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 [...]

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 [...]

The Capital Letter Problem – Part 1

2016-08-27T23:53:35+01:00August 26th, 2016|writing|

I have almost never met a secondary age child who doesn't conceptually understand how to use a capital letter.* But, you'd never know. Students regularly hand in work liberally sprinkled with missing - or extraneous - capitals and conscientious teachers spend hours circling the errors and patiently explaining why proper nouns and words at the beginning of a new sentence need capitals. In return, students say, "I know. It's just the way I write." It's pointless to give someone feedback about something they already know - lack of knowledge isn't the problem. The problem is caused by practice. Contrary to what [...]

Negative framing and No Pens Days

2020-12-22T10:41:32+00:00October 16th, 2014|literacy|

The framing effect is an example of cognitive bias, in which our reactions to a choice depend on whether it is presented as a loss or a gain. Our tendency is to avoid risks when they're framed negatively and embrace risks when they are framed positively. For instance, we’re happy to pay home insurance on the off chance that our house is burnt to the ground, but we’d likely be unwilling to gamble the same amount of money on a horse race. Insurance makes us feel secure - we won’t lose what’s already ours - whereas gambling makes us feel we [...]

Do we value pupils' writing?

2014-04-26T00:07:01+01:00April 26th, 2014|literacy|

Why do we ask pupils to write? There may be very many answers to that question but in my experience of working with teachers and observing lessons, overwhelmingly, teachers ask pupils to write in order to check that lesson content has been understood. This is of course a worthy aim, but do we value the actual writing? Leadership guru, John C. Maxwell said, "To add value to others, one must first value others." Likewise, to add value to pupils' writing, one must first value pupils' writing. In a lesson I observed last year, a science teacher had taught her Year 8 class about Marie [...]

A simple theory about writing

2016-09-23T13:39:51+01:00April 23rd, 2014|literacy|

The first thing to say is this is not in any way supposed to be a complete or unified theory - I'm well aware that there are many other important strands to improving pupils' writing and have written about many of them before. But I do think this theory (which has been bubbling away on my mental back burner for a while now) describes just one of the processes that can turn otherwise able pupils from poor writers into much more able ones. That said, I tend to get a bit over excited about these sorts of things and am often mistaken. [...]

The mathematics of writing

2013-09-18T12:59:04+01:00October 30th, 2012|English, literacy, writing|

A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns… The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s must be beautiful; the ideas like the colours or the words, must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test. GH Hardy How are most children taught writing? Badly. Eight weeks ago I took over an AS English Language class in which none of the students had a clear understanding of the difference between a noun and a verb. How is that they have got so far through formal education with absolutely no explicit understanding of [...]

The Matthew Effect – why literacy is so important

2013-09-24T19:58:38+01:00September 30th, 2012|learning, literacy, reading, training, writing|

Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. Matthew 13:12 In the world of the 2012 Ofsted framework very few schools are going to quibble with the prominence being given to the teaching of literacy but I'm far from concerned that we're clear on precisely why teaching literacy is so important beyond the fact that Big Brother is watching you: running scared of Wilshaw is not enough. I saw the fantastic Geoff Barton deliver a presentation called Don't Call it Literacy at the Wellington [...]

Slow Writing: how slowing down can improve your writing

2014-06-28T14:50:08+01:00May 12th, 2012|English, learning, literacy|

NB - my latest thinking on Slow Writing can be found here. Exam season is nearly upon us and English departments across the land will be gearing up to the Herculean labour of training students to churn out essays which, they hope, will earn them the much coveted A*-C grade in English Language. The AQA paper gives candidates just a meagre hour to write a short descriptive, explanatory piece and then a longer piece which asks them to persuade and argue. This isn't much time and most students default position is to race into it, cram in as much verbiage as [...]

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