Next, we move to start planning a class version of the finished product. We remind ourselves of the criteria we have been learning about, and I model the thought process behind planning the piece. Following a short modelling of the writing, using the plan we have made together, the children use their plans (loosely based on our class version) to write their own. Most often, the writing at this stage all reads fairly similarly, because they are working from a similar template featuring similar ideas. I walk around this lesson sharing great examples from the children.
Finally, I take away all support. Using a completely blank plan, the children write an independent piece of writing, having had experience of the Success Criteria, the planning process and using a plan to write. The writing at this stage will all be completely different from each other because they have worked on it completely independently. I stay put this lesson and twiddle my thumbs, praying for a worthwhile outcome.
While we have been working on collecting words and phrases, constantly asking for the purpose of prepositional phrases and adverbials, I have also been reading a little bit of the book each day. We ask ourselves, what could happen next? As a class, we plan a chapter using a template, with encouragement to note down the words and phrases we have been collecting. I photocopy this half-completed template (which also gives space to include ‘other tools’, to remind ourselves that, although we are learning about prepositions and fronted adverbials, there are lots of other strategies we can include). I model my writing using the plan, the children also write theirs.
A few days have gone by and the children have had a chance to read and respond to any feedback they have been given about their writing (from myself and others). As before, I have continued to read the book and we are up to a new point. What happens next? Using a blank plan and no modelling, the children have a go at creating their own piece of writing.
It does sound extremely long winded, with an easy response being, “How do you have time? There’s so much to cover!” But my equally easy reply would be that it’s important to invest time. As long as you have a rough plan about where you’ll teach each skill, and in what context, you’re safe in knowing you’ll get the coverage you need, while gently adding new learning to the ever-increasing list of features young writers are expected to exhibit.
I have found this method to be extremely valuable because it gives the learners more stable ground to move forward; investing time into teaching, and designing specific, purposeful practice opportunities, saves time banging on about the same missing features. The challenge as the teacher is to ensure the skills you have taught previously continue to be used, despite changing the focus to something new. For example, while I taught you about time connectives through writing instructions, there’s no reason you can’t continue to use them in your recount, when the new skill I’m teaching you is how to use conjunctions. Equally, I could teach you about using adjectives in your narrative to describe the setting, but I will still expect to see them in your non-chronological report about a creature, when I’m focussing the learning on the purpose of paragraphs.
Constant revision and visual clues help the children embed the learning; this is why I refer to all the skills as the ‘tools’ of writing. However, that’s nothing without you! Use personality, make jokes, anecdotes and actions for them to pin their knowledge to. For example, I always talk about using sights, sounds and feelings in writing; I point to my eye, ear and heart every time I say them. I know that when I say ‘feelings’, I can ask my children ‘Just emotions?’ and they’ll all point to their arm and reply ‘No, physical feelings too!’ I’m amazed they’ve retained so much, but I guess that's through spending time learning something, and repeating the quality we're looking for, rather than expecting sufficient competency after the first model.
Dear Student, I’m so sorry my explanation the other day was so poor, I hope this is a little better. I know what I mean! :)
Dear Colleagues, I'd like to know what you think; have I overthought something so simple, or do you do something similar?