I love reading and, as a result, I love teaching reading. Just this week, I got over-excited reading Oliver Twist with year 8, getting into character as the fight between Noah and Oliver ensued. I like that with reading it is slightly logical or methodical – we are looking for key things within texts and, to an extent, we have a structure that we can use to help pupils enhance their reading of texts. I’ve always found teaching writing much harder. Yes, there are the same nuts and bolts but, at some point, pupils need to pick the baton up and run creatively, something which is harder in my mind to teach.
Last year, Chris Curtis introduced the idea of the 200 word writing challenge which I adored. The idea of regular and deliberate practice with regard to writing I thought was incredibly powerful. And then James Theo, I think, suggested using literature texts as a stimulus and so with it came an incredibly powerful revision tool.
However, when our results came in, AO5 for writing was weak and this feeling of uncertainty reappeared within me: how do you guide pupils to structure their writing without inhibiting their creative freedom? How also do you embed a structure without leading them to write a narrative? Nick Wells, this year, has become my salvation. Nick blogged about a simple structural approach he has employed within his school: drop, shift, zoom in and zoom out. Read the blog here: https://englishremnantworld.wordpress.com/2017/09/30/we-bring-the-stars-out/
Knowing that literacy is an area of focus for us and pondering why our literacy mats over the past couple of years have disappeared, I decided to take this approach and use Nick’s model to produce a literacy mat for each desk using a different picture stimulus to guide pupils through the writing process. And then after seeing a superb idea on Twitter from a Geography teacher (sadly I can’t remember who this is), I decided to use each of these structural sections to pose key questions to support my pupils with their thinking and how they might respond to the image.
And then last week I attended the Salisbury Literary festival which was a superb event. Writers from all over including Philippa Gregory and Alex Wheatle attended the festival. Their love for writing got me thinking about writing too. I never write. Yet I teach writing. How can I teach writing, if I am not a writer myself? I mentioned this to an amazing colleague of mine, Olessia Doyle who then, off her own back, suggested setting up a writing club for staff before rolling this out to pupils.
On Wednesday, we had our first meeting. Attending without a piece, I listened to the pieces that had been written by staff. Olessia asked us to highlight any words / phrases and details we particularly liked and identify grammatical errors or clunky language that did not contribute to a convincing piece. We then discussed each piece in turn. I absolutely loved this. I loved the dialogue and the conscious thinking about our own writing that we were doing and the critique within a small but safe environment.
Which got me to thinking about how what we were doing here in our small staff group could be applied to what I do in the classroom. This led me to come up with the lesson structure below to tie everything I had come across in the past month or so and help my pupils with their writing.
In my ‘Do it now task’ I provided pupils with a picture stimulus and asked them to thought shower round the outside key words, key phrases and key questions they had about the picture.
I then took feedback, without comment.
I then introduced the drop, shift, zoom in and zoom out structure and used the literacy mats to talk through the example Nick had written.
To help pupils structure their response, I gave all my pupils a structure strip – a genius idea arrived at by Stephen Lockyer and Caroline Spalding – with the drop, shift, zoom in and zoom out structure. I posed key questions about the picture using these structural sections. When I had finished, I realised that actually I also needed to indicate some skills based content so added in sentence structures and literary devices I wanted them to try to use within their writing as well.
Pupils then had 20-25 minutes to begin their piece of writing with an aim of completing the drop and the shift. IMPORTANT POINT: I also wrote during this time. I am a terrible writer so this was so interesting for me to do and feel myself struggle alongside them. It was also really good for them to see. Here is what I came up with below for my drop paragraph:
The helmet of my head felt tight as I pondered the situation before me. Shifting my gaze to look at the monster towering above me, I could feel it tremble, increasing my anxiety. In instinct, I tugged on my rope: a safety net like the umbilical cord in the womb. I continued to ponder my situation. I had always had someone to fall back on, make decisions for me and, now, confronted by the unknown, I was feeling uncertain and at my most indecisive.
Lesson 2 (to be completed)
I will start this lesson by displaying my writing on the board and the do it now task will be for pupils to identify key words and phrases they like, identify questions they want to ask, identify grammatical errors and any clunky language they don’t particularly like to feed back to me.
Before the lesson, I will collate their previous writing into packs of four which I will hand back to the pupils. This will create their safe but critical writing groups in which they will share their writing and feed back to each other.
Once they have done this, they will return to their desk to continue their writing with the zoom in and zoom out paragraphs but bearing the feedback they have received in mind.
For homework, they will tidy their pieces up before submitting for me to enjoy reading.
This lesson structure is new and so under trial but what an amazing opportunity to collate some incredible and fantastic ideas from Twitter into a coherent process to support pupils with their writing. I will update the blog in two weeks to consider what impact it has had on pupils’ writing.
With thanks to Chris Curtis, Nick Wells, Stephen Lockyer, Caroline Spalding and Olessia Doyle.
Structure strip drop shift zoom in zoom out