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How should writing fit into the English curriculum?

2021-03-06T18:48:23+00:00March 3rd, 2021|Featured|

I think like many English teachers I've long been conflicted about the position of writing in the curriculum. On the one hand, of course writing is central to students' experience of studying English. Not only should we aim to make them technically proficient, but we should explicitly teach them how to master a range of written styles and genres. But, on the other hand, writing units are turgid. Although I always dreaded the moment in the academic calendar when the inevitable writing scheme of work hoved into view,  I felt guilty. Clearly, the fault was mine and I just needed to [...]

Webinar: Five things every teacher needs to know about writing

2020-06-20T14:57:05+01:00June 20th, 2020|Webinars|

Last Thursday's inaugural webinar, 'Five things every teacher needs to know about reading,' was, on the whole, a great success. We sold out 1000 tickets and about 500 people showed up on the night. There were a few technical hiccups on the day including a power cut during set up, and our server going down when so many people tried to get into the webinar all at once. We also forgot to record the Q&A which was, arguably, the best bit. Never mind. We're going to run another - different - reading webinar on Tuesday 30th June at 4pm (BST): Building [...]

Handwriting matters

2018-02-13T14:09:04+00:00February 13th, 2018|psychology, writing|

Some years ago, during the interview for a role as Head of English in a secondary school, all the candidates were asked to speak about what we would prioritise if we were to get the job. I have no memory of what I said, but I vividly recall one of the other candidates saying he would focus on improving students' handwriting. My bland inanities resulted in me getting the job; he didn't make the cut and was sent home after lunch. How we laughed. At the time it struck me that focussing on improving students' handwriting as a secondary English teacher [...]

What *does* improve children’s writing?

2019-12-08T14:39:13+00:00December 1st, 2017|writing|

In my last post I discussed evidence that suggests grammar teaching does not lead to an improvement in children's writing. Although it seems implausible that grammar teaching would not be positively correlated with writing outcomes, there's a lot of evidence that is strongly suggestive that what I prefer to believe may not in fact actually be true. I've written enough about cognitive bias to know that I am predisposed to look for evidence that supports my preferences and dismiss evidence that contradicts them. The point of evidence is that it forces us to confront the extent to which our intuitions map [...]

Can grammar teaching improve pupils’ writing?

2017-12-13T09:10:51+00:00November 29th, 2017|research, writing|

Let me begin with an anecdote. The first time I ever really encountered the meta language of grammar was after finishing my degree in English Literature and embarking on a six-week course to qualify to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL). I had to cram a whole host of previously unknown terminology in order to pass the course and it all seemed pretty pointless. Not knowing this stuff hadn't made a jot of difference to my ability to read and write as far as I could tell. After I got my certificate I bounced from place to place using my [...]

5 things every new (secondary) teacher should know about writing

2016-09-03T10:49:22+01:00September 1st, 2016|training, writing|

Academic success is dependent on students being able to communicate their understanding of a subject and, sooner or later, that communication will be written. For many secondary teachers writing is something that just happens; some students do it well, others poorly and there's precious little you can do about it. In secondary schools teachers teach subjects and although some effort will be put into essay writing skills in some subject areas, by and large, the ability to write effectively is left to chance. Back in 2006 I marked Paper 2 of the AQA English Language GCSE and one of the prompts students were given to [...]

Essay writing: style and substance

2017-01-15T10:19:18+00:00November 17th, 2015|English, writing|

You have such strong words at command, that they make the smallest argument seem formidable. George Eliot As with most subjects, the step up from GCSE to A level English literature is tough. You can get a pretty good grade at GCSE without developing a critical style or understand much about the art of constructing an academic essay. Students' work is routinely littered with stock phrases such as "I know this because" and "this shows" all of which shift the focus from having to think about subject content in sophisticated ways to simply learning a collection of fail-safe formulas. Of the 4 [...]

If writing is magic, grammar is alchemy

2020-04-17T13:54:42+01:00November 9th, 2015|writing|

I really do not know that anything has ever been more exciting than diagramming sentences. I like the feeling the everlasting feeling of sentences as they diagram themselves. Gertrude Stein Writing is the technological innovation that has most changed the way we think and how we learn. It allows us the send our thoughts across time and space, and peer back in the past to see how people lived and thought thousands of years before we were born. We have access to all that has been recorded and preserved from all over the world. This is magic, but of a very prosaic [...]

Slow Writing at #researchED primary literacy conference

2015-04-25T19:52:10+01:00April 25th, 2015|literacy|

Here are the slides I used during my researchED presentation on Slow Writing (including some we didn't get around to looking at due to my rambling incoherence.) If you want to read more about it, do please read this post. But if you'd rather watch me struggle with a monstrous hangover, Leon Cych filmed it:

Slow Writing eBook – contributions wanted

2014-08-07T14:58:37+01:00July 31st, 2014|Featured|

Hey all! In a flush of Twitter inspired enthusiasm, @redgirob, @bryngoodman and I have come up with a crazy idea. What if we put together a crowd sourced, not for profit eBook detailing the various uses, applications and examples to which my idea of Slow Writing has been put? Hang on, I hear you cry, what bleedin' 'eck's Slow Writing? Where've you been? For any cave dwellers, you'll be pleased to know I've written several posts about it: Slow Writing: how slowing down can improve your writing Black space: improving writing by increasing lexical density The art of beautifully crafted sentences A [...]

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