Writing is a key area of the School Development Plan, and we are continually trying to come up with ways of helping children to develop and improve their writing. We have implemented a new long term plan for writing along with new assessment guidelines for teachers which aim to ensure coverage of a wide range of genres (both fiction and non-fiction) as well as progression in terms of grammatical skills, sentence composition, use of vocabulary, etc.
How do we teach ‘writing’ at St Silas School?
We adopt a ‘chunked learning’ approach to teaching writing: this means that we teach a specific aspect or aspects of the text (e.g. opening, dialogue, setting/character paragraph, report section, etc.), practise it, edit/up-level it before doing an independent piece of writing where children are expected to apply their learning. Children will compose a full text from a series of ‘parts’ instead of being expected to write a complete text within one Big Write session. This means that paragraphs/sections should be developed with detail and written to show aspects of cohesion. This approach will require children to draft and re-draft their work; this is a process which is continually modeled and revisited as part of every teaching sequence so that it is successfully embedded throughout the school.
We use a wide range of teaching methods during English lessons, but the most important element of all of them is ‘oral rehearsal’ – this means giving children the opportunity to practise what they want to write by saying it out loud before they commit it to paper in their book. Children need to be given the opportunity to organise their thoughts into coherent sentences, and talking through their ideas is the best way for them to do this. Lessons are structured to ensure that children are given opportunities to verbalise what they want to write before being expected to actually write it down. We believe that children should follow a 4-step guide when composing a sentence: THINK it, SAY it, WRITE it, CHECK it.
We use elements of the ‘Power of Reading’ approach. This focuses on the idea of immersing children in a text and using one text as a stimulus for multiple writing genres; it also uses drama and role-playing techniques to develop children’s spoken language prior to writing.
We have found that ‘Alan Peat sentence types’ are a successful way of encouraging children to vary their writing. We use many of these in school, but when they are taught, explicit links to the specific grammar within each sentence type are made to ensure that children’s grammatical knowledge is sound. This way, their writing improves due to the inclusion of a range of sentence structures, and their understanding of grammar and punctuation is also being deepened at the same time.
Learning and Reciting Poetry
Each teaching sequence (narrative and non-fiction) will begin with one day focusing on poetry. This will be a whole-class comprehension lesson and will link specifically to aspects of the narrative unit that will follow (eg. theme, setting, characterisation or language), or to the non-fiction topic (eg. Victorians, light, etc.). Children should try to learn these poems – either in whole or in part. Events such as a ‘Poetry Slam’ and ‘Poems in the Park’ will be organised to give children the opportunity to perform poetry in front of an audience on the outdoor stage in the playground or the ampitheatre in Princes Park.
Children in Year 2 – Year 6 will have a weekly Hit Squad session. This lesson will begin with a 15-minute period of response marking where Hit Squad team members will be able to support children with their response marking and talk them through anything that they are unsure of. The main part of the Hit Squad session will then be used to focus on the pupils’ use of different sentence types, structures and punctuation; they will aim to develop pupils’ understanding of how to extend and develop paragraphs by adding extra detail and relevant information. In doing this, there will also be a focus on how to build ‘cohesion’ between sentences and within paragraphs (and across paragraphs). The lessons will be built on the ‘slow write’ concept, but they will be more ‘considered’, being planned to link to a WAGOLL (instead of being a series of disjointed sentences). Within Hit Squad sessions, pupils will be given the chance to try out different structures and different combinations of these structures, so that they build an understanding of how written English works. If the work is done on flip chart paper, it can be transferred to the ‘working wall’ as a reference point for. The work will develop over the year. To begin, there will need to be a focus on understanding the different sentence types (relative to the year group and curriculum expectations): simple, compound and complex. This can be developed to demonstrate different ways that these sentence types can be created and manipulated, the ways that they are punctuated and any ‘key’ words/phrases that can be used. Teaching in these lessons will focus on the correct use of grammar and will reference the correct grammatical terminology (relative to the year group and curriculum expectations). The work will progress by developing a thorough understanding of the different punctuation that can be used to add variety to sentences (relative to the year group and curriculum expectations). An ongoing CPD programme of grammar and punctuation subject knowledge has been put in place to support teachers and LSAs.
Fast Five Spelling List
The spellings on the Fast Five spelling lists are taken from the statutory word lists for each year group. These are practised daily in the 8:45 – 9:00 handwriting/spelling slot. The same Fast Five list will run for a whole week and will be tested as part of the weekly spelling test on Friday. Children should learn these spellings as part of their weekly homework. Spelling lists will be sent home, but they are also available on each class’s homework page on the blog.
Specific spelling rules and patterns are taught in the 10:15 – 10:30 slot on Monday. These spellings are then be practised in the 10:15 – 10:30 slot on Tuesday, Wdnesday and Thursday before being tested on Friday. Children should learn these spellings as part of their weekly homework. Spelling lists will be sent home, but they are also available on each class’s homework page on the blog.
It should be stressed that practising and learning spellings is one of the most valuable things that children can do at home to support their writing. We do not expect children to complete vast quantities of homework; however, they should learn and practise their weekly word list.
Handwriting is a limiting factor when it comes to assessing children’s writing. To achieve the expected standard at the end of Year 2, children must show evidence of joined handwriting in some of their work; they must also make sure that their letters are formed correctly and are the correct size. If a child cannot produce legible joined handwriting at the end of Year 6, they do not meet the criteria for ‘working towards’. To achieve the expected standard, they must ‘maintain legibility, fluency and speed in handwriting through choosing whether or not to join specific letters’.
Bearing this in mind, children practise their handwriting daily (8:45 – 9:00). We teach the Nelson handwriting script. Our approach to handwriting aims to empower children to develop their own style of handwriting from a secure base (correct posture, positioning of paper, pencil grip, letter formation, start and finish points). At the developmental stage, children’s handwriting should be observed closely to ensure the above. It should be neat, legible and fluent with increased evidence of joining; however, it may not ‘mirror’ the Nelson style exactly or consistently, as children should adapt their handwriting to suit the purpose (eg. note-taking compared to final draft).
Assessment of Writing
Teachers will continually monitor and assess children’s progress against a set of ‘Standards’ that have been produced by the Department for Education. These assessment judgements will be reported to the Senior Leadership Team once per half-term.
To support the teacher’s assessment of children’s progress and attainment, children will complete an assessed piece of ‘cold-writing’ twice in the academic year. The genre of this piece of ‘cold writing’ will be one that has previously been taught; however, the assessed piece of writing will involve a new context and will be completed at distance from the teaching sequence. This piece of writing will be used to support and inform the final teacher assessment.
Spelling will be assessed weekly. Children will also complete the Vernon Spelling Test three times each year as well as a spelling test as part of the end-of-year optional SATs testing programme.
Here is a link to our Writing Progress Site: