I have been a teacher for 27 years, a Headteacher for 12 years and, at the age of 51, this much I know about the merits of students copying from the board.
Re-reading is a key element of the writing process. When writing at leisure, as I am now, most of my time is spent re-reading what I have already written in order to know what to write next. In an examination, the processes of writing and re-reading happen almost simultaneously. The only way to coordinate those dual processes effectively is to have memorised your content thoroughly, to the point where you have to make minimal effort to recall it, and then write and re-read and write and re-read and write and re-read quite deliberately, within an intense blast of neuron-energy. In over 26 years of teaching I had never taught students explicitly how to write model answers at the speed required to do well in examinations, until recently.
With love and thanks to Oliver Caviglioli for the illustration!
Writing and thinking at speed is a skill which needs modelling. The lessons which had more impact than any other upon my students’ AS Economics examination outcomes last summer entailed, essentially, copying from the board. Our students rarely use pens outside of school work, but when they are examined they have to write and think under time pressure. I used my visualiser to talk through writing a model answer to question 8, the 18 mark essay question, in the precise time – 35 minutes – allowed in the examination. I spoke out loud what I was thinking as well as what I was writing, almost simultaneously. The students had the same examination paper as me and they had to copy down from the projector screen, in real time, exactly what I was writing. The students had unique access to what was happening in my brain as I was writing.
It’s all about the Golden Thread! OCR’s Question Level Analysis data suggests that my visualiser/board copying lessons had a positive impact upon my students’ examination performance. Overall, question 8 was one of our best answered questions against the comparative national data:
Closer analysis reveals a great deal more. These three students all had B/C minimum expected grades yet look at their question 8 scores:
The numbers make for interesting reading, especially the marks for the two six markers, questions 6 and 7. Between the three boys, each question offers a total of 18 marks. For question 6 the boys gained only 7 of the total 18 marks available, and for question 7 they again scored 7 of the total 18 marks available. Yet, they each gained 17 out of 18 marks for question 8.
The results were relatively similar for these students who had C/D minimum expected grades:
It’s about teacher learning. This year, as we approach the mock examinations, I will model how I write and think when I attempt six mark questions too.
People of a certain age have a lump of hard skin on the top/side of the middle finger on their writing hand, the result of writing intensely over hundreds and hundreds of hours. When I wrote non-stop for 35 minutes and my students followed suit, they complained – a lot – amidst a great deal of hand-shaking and grimacing. The thing is, we might be onto something if we can get our students to cultivate their own middle-finger writer’s bump…
Postscript: The fountain pen is a magnificent invention. I use a modest, black Parker since I mislaid my Mont Blanc, a loss almost too grating to recall. The nib of a fountain pen is shaped irrevocably by the owner’s writing style, as my colleague Kate discovered when she inherited her father’s Waterman.
His choice of pen remained the same
From undergraduate Cambridge days
To signing his headmaster’s name –
A Waterman in mottled beige.
The cursive blacksmith’s art had honed
The ink-filled gold into a tool
For use by him and him alone –
His hand made them inseparable.
Gold outlasts all. The pen was left
A legacy, bequeathed to her
Whose writing pleased the family most:
But straining through the unknown curves
It snapped, to leave the nib’s new host
Mourning afresh, doubly bereft.