I’ve been thinking a lot recently about teaching writing. It’s something I don’t find particularly easy, hence why I think such a lot about it. My teaching is ok, and the childrens writing is ok. We get a fair amount done, but somehow it’s just never quite as good as I’d like. This is not to disparage the sometimes excellent work produced by my classes in the past, but I’ve always been aware of a little niggle – this could be so much better.
So this year, I want to stop wishing and start doing. Recently I’ve been reading An Ethic of Excellence, by Ron Berger. If you’ve seen the Austin’s Butterfly video, he’s the guy in that. I showed my class Austin’s Butterfly on the first day, because that’s what I want to encourage this year: the pursuit of excellence.
We started this in a small way in Literacy on Friday. At the start of the lesson I shared our aim: to write one, amazing sentence. By the end of the lesson, one of my average-ish writers produced this:
Here’s how: we started with a very simple sentence: The children came into the room. We agreed it was boring. I suggested that we could alter the mood of the sentence, by adding something like “Skipping and laughing” onto the front. Smiles and nods all around. We tried out a few more openings, and settled on “frowning and ____”, with the children free to choose their second word. Once they’d done that, we all went outside the classroom and had a go at coming into the room “frowning and ____”. There were some fantastic stamping feet, stroppy faces and dramatic groans and sighs. As soon as they’d gone back into the classroom, the children sat down and finished their sentences. We then took three examples (all we had time for) for comment and critique, discussing both what we liked about each one and how we might make improvements in each case. This lesson lasted about 55 minutes, and everyone had, by the end, written a sentence they were very proud of.
That’s all well and good for one sentence, but what about a whole story? Here’s my plan: we’re going to be writing our own stories based on “I’ll Take You To Mrs. Cole” by Nigel Grey and Michael Foreman. Based on the Hamilton Trust planning for this unit, I’ve split the story into 5 main ‘sections’. For each section, I plan to have the children draft their story, which will then be marked and re-drafted before being copied up in ‘neat’ to form a finished book. For each section I’ve also identified a key skill, e.g. adjective use, or speech marks (sorry, inverted commas).
I have no idea if this will work out or not, and I can see it might end up being something of a slog, but hopefully, if I can begin to encourage and grow ‘an ethic of excellence’, we’ll be reaping the rewards all year.
Look ot for an update in a couple of weeks!