, strict reproduction of an extract of someone else’s text, soliloquy, exchange of singular “tricks” to introduce to writing, etc. [see Régine Delamotte, Fabienne Gippet, Anne Jorro, Marie-Claude Penloup, (2000)]

7 The secondary school trainee teachers surveyed, who work so much on the narrator in reading, have similar reactions when it comes to writing.

8 D. Perrin

9 As Nancy Huston wrote in L’espèce fabulatrice (The Storytelling Species) (Actes Sud, 2008, p.17 and 22): “Actual reality does not exist for human beings. There’s only always fictional reality everywhere as soon as we live in time”, “The opinionated me is a fiction” and fiction is nurtured by the “opinionated me”.

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Catherine Tauveron, « Teachers' usual practises concerning "literary" written work: what references to writers' practises? », Repères [En ligne], Hors-série | 2013, mis en ligne le 12 septembre 2013, consulté le 25 février 2018. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/reperes.501

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Catherine Tauveron

University of western Brittany – IUFM of Brittany, CELAM Rennes 2

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