TES English Podcast: How to improve writing in secondary

My notes from recent TES Podcast where English teacher, Chris Curtis (Learning from My Mistakes blog and new book How to Teach English and former Whovian) offers some great advice teaching writing. The TES gives an overview of his ideas in the podcast.

  • Encourages a degree of emotional detachment as a teacher (eg. conversations about mistakes; “if we live in fear, we’ll never push the boundaries”

He identifies three issues confronting the teaching of writing:

  • “beige writing” – students write very standard answers. Students default to “waffle mode”, a comfortable form of writing. Needs to be challenged.
  • fluency – some students don’t have writing fluency and aren’t able to write quickly.
  • blank page – students don’t know what to write and panic.

He offers some solutions:

  • 200 word challenge – a weekly writing task that changes each week. His department have been doing this for 5 years. (Example of these challenges from Curtis’ blog.)
  • “sexy sprouts” – starting writing with an emotion in mind. He describes this as “transformative”. (From idea about how to make a reader feel different emotions about sprouts!)

On students’ accuracy:

  • He won’t correct student’s mistakes. He circles mistakes and gets students to self-correct. “Channeling” students to see mistakes, not fix them.
  • We have to expect a better quality of work from students. Students need to take ownership.
  • Every lesson has to be an opportunity to improve accuracy.

On grammar:

  • Avoid teaching discretely.
  • Move away from “This is a grammar lesson.”
  • Believes you can have creativity and grammar rules.
  • Need to be explicit about grammar rules.

On analytical essays and formal analytical responses to texts:

  • We’ve become convoluted about analytical-style writing. Everything is being thrown at an essay with the hope that it’ll sound good. Not making the clarity of ideas the priority. Good analytical writers are “pared down”. Simplify.
  • Better to start big and zoom in (when responding to texts).

Tips for the end of term:

  • Find something that works and do it with every class.
  • Reading aloud to classes. Students listening to a teacher telling a story.
  • Find texts that “teach themselves” (that’s why the classics work).
  • Find systems that work for you.
  • Write with students. Make it a social experience.