How do we improve standards of writing? This is a question that many people are pondering and on the web there are many fantastic artcles helping to inspire teachers to aspire to greater levels of achievement amongst their pupils. My post is about techniques that seem to work on a practical level in the classroom.
As a Headteacher, you do not often get the opportunity to teach and in my experience it is always a privilege to walk into a classroom and remember why you are in the job. I found that confidence and aspiration remain the main ingredients in moving pupils work forward. It is about giving pupils the belief that they can succeed! This can only happen with certain tools in place e.g. an effective assessment for learning programme that provides the pupils with a clearly identified success criteria! I do not think that this can be underestimated. If you provide the pupils with the knowledge, they will continually self assess their work as they are writing.
In order to move the writing forward, the quality of feedback is crucial! Two stars and an appropriate and effective wish can prove invaluable however it does come with a warning. I remember listening to the author Jaquelin Wilson and how praise and belief are key to allowing imagination to flow. Teachers have a fine line to walk, as adults we can bemoan targets and sometimes feel negative at their oppresive nature. It is therefore essential to praise effort according to the ability of the child!
In my School and many others we follow the Big Writing approach to developing language skills and quality of writing. The response from the pupils is fantastic and we now have pupils thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to write. There are many different aspects to the programme but two stand out for myself.
To model writing is crucial in order to develop pupil understanding. In a digital age, writing a post card is not necessarily an activity that they will have even considered at home. Emails, texting, snap chatting and instagram are their normal means of communication!
To allow the pupils to enjoy the experience of writing! At its best, I have visited a school with a long corridor where you could hear a pin drop as every classroom was engrossed and totally engaged on a Thursday morning. A relaxing environment is encouraged and how this is achieved is dependent on the pupils and teacher.
Pie Corbett is another means of developing story writing. From drama to the page, it is an excellent way of making a story come alive! It works brilliantly in the Foundation Phase! Children thoroughly enjoy dramatising the words as they repeat the journey together!
Many people question how to develop boys writing. Well quite simply, if you provide them with a purpose supported with a real audience relevant to their interests they will achieve. Many boys are competitive by nature and this is an asset that needs to be exploited! We shouldn’t bemoan the lack of imagination but embrace what inspires them! To listen to the voice of the pupil will allow teachers to tap into their interests!
To embrace rather than ignore new technology. I love the website ‘Myths and Legends’ and ‘Kerpoof’ as they both provide an interacive experience for pupils as they develop their storyline. Background pictures are set and the pupils can develop each page. Kerpoof is actually run by Disney and has a greater choice than ‘Myths and Legends’ but both provide an invaluable opportunity to make writing fun!
There are many apps available to support writing but I really enjoy ‘Comic life’ perhaps because of my love for comics! I still enjoy the Beano today.
Yet we can not ignore standards and I firmly believe that if the building blocks are built on firm foundations then success will come. A good phonics scheme of work is the starting point for developing writers! In Welsh, ‘Tric a Chlic’ has allowed us to focus on the sounds that pave a path to success. In English, ‘Rapid Phonics’ or ‘Read, Write, Ink’ are both effective and certainly lead to an improvement in spelling.
How do we measure success? Well as a leader of a School you would have to discuss progress made against set targets however I believe the true measure of success is when a child says,
“I like writing…….”