: How can we help all children to write better in KS3 English? How can we help all children to write better in KS3 English?

How can we help all children to write better in KS3 English?

How can we help all children to write better in KS3 English?

by Tudor Grange Research School
on the

Miss Farida Mili BW Circle

Farida Mili

Farida is the Assessment and Disciplined Innovation Lead for the Tudor Grange Academy Trust, and also the Lead Teacher for KS3 English at Tudor Grange Academy Solihull. She is passionate about curriculum development and implementation, especially in relation to equality, diversity and inclusion.

Read more aboutFarida Mili

As our Trust introduced a collective approach to helping all children to write better, we reflected deeply on the way that we, as secondary English teachers, address the cognitive complexity of writing, especially at Key Stage Three. Like our colleagues in other subjects, we also experienced too many students who are reluctant writers, don’t have the resilience to write independently, and often give up after a couple of lines. We were therefore determined to develop a strategy to help them overcome their blank-page-paralysis’, see themselves as writers, and experience success in writing.

Inspiring Dystopian Writing in Year 8

A Dystopian Writing unit for students in Year 8 provided the perfect platform for us to pilot the Trust approach to writing for the first time. Although an effective version of this unit existed with an emphasis on reading, our growing knowledge of writing led to an overhaul. In essence, the unit would now enable students to take inspiration from, and then imitate, the style of four diverse writers of dystopian text extracts, rather than just analysing them as reading texts. This extract exploration would sit alongside the study of a main dystopian core text: George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and thus would simultaneously extend, enhance, and deepen their study of it.

One of the most fundamental challenges we faced in the creation of this unit was finding the right primary sources of inspiration which aligned with our curriculum context and intent. We sought examples of writing that met the following criteria:

  1. Be highly purposeful descriptive extracts rather than whole texts, specifically reflecting the conventions of dystopian writing e.g. description of the setting using weather to establish tone.
  2. To collectively enable students to experience the breadth and typicality of the dystopian genre, complement their reading of Animal Farm, and establish criticality through comparison.
  3. To cohere with our wider curriculum intent statements on the concepts of identity and belonging, and to showcase how inclusive and diverse this genre could be.

Guided by these principles, we were able to produce a booklet for students:

Dystopian writing blog

Establishing the Knowledge to be Successful Writers
However, it was not sufficient to only provide students with examples of descriptive writing. Our collective learning through the Trust’s approach to writing helped us to reflect on the depth and breadth of knowledge that students would require to write skilfully. Too often we presumed they had this knowledge already, and therefore we underestimated our role in providing this as part of our approach to teaching writing.

Therefore, in addition to the minimum of four sources of inspiration, we included further sources that varied in form and functionality: trailers of books; images of dystopian landscapes; and specialised glossaries that filled knowledge/​vocabulary gaps.

For example, one pair of lessons was designed to enable students to understand and apply the process of crafting a description of a dystopian building. The first lesson (the inspiration lesson) encouraged students to read, comprehend and appreciate Suzanne Collin’s craft in this area in The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes’. The second lesson (the application lesson) built on this by facilitating the imitation of her style, with a specific focus on the methodology of dividing an image into chunks’ to describe it in detail through writing.

A significant element of these lesson was a tonal vocabulary grid, which encouraged students to become more conscious of the appropriateness of the tone generated by their vocabulary choices and enhance their own vocabulary at the same time.

Dystopian writing blog 2

In another example, a task required students to craft a zoomed-in description of a bridge which imitated the style of the staircase description in Hugh Howey’s Wool’, as part of the setting. We therefore committed time, through a starter activity, to furnishing children with knowledge of the parts of bridges so that their schemas of bridges would be detailed enough to underpin their writing, giving them the language and knowledge to be successful.

Dystopian writing blog 3

Although these lesson resources were centrally created as part of our codified curriculum, it was paramount to ensure there was a balance between that which had been pre-prepared and teachers being able to adapt and respond dynamically to their individual classes. Live-modelling, as a pedagogical tool, played a fundamental role in this.

Careful Live-Modelling of the Complexity of Writing in Action
The Trust wide insets on the careful live-modelling of the complexity of writing in action helped address this so that teachers felt more confident in teaching how to live-model crafting sentences and assemble these into paragraphs.

This would look like: insightful questioning which draws out the class’s wealth of knowledge and vocabulary; explanations of their messy, creative, but knowledge-informed decisions about which word to use, whether a subordinate clause is needed, or where the best place for the semi-colon is as they write; and live models of how to assemble these pieces into a coherent whole. In this way, we help children to see how we apply our knowledge about writing in action, and sense-check and live-edit our mistakes.

Having live-modelled this strategy, teachers would then check to see whether students understand it, and remember it, and then provide ample opportunity for guided practice, with regular feedback. For example, in the bridge lesson this involved crafting a zoomed-in description of each part of the bridge in manageable chunks.

As a result of this careful modelling, and ensuring the knowledge required to be successful is learned, the children were able to complete the task independently. They appeared less reluctant to start writing and wrote significantly more than they had previously.

Next steps?

As a result of the pilot, this approach to writing in English is going to be replicated in all KS3 units, with the four sources of inspiration being provided, and then consolidated in the imitate phase. We are also considering how we can refine our selection criteria for the four sources of inspiration, as getting these right is crucial.

More from the Tudor Grange Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more