These are some thoughts I wrote about making students write intensely for a common writing task as they might do for an exam. I wrote this about ten years ago I think (given the Tim Ryland reference).
I am not sure what I think about this, save that making students think (if not write) intensely every lessons is something I still do in 2020.
After a judiciously busy week, I sit here with a few ideas to write about before settling down to the planning of the week ahead (something for which the routines I have established make me glad).
I have achieved outstanding observations from the beginning of my career, but at each stage I had done something that caught the eye. Without doubt, the charisma and detailed planning of my NQT year has been tempered by the increased responsibility and search for ‘typicality’ that demonstrates consistently great learning.
I heard of a recent observation from a friend where teachers were criticised for not extended the top end (i.e. students who had finished work were left to sit for moments). Likewise students at the lower end with left to flounder at times. Both of these are basic scenarios the likes of which a teacher like myself (or you, if you are reading this) would instantly manage should we be parachuted into that moment. It is part of typical practice that this is not left to happen.
This event got me thinking about how I extend and support students equally. To achieve the ‘outstanding’ feedback I have gained has involved no little sacrifice of time and body (because sitting down at length is more damaging to health than booze or cigarettes I feel). Firstly, it unprofessional to give time and body in such a way for things that should find happy, more efficient mediums (and that is part of the ambition of this site). Secondly, and more importantly, supporting students always involves letting them ‘fail’ or ‘go’ at times. That is, to let them build up their resilience.
So much of my training has involved inspiring students for whom there is little intrinsic motivation for study. I have taught in schools where the consequences of this can be visceral. Teaching students like this is a different job, although you cannot separate good teaching from behaviour management (although you can separate behaviour management from good teaching, it seems). If a student trusts you and desire to work (often it is even just because of your persona as a teacher), the enable them to create and analyse at length outside an exam is an ambition not often mentioned.
Firstly, no 1990s/2000s observed lesson (where someone sits on the same chair, does not converse with the students and does not look at books) could detect the benefits of students writing or analysing at length outside an exam. And observed lessons are where the benchmark of a teacher is set: they have an obviously political function, too. Therefore, there is not specific instigation in the profession from that side of things to promote writing creating and analysing at length outside an exam. This is why the ‘Moving English Forward’ Ofsted document bemoans a lack of creating or analysing at length as common practice.
At this point, I should say that of course students do write at length when there is a special module, or concept, such as a ‘timed essay’. But I guess that isn’t the point.
My point is that building up students to be able to write at length outside of ‘special’ conditions means that they can develop skills faster and/or more profoundly – consolidation of specific skills exists when applied in increasingly specific scenarios.
To create these ‘special’ conditions is the hallmark of brilliant educators like Tim Ryland. For many – and perhaps me until now – this was a happy situation.
However, I want more. I want my students to be able to write at length as a matter of course.
How might I do this? That is the mission:
1) Use the DARTs series of extract analyses, combined with a focus on a single analysis type and a personalised rubric, to build up the practice of writing at length for 10-15/20 minutes several times a week.