The Danish Ministry of Education is currently supporting a project across its upper secondary schools to develop writing in the teaching and learning of all subject areas. The work is coordinated by Bente Kristiansen from the University of Copenhagen’s Humanities Faculty, and she invited me along to a one-day conference in Odense on October 9th where teachers were exchanging some of the ideas and practices that are emerging from the work. Although hampered by my lack of even a smattering of Danish, I learnt that the project had made significant strides in bringing together staff teams in schools to think about what progression in writing might be like and to agree strategies for developing it. One nice example was a ‘metro map’ for teachers and students to look at (perhaps together) when thinking about the processes and uses of writing; it was nice because the different metro lines represent different aspects of ‘learning to write and writing to learn’, or as the Danes express it: ‘at skrive for at laere; at laere at skrive’. Learning and assessment in Denmark has traditionally been more oral than written; bringing more writing into these processes has, one teacher remarked, made learning more effective, allowing students to connect the personal and the analytical, enabling them to see what they think.
Whilst writing development is happening in practical ways within the schools, claims about its efficacy are, in a way, being scrutinised through a fascinating research project based at the University of Southern Denmark. Bente and I went on from the conference to meet members of the large team which is conducting in-depth, longitudinal ethnographic research into the writing experiences of students in upper secondary education. ;Around a table of good things to eat and drink, we learnt from Ellen Krogh, Peter Hobel and Torben Spanget Christensen about the theoretical heuristic they are generating to make sense of the complexities they’ve observed. As students engage in ‘writing events’, they speculate, they and their texts are shaped by influences including the subject domain, the regulatory frameworks of policy and the school, and the (rapidly changing) practices and culture of young people. Drawing on concepts from Bakhtin and Ivanic amongst others, their insights seemed to me quite powerful – almost certainly illuminating of contexts, texts and students with which we have worked also.Though the overall number of students being studied is small, it feels rare and exciting that the immense complexity of what happens in and through writing is being given such scrutiny. This is a project I shall watch!