There was a general orientation towards language awareness running through all discussions – paying attention to how the writer makes their meaning through language, and recognising, therefore, that using language in one way rather than another makes a difference to the meaning produced.
Discussions around the interdependency of reading and writing prompted a request from some of the teachers for strategies to help them 'get inside' their own students' writing. We spent some time looking closely at student texts – identifying patterns, considering why the writer might be using the patterns, what the patterns can tell the reader about the students’ thinking and understanding, and trying various approaches to develop greater focus in writing. Here's a meeting outline and some language activities we used.
It was having those fresh eyes and it was a critical kind of approach to looking at why is this more successful than that? Breaking it down really to a quite functional level, but in a really interesting way, that I found it useful. The level of precision that I was expecting from my students […] was much higher. My feedback was often kind of ‘Who do you mean when you are saying this?’ whereas before I would just have ticked it. It was kind of to get them into that mindset of it is not enough to write ‘he said this, he says that’.
A sentence that began ‘Typical of the Renaissance period' so cleverly gave so much of the context that is necessary, especially at GCSE. And to get them to sort of pre-load their sentences with just enough information, because that could easily be the difference between them getting a high mark and a mediocre mark, just because they had a tendency to leave context out. But I noticed that it actually made them better writers, because they were then thinking about how they started paragraphs, how they started sentences in a slightly different way. And certainly the students who had got it most quickly I think became better writers just as a result. It sounded more sophisticated and they were getting context in.
Go to the next page to find out how some teachers used the working group ideas to more radically transform the way the way they structured their students' learning.