Can I say, right off – that a combination of Alan Peat and Ros Wilson techniques qualifies for the title of ‘dream-team,’ in terms of teaching pupils to write. Use Ros Wilson as your spine and then enhance content with Alan Peat. Big Writing gives you a brilliant framework – then it’s up to you.
The problem with Big Writing is that headteachers often don’t understand how to make it efficient. They go for over-marking and bureaucratic approaches that look flash for Ofsted, but contribute nothing to learning. I was a headteacher and I did teach. However, doing the occasional lesson or even the occasional day, isn’t real life. In the real world, your teachers don’t get to go back into their office, after teaching a good lesson, and take a breath – In the real world, another lesson’s coming right along… and another.
The problem is, when you don’t actually practise the skill, you don’t understand it. For many headteachers, teaching regularly is a distant memory, so they’re like a football coach who hasn’t kicked a ball since they stopped playing with the ones that you laced up and polished with dubbin. Not a problem, if you talk to your teachers. Ask them what works. Ask them what’s time efficient. Don’t bring in some bureaucratic, pointless system because you think you have to copy the paranoid prat in the school up the road.
Last three years of my career, I went back into the classroom. So, ‘Big Writing’ – It’s good. It’s more than good. Incorporate Alan Peat and a spark of imagination and you’re flying. But what can go wrong? (Yes, I know I just started a sentence with a conjunction – Deal with it).
Marking every good or bad phrase, takes ages – be selective! And what about comments? Ask around, in lots of schools, teachers will tell you they feel like they write more in their marking than pupils write in their work. Let’s be realistic. What can you expect? Well, a few relevant spelling corrections and some appropriate grammar or punctuation – say five spellings and a couple of basic grammar points. And comments on work – Keep it brief. One (absolute max 2) targets for next piece of work – then have a way of reminding pupils next lesson and checking they’ve focused on the target you set. Too many comments just confuses. Looks flash. Waste of time. Self and peer assessment is the way forward. 2 stars and a wish (or whatever you call it) works; so does giving a self-assessment checklist. Give it time, not lip-service. It makes the teacher’s life easier and enhances learning.
Targets for next piece of work. Simple system. Make pupils copy target from last piece of work, before they start the new piece – and keep reminding them to check. But (Yes, conjunction, I know.) – One planning issue that so many schools miss – If you set a target, you must be able to achieve it in the next piece of work. If this week you did instructional writing, the chances are, the target will relate to instructional writing. So, if next week’s lesson is on persuasive writing how can the target be achieved? You need to plan blocks of three or four pieces of work on the same type of writing, so you can set a meaningful target.
Big Writing (and Alan Peat) when done well – It’s your way forward, and so is teacher imagination. Don’t forget the role of reading good stories, telling good stories without reading them, getting your pupils to re-tell your stories orally . And (soapbox alert) – giving narrative story work a much higher profile. It’s the one that does more to inspire your pupils and help them make sense of the world.