Writing in class

Last summer Gabrielle Jones an English teacher and Programme Manager for Literacy and Learning at Leyton Sixth Form College brought 15 or so of her colleagues to Queen Mary for a day’s Writing Retreat. Last week she invited us to the College to see how she and others had adapted some if the ideas and incorporated them into their teaching. Teresa and I sat in on two A2 classes where students were revising for their exams in a couple of weeks and also talked with teachers over a sandwich lunch. In what was a really fascinating morning we picked up a number of shifts in the way writing was being used by teachers and students.  Before, writing was set as something to do after class; now it was much more regularly part of class activity; students were becoming used to finding a focus and writing for short bursts of time, usually of their own choosing: 10, minutes, or 20 or 30; they’d share their goals with a partner before writing, and afterwards discuss how they’d got on. According to Gabrielle, students were now doing much more handwritten work and were more ready to revise and extend their writing after class. They were also being challenged to persevere in the expression of their own ideas. In the class we saw textbooks were put aside and when students got stuck they were requested to ‘write down your question, what you don’t know. If you’re still stuck when you stop writing, then we can talk’. At students’ suggestion there were red pens on the tables that they could use to articulate the unknowns to themselves. ‘I get more motivated as I go along’ said one student ‘ because now I’ve started I want to finish. I’ve definitely done more writing; if everyone else is doing it, I do’.

Self awareness, using time differently, talking to others, and developing confidence in your own thinking were all part of what was being developed here. The teachers reflected on how different an approach to writing development it was from using ‘writing frames’ and ‘sentence openers’ .  And  though they wanted to think more about whether and how the approaches could work together, they seemed clear that the way they’d recently been experimenting with using writing as a practice had great potential for developing the way they students learnt, better enabling them to articulate their ideas and knowledge, to reflect on and share these, and to motivate themselves to go further. This seemed nothing but hugely positive…

Leyton 6th form class  Students writing

Gabrielle Jones in her classroom