Research School Network: Battling with AI and the importance of writing A Brave New World?


Battling with AI and the importance of writing

A Brave New World?

by Staffordshire Research School
on the

This is part 4 of a 6 blog series on how one school has used evidence to improve literacy. 

Previous entries can be found here: 

Writing is the problem – or is it? 

Making it work – Implementation and literacy

Whole School writing improvements and the English faculty 

Why is writing important in a world when you can get computers to write for you? Ask an AI tool to write an essay on Scrooge’s transformation in A Christmas Carol’ and you have it. Ask it to adapt it to sound like a 14 year old, job done. Ask it to add some quotes to improve it and your wish is its command. Therefore, why should we ensure writing remains at the core of our work when an AI tool can just do it for us? It is clear that AI is going to transform our lives over the next decade, but will it improve our cognitive abilities?

Will AI improve our cognitive abilities?’

My answer: Writing remains at the core of any curriculum and needs to be explicitly taught, practised and refined. Hochman and Wexler in The Writing Revolution’ argue that,

Writing is the hardest thing we ask our students to do, and the evidence is clear that very few students become good writers on their own.”

Diverse girl writing

Having acknowledged this sentiment as a school, and following a detailed analysis of extended written responses across a range of different subjects, we knew that students’ writing had to improve. In the last year, the AI question has reared its head and only served to solidify our thinking as to why writing is so crucial.

Our work on writing began with a visit to Kate Pretsell and listening to how she developed whole school writing at the Totteridge Academy. It became evident that we needed to take a deliberate, systematic and precise approach to our implementation. 

We started at the sentence level.’

We started at the sentence level before progressing to paragraphs and ultimately whole-text construction. From this, we crafted an initial two-year implementation plan with support from the EEF’s Implementation guidance. 

Implmentation plan for writing
Our implementation plan for writing

Traditional Professional Development (PD), consisting of after school sessions and INSET days, was clearly insufficient to ensure the long-term changes we desired. To ensure fidelity to our active ingredients and a reach across all disciplines, we used the PD Guidance Report to reflect on the 14 PD mechanisms (highlighted in yellow on the implementation plan above) and analysed the range of opportunities staff needed to experience for us to improve. Connected to this, we developed our Professional Inquiry model (based on the work of Durrington Research school and the subject of the second blog in this series Developing a Disciplined Inquiry’… | Durrington Research School). This allowed faculties to engage with research and create bespoke resources that would develop our students’ writing within their respective subject disciplines.

Initially, our priority for staff PD was to develop their understanding of the components of the sentence, including word classifications, main clauses and subordinate clauses. Focussing on this first enabled us to develop a common language across the school so that students would begin to see common threads across subject domains.

Following this, the focus shifted slightly to different types of sentences such as because, but, so,’ and deliberate practice through sentence completion activities modelled to staff. The session consisted of lots of practical examples and non-examples which allowed staff to reflect on how they would adapt these strategies to suit their subjects.

Over time, this work will allow our students, through modelling and scaffolding, to demonstrate their detailed subject knowledge.’

In the final part of our first year, again using many practical examples, we introduced staff to the strategy of combining clauses using conjunctions and particularly U‑turn conjunctions to express a change in direction or a contrast. By doing this, we are attempting to make our students’ writing more eloquent, precise and less repetitive. This ensures that knowledge is not obscured by a lack of clarity. Below, you can see an example of some of the resources we used for whole-staff training.

U Turn conjunctions
An example of a resource used to support staff development.

After working on these generic examples during a whole school INSET day, staff were asked to develop their use of combining clauses within their subject domains with some successful examples below:

RS example
Religious Education example
English example
English example

In a recent blog, Doug Lemov writes about the importance of writing for the thinking process.

Writing is a profound tool for thinking and learning. To write it is to prioritize it; recall it to your attention; restate, elaborate on and clarify the idea. All these things build memory and understanding. Think it and you will probably forget it; write it and you’re likely to remember.”‑1/

The temptation of Artificial Intelligence programmes is a barrier to the thinking process, and it is therefore imperative we develop students’ ability to write because it is only then that they will think deeply enough about the knowledge to learn it. I will leave you with this final thought,

Knowledge is what we all think with and writing solidifies knowledge; we cannot therefore be part of a system that outsources this process to the internet or AI programmes.’

This blog was written by Simon Ridgeway, Literacy Lead at St Thomas’ Aquinas Catholic School 

The Literacy series is edited by Jeremy Baker, ELE for the Staffordshire Research School 

To find out more: 

Ready to Write – Practical approaches to teaching writing, at both lesson and whole-school level.

Putting Evidence to Work – A School’s Guide to Implementation – EEF 

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