Penny Slater is Deputy Lead Adviser for primary English at Herts for Learning.
Shared writing scaffolds the writing task, and when done well, leads a child towards becoming a more reflective, confident and skilled writer. When done very well, we engender more engaged writers who feel empowered and inspired to put pen to paper.
Effective shared writing relies on the seamless transition between different levels of expert guidance. Put simply, the stages can be thought of as:
ME (the teacher): the expert demonstrating the writing process and exemplifying the skills that the young writers need to develop their craft.
WE (the teacher and the children): the expert and the children working in collaboration to achieve a successful piece of writing.
YOU (the child/children): the children working away from the expert to apply the skills and techniques that they have worked on thus far.
For more details on these stages, you may like to refer to an article from our autumn newsletter: ‘Building Up an Appetite for Excellence’.
In my work as an adviser, I often find myself supporting teachers to refine their understanding of the preliminary stage of the shared writing process: the ‘ME’ stage. The first piece of advice I share with teachers is as follows: avoid starting the session with the following words, ‘so, how shall we begin this piece of writing?’. My rationale for this advice is that in doing so, we are inviting the children to share with us the writing stage at which they currently find themselves, and in doing so, we may well end up working with them to produce a piece of writing that fails to move them on very much at all in their writing skills. Inviting the children to contribute is of course a necessary step in the writing process, but I suggest it is saved for the ‘WE’ stage – the time when we will work collaboratively to produce something wonderful.
Instead, I guide teachers towards beginning with a different tact, perhaps: ‘so, I have had a little think about how I might begin this piece and I have decided to go with…. because…’ The ‘because’ stem is essential here as it offers the children a rationale for our – the expert’s – choice.
In my experience in the classroom, this stage proved to be the lynchpin in the effectiveness of my shared writing session. It enabled me to set the bar high, and to show my pupils what I thought they were capable of attempting. It also allowed me to weave within my writing an exposé of the writing skills that I knew they would benefit from perfecting. So, for example, if I were in Y4 and my children had not yet come to appreciate the power of a well-placed, expanded noun phrase, then I would take the opportunity to weave several of these into my writing, thus giving them ample opportunity to see how such a device could be used to great effect.
The challenge of curriculum 2014 is such that, as teachers, we have to be more expert in our subject knowledge than ever before. We need to know the requirements of our grammar and spelling Programmes of Study for our year groups almost off by heart so that we are able to weave these grammatical skills into our writing models as and when the time is right. No mean feat when there is a lot of grammar and spelling for us to get to know!
The other challenge of course is to provide an exemplification of these grammatical and spelling features within a clear and enticing purpose for writing. Above all else, we must be providing our children with the willingness to write. The lure of writing ‘expanded noun phrases’ for the sake of it, just won’t cut the mustard. Instead, we need to model our writing on exciting topics that the children want to write about.
This is the starting point from which our Models for Writing documents were devised. In these documents, we have provided teachers of all primary year groups, from reception to Year 6, with models of writing that exemplify the grammar and spelling expectations as stated in curriculum 2014, all wrapped up within a great context for writing. Each document takes a quality text, with universal age appeal, and uses this as the inspirational starting point for a creative piece of writing. So, we have chosen Mini Grey’s bright and bold text, Traction Man, as the inspirational starting point for diary recounts. Diane Hofmey’s delightful text, Ziraffa Giraffa provides the inspiration for a suite of newspaper reports. Finally, Tony DiTerlizzi’s darkly gothic depiction of Mary Howitt’s The Spider and the Fly provides a starting point for a series of persuasive speeches, with a recently deceased bug trying to persuade the little fly to escape while she can. Who could resist such a macabre invitation to write?
A snippet from our new Models for Writing resource which exemplifies the Y5 PoS through persuasive writing:
Oh, what an imbecile I have been! Who could conceive that a well-educated bug like me would end up falling for such a rotten trick? If only I had listened to my wise old father’s essential advice, then maybe I would still be alive today. As a young bug, he frequently encouraged me to recite these words while practising my hovering skills: ‘Spiders are wicked and sly! Spiders are wicked and sly!’ How embarrassed he would be if he had discovered that I had forgotten those words and ended up on a spider’s dinner table – as the show-stopper dessert no less! Oh, the shame is too much to bear!
The highlighting indicates the VGPS statements that are exemplified in the complete text:
The grid indicates some of the spellings from the model text that relate to the Y5/6 spelling PoS:
Much like the shared writing process acts as a hand to hold for the yet-to-be confident writer, these materials will no doubt act as supportive resource to guide teachers towards making the very most of their shared writing sessions (and they might just save you some precious planning time too!).
Follow this link to purchase: