Research School Network: Writers’ room: supporting disciplinary literacy in secondary schools through collaboration Working collaboratively to promote disciplinary literacy


Writers’ room: supporting disciplinary literacy in secondary schools through collaboration

Working collaboratively to promote disciplinary literacy

John Holmes and Helen Myers are Director and Deputy Director at Tudor Grange Research School in the West Midlands. In this blog, they describe how co-constructing professional development with a cross-disciplinary team of leaders helped to develop disciplinary literacy in their school.

School leaders can help teachers by ensuring training related to literacy prioritises subject specificity over general approaches.”

The first recommendation from the EEF’s improving Secondary Literacy” guidance report encourages schools to prioritise supporting disciplinary literacy’ across the curriculum. Simply put, teachers need to understand what is distinct about reading, writing, speaking and listening in their specific subject discipline. This is foundational.

In order to achieve this, it’s essential that teachers have clarity about what it is to, say, explain like a scientist’, explain like an historian’ or explain like an artist’. We need to be able to communicate this to the children in our classrooms, so that they understand the nuance in the way language is used in different disciplines.

This can be a challenging undertaking. For too long, supporting teachers in this has been seen as the sole responsibility of the literacy lead. However, once you accept the premise that different disciplines communicate differently, it is a small step to accepting that asking one person, however expert, to take on this task is unlikely to work well. That one person would need to understand and speak the different languages of every discipline. This is no mean feat.

That is why we wanted to share an approach that we have found to be pivotal in the way we have approached disciplinary literacy. Like most good ideas, it’s one that comes from somewhere else: in this case, Hollywood.

Collaboration is key

In Hollywood, the writers’ room is a collaborative model for creating and refining scripts, recognising that many heads are better than one for the overall creative process.

In our schools, it is much the same. A group of people from varied disciplinary backgrounds come together and co-create a script for professional development on disciplinary literacy. These co-planning sessions are long, fun, messy, thought-provoking, and difficult.

But the product that emerges from the discussion is a far, far better one than any one of us could produce on our own – drawing the cross-curricular expertise of a range of professionals.

The writers’ room approach to supporting disciplinary literacy

1. Assemble a team of writers’ with varied perspectives and backgrounds. Our room” includes colleagues from computing, drama, English, maths, MFL, music, PE, science, and social science.
2. Create a first draft of a script for professional development, and share this well in advance.
3. Bring everybody together. Go through the first draft with them by presenting it exactly as though you were delivering training, including the rehearsal and the feedback. Pause frequently to question, reflect and listen. Check with everybody: does this seem feasible/​work for your discipline? What examples would speak to your team?
4. Listen intently to feedback. We have learned that some of the explanations that we had carefully considered, and felt were very clear and well exemplified, simply didn’t speak to some of the disciplines. We feel lucky to have candid people around us who point this out, and help us create better explanations.
5. Make live edits. Where we can, we make changes on the spot. If this isn’t possible, we send out updated slides and ask the writers to check that we have captured what they are saying correctly.
6. Collaborative contributions: each writer will make discipline-specific adaptations to the slides. For example, one music teacher spent some time showing how an approach to writing translated perfectly to written composition. Sometimes supportive one-to-one meetings are held, if specific disciplines are finding adaptation challenging.
7. Deliver discipline-specific training to subject teams. Ensuring that every teacher receives training from somebody fluent in their language is crucial.

The feedback we receive in the writers’ room make clear, there are different disciplinary languages spoken in a school. Ensuring that every teacher receives training from somebody fluent in their language has led to the most well-received professional development we have delivered.

Look out for our co-writers’ upcoming blogs where they share their experience of the writer’s room in their language, and the subject-specific training that emerged from it.

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