I have been a teacher for 28 years, a Headteacher for 13 years and, at the age of 52, this much I know about modelling deliberate writing to a hall full of more than one hundred Year 13 students.
I write several times a week. It has fast become my favourite past-time. Writing with deliberate control is a hard-earned skill, which I am still learning. What fascinates me about the writing process is how much time is spent re-reading what you have written. To know what to write in your next sentence, you nearly always have to re-read your last. Re-reading whilst writing is fine when time is not a constraint, but when you have to write at speed in an examination, you have to re-read and write almost simultaneously. It is a skill students find particularly challenging to master.
Writing well in examinations requires a methodical approach which will withstand the pressure of the situation. I am teaching A Level General Studies this year. In the Culture paper students face a 13 mark question (Question 4) which requires them to discuss an issue and come to some kind of judgement about it. They only have 25 minutes to write the essay. What is particularly important is the Assessment Objective for the quality of their written communication which attracts four marks out of the 13 available. Under examination conditions they need a methodical approach which will earn them full marks. Their mock examination contained the following Question 4:
Out of my comfort zone. As a follow up to their mock, I modelled to the whole of Year 13 how to write, with deliberate control, a perfect answer to the same Question 4 . I have to admit, I was a tad nervous. I began with a short presentation which has Orwell’s essay Politics and the English Language at its root and then talked through and wrote a full marks answer (with, admittedly, a couple of odd mistakes – near the end I say the word “without” but write the word “with” which makes the sentence mean the very opposite of what I intended. Thankfully I found the mistake as we read through, en masse, what I had written…). It proved to be another one of my lessons, albeit to a hall of over 100 Year 13s, where I fed back on their mock examination and modelled the metacognitive processes inherent in deliberately controlled writing. Below are the presentation slides and the full 35 minute video of the session. In order to make the whole event effective, you need a good lapel microphone and a high quality visualiser – when it comes to the latter I recommend the Ipevo Ziggy-HD Plus.
We need to model explicitly the mental processes involved in learning which we, as teachers, can often take for granted. Today, back in the classroom, the students wrote the answer to a completely new Question 4 to embed what they learnt from this lesson. The root of all this work is in the Education Endowment Foundation/Sutton Trust Teaching and Learning Toolkit. As a (head)teacher, I swear by it…