Metacognition: What to Reveal when Modelling
We share a simple approach to help with making the implicit explicit when we model
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by Bradford Research School
Time in a primary classroom is at a premium: there are so many things to try to fit in. Even under the umbrella of English there is handwriting, spelling, grammar, punctuation, composition, reading, and more. It’s so difficult to make sure that everything is covered. And there are certain parts of the writing process which are either misunderstood or don’t always get a look in because of time constraints.
The 7 stages of the writing process
The writing process, according to the EEF’s ‘Improving Literacy In Key Stage 2’ guidance report, can be broken down into 7 stages: Planning, Drafting, Sharing, Evaluating,Revising, Editing and Publishing.
In a recent training session, when I asked a group of school leaders and teachers to write down elements of current practice in their own schools for the teaching of writing, we found that most of the time was spent on planning, drafting and editing. In fact, there were very few examples of how the other stages were being taught.
Actually, the stages that are commonly focused on are important. The IES’s practice guide‘Teaching Elementary School Students To Be Effective Writers’ has this to say about planning: “Writing well… is a process that requires that the writer think carefully about the purpose for writing, plan what to say, plan how to say it, and understand what the reader needs to know.”
But there is a word that perhaps isn’t always considered at the teachers’ planning stage, a word which is very important when it comes to developing those parts of the writing process that perhaps aren’t being given the time they need. The word is purpose.
Audience and purpose
When planning a unit of writing, and when children are planning their own writing, a purpose for the writing should be identified. Start with the end point in mind is a useful maxim. Teachers should be asking themselves: What will children write? What is the intended purpose of their writing? Who is the intended audience for their writing? Identifying a motivating audience and purpose is the key to good writing – knowing what the publishing stage is going to look like will inform all the other elements of writing process. And when it comes to identifying audience and purpose, be creative, don’t rely on same things all he time and try to make it real as possible.
Writing: from modelling to independence
“Teachers can help students become effective writers by teaching a variety of strategies for carrying out each component of the writing process and by supporting students in applying the strategies until they are able to do so independently. (Page12, Teaching Elementary School Students To Be Effective Writers)
The best way to teach writing is to model it. During the planning process, once the audience and purpose has been identified, teachers should decide what the finished piece of writing should look like – the one that children will complete at the Publishing stage. There are multiple benefits to teachers then completing the task themselves, going through the writing process themselves to come up with a final piece: the writing can serve as an example (or a WAGOLL) which children can refer to and the process of writing it is a great insight into the potential difficulties children might have when writing – it’s not easy!
Teachers, having completed the task themselves, will then be better prepared for another staple of writing teaching: live modelling. Live modelling takes a bit of practice and a healthy amount of confidence but it is an absolute must – teachers shouldn’t expect good writing if they haven’t modelled it. During live modelling it is very useful for the children if teachers think aloud about how to write: Am I using the best word here? Could I rewrite that in fewer words? What impression will this phrase give?
The I/We/You sequence is a useful model for teaching writing:
The ‘I’ stage is often missed out during live modelling as teachers too quickly take ideas from the children. It’s often a result of teachers asking questions of themselves out loud – children naturally want to answer them and contribute with their own ideas. Teachers should take time to just write in front of the children without their input before moving on to a shared piece.
But, it is not just the drafting stage of the writing process that should be modelled: all stages should be modelled, preferably using the I/We/You approach.
Have children been shown how to plan? Has this come from deconstructing an existing text? Have teachers developed routines for sharing so that it isn’t hectic? Do children know who they can share with and get feedback from? Have children been shown how to edit using some anonymised work or a deliberately written bad example? Has the teacher created an example of the final published piece to share?
Too often we expect children to become independent in tasks without showing them how to become independent. The EEF guidance report advocates a gradual release of responsibility which can be applied to each stage of the writing process:
The Evaluating stage
Without knowledge of who the audience are and what the purpose of the writing is, children (and teachers) will have very little to evaluate the writing against. It will be possible to evaluate it in terms of spelling, grammar, punctuation and handwriting, but not in terms of its composition,structure and overall effectiveness as a piece of writing.
In order to make the evaluating stage easier for children they need to have developed a set of goals in the planning stage. These goals should guide them at each stage but care should be taken that these goals don’t become just a box ticking, writing-by-numbers activity.
The evaluating stage is the gateway to the sharing stage when peers and adults will also use the same set of goals to evaluate the work they are having shared with them.
When modelling the evaluating stage teachers are actually giving children writing-specific strategies for self-regulation and metacognition (see EEF’s Metacognition and Self-Regulation guidance report for more). Children should be shown how to read their work, and the work of others,critically, asking themselves such as questions as: Is there enough detail? Do I say too much? Is it clear or confusing? DidI miss bits out?
The Revising stage
The most important thing for teachers and children to remember at this stage is that it is totally different to editing. The EEF’s guidance report summarises revising as ‘making changes to the content of writing in light of feedback and self-evaluation’ whereas editing is ‘making changes to ensure the text is accurate and coherent’. The report clarifies editing by saying that ‘at this stage, spelling and grammar assume greater importance and pupils will need to recognise that their work will need to be accurate if readers are to engage with it and extract the intended information from it.’
Revisions should be made to work to ensure that it is achieving the goals set at the beginning of the writing sequence – the audience and purpose should be taken into consideration. This stage should be what the children are naturally read for as the next step after evaluating and sharing their work. Remember that in order to revise their work successfully children will also need to have received feedback from the teacher on their planning and their first draft.
The children should once again be asking the kinds of questions they asked of themselves in the Evaluating stage but this time they should be acting upon their evaluations by making changes and additions to their work.
It is worth explicitly modelling how children might go about making changes and additions to their work, for example, using numbered stars and then writing the revised parts at the end of the draft. Schools could develop a‘house style’ to ensure consistency and no confusion.
Flexible use of the stages of the writing process
When writers are fluent in the seven stages of the writing process they will find that they flit back and forth between the different stages. This too can be modelled and signposted to children as teachers require them to complete different tasks during the teaching sequence that leads up to the final piece of writing.
‘The writing process is the means through which a writer composes text. Writing is not a linear process, like following a recipe to bake a cake. It is flexible; writers should learn to move easily back and forth between components of the writing process, often altering their plans and revising their text along the way.’(Page 14, Teaching Elementary School Students To Be Effective Writers)
The flexibility and fluidity is exemplified below (taken from Teaching Elementary School Students To Be Effective Writers):
We share a simple approach to help with making the implicit explicit when we model
We explore mechanism 2 from the EEF’s recent guidance report
We explore the first of the 14 mechanisms from the EEF’s recent guidance report