If Joseph Heller was correct when he declared “every writer I know has trouble writing” then it is little wonder that we mere teachers can find teaching writing difficult. Apparently even English teachers do not find teaching writing easy and research by Gannon and Davies (2007) shows that many teachers are drawn to teach English by a love of reading but are less enthusiastic about writing and often lack assurance as writers.
While Jarod Kintz might exaggerate slightly when he asserts – “Sometimes writing is easy. Other times it’s as hard as trying to eat a whole whale, after the whale has just eaten you.”. Henrietta Dombey (2013) in “What we know about teaching writing” reminds us that writing is a complex process and that “ Hayes and Flower(1980) proposed that the experienced writer engages in three different kinds of activity: planning, creating text and reviewing. In their view, this is not a simple three-stage sequence but a process in which the writer weaves back and forth between all three activities in the course of writing a single text.”
Perhaps it is a lack of confidence which means that we fall back on the same types of prompts when we are teaching students how to write in our subject. Relying on writing frames and well worn structures such as PEE and PEEL do help students structure their ideas but can often produce rather dull prose. If we return to the words of Professor Coe – ‘learning happens when people have to think hard’ we have to consider whether an over reliance on the same types of writing scaffolding stops children from thinking hard.
Abandoning scaffolding is a step to far for most of us and perhaps the challenge is “to mix up” the scaffolding we use. The Literacy TLC introduced you to the idea of slow writing by David Didau (David Didau on slow writing and David Didau revisits slow writing) and several of you have used it to pleasing effect. Sam Gibbs used slow writing with Y13 to write up some notes and tlinked it to the A2 mark scheme which demands flair and fluidity in geography writing. Andy Daykin has adapted it get more depth into answers to a GCSE question by challenging his group to: “Use at least 6 sentences in your answer. The second sentence should start with “Although” and somewhere in your answer you should endeavour to use the word “consequently”. Jane Brierley has kept it simple with her Y11 geographers and made them include at least 3 highlighted connectives before she would collect their work in.
We also looked at Alex Quigley on micro writing. This has provided interesting summaries of the Gun Powder Plot for Rebecca Lees and a student in Ian Barnes’ Y10 science group defined the Big Bang Theory (in seven words) as “Rapid expansion of space, time and matter.”
Finally we were introduced to the many graphic organiser available on line (especially on pin interest). The fishbone has helped my Y13 structure an essay paragraph and the word definition sheet has helped Y12 come to grips with very specific political terms including, rather topically, “left wing fire brand” and “rank and file Labour party members.”
Links to graphic organisers are below (there are others available)