You’ve set your class off writing. Most are happily writing away. Some are still using whatever there is in your classroom to borrow or develop an idea. But what about the child who still doesn’t know what to write? Clearly there could be many reasons for this but we’ll stick to something we can control – the child doesn’t know what to write so perhaps that bit where you teach them how to write wasn’t done as well as it could have been.
I’m very wary of those ‘off the peg’ fads that some schools buy into and get all their teachers to do because the course was great or the resources looked nice. What has worked well for me over the last year is to make sure that we have a writers’ toolkit for the type of writing being studied. Shirley Clarke, author of Effective Learning Through Formative Assessment and an authority on this kind of thing would call the writers’ toolkit ‘success criteria’. Here’s how it has worked for me:
- Reading. The requirement that children read before writing does not need elaboration. Importantly, I select extracts of the same genre, some well written, others not, that all do the same job, just differently.
- Analysing. The key prompt is ‘What did the writer do there?’ In the following extract the writer ‘says what the animal eats’: Lions are carnivorous mammals that feed on impala.
- Creating the writers’ toolkit. As children say ‘what the writer did’, they’re written on flipchart paper ready for later. The key throughout this is to help children to see that the writers’ toolkit is not a ticklist. none of the extracts that they are given will have every point. They choose. The heading of this particular writers’ toolkit would be: To inform the reader about an animal, you could…
- Gathering ideas. Having examined a selection of extracts, it would be missing a trick to ignore the great ideas that would be in them. Whatever your system, be it a ‘Save it’ box on a flipchart; word walls; or self help logs, this is the point at which to collect examples. Record them somewhere so children caccess them easily.
- Modeling writing behaviour. Everything so far has been laying foundations. Here, you show them what to do. When you model writing, make it explicit that you are looking at the writers’ toolkit so that you know what you COULD write. Make it clear that you are looking at the ideas from when you read the extracts. If you do it, they’ll do it.
It takes time to get most children to the stage where they know what to write. It’s time worth investing though as the resultant writing from the children will be of a greater quality.