At St Thomas’ Federation we believe writing is both an essential skill for success in the wider world and an art form. Therefore we make our teaching of writing as creative as possible, as well as rigorously teaching the rules of spelling, punctuation, grammar.
Creative writing is taught as part of an English lesson for one hour each day, but many more opportunities to practise the skills learnt in these lessons are provided across the curriculum. For example, the children may write: letters home in the role of an evacuated child in a history lesson; postcards home describing the climate of a country they are ‘visiting’ in geography; explanations in science and maths and prayers in religious education. We also try to create as many real-life situations for the children to practise writing skills. For instance, application letters for class or school monitor roles, thank you cards to visitors, emails to children in other schools. In addition to the English lesson, spelling and handwriting are regularly taught as separate lessons throughout the week.
English Units of Work
We use a process of deconstruction, imitation, innovation and invention in our teaching of writing. A core text is used for each English unit, which also relates to the class’ current curriculum theme. The core texts are used as models and stimuli for both fiction and non-fiction writing. Each core text is carefully selected by the teachers and senior leadership team to ensure it is of the highest quality and pitched at the correct level for the children. Advice is sought from other leading professionals in the world of books and writing.
The core text (book) or a model text (based on the core text and written by the teacher) is read and analysed. Language, sentence and layout features of the genre of writing are identified and discussed.
Children are provided with speaking and listening, and drama activities so they can rehearse using the key language and sentence features of the text orally. These activities are also designed to deepen their understanding of the text. The use of ‘talk scaffolds’ (lists of words, phrases and sentence starters relating to the writing they are learning about) support their drama work and embed new vocabulary and sentence structures.
Teachers then ‘shared write’ with the children, taking ideas and modelling key teaching points. Within this process, there are opportunities for children to rehearse key points, correct misconceptions, and work in pairs and groups using mini-whiteboards to practise their writing.
With the use of a word mat (a list of high quality words, phrases and sentence starters relating to the writing they are imitating), children are given independent opportunities to apply their learning. Teachers work with small groups or individuals to move the learning on further or to address misconceptions.
A process of self, peer and/or teacher assessment is used to support editing and redrafting.
Once the children are more secure with a genre of writing, and familiar with a story (or section of a story) they begin to innovate. A similar teaching process to ‘Imitation’ is used, but elements of the original core text are changed. For example, the characters, setting or a key event may be altered; the story may be retold from a different viewpoint; additions may be made and new events or characters introduced.
We also feel it is important to give children time to experiment with their own ideas, drawing upon their learning from reading, life experiences and other subjects. Some lessons therefore provide opportunities for children to apply learnt writing skills more freely. For instance, if they have been learning to write in a journalistic style, they are given a more open task to write a newspaper article. These also provide good opportunities for teachers to assess the child’s writing when less support is given.
Writing outcomes are regularly published, often alongside art work, in order to celebrate the children’s work. These are displayed in class books or around both schools.
At St Thomas’ Federation we believe it is important to support children to develop neat, attractive and consistent handwriting. The development of an efficient, legible style assists pupils in all forms of written recording. We want to help children with layout, presentation and the way they organise themselves on paper. If success is achieved here, they have pride in their written work, tend to be better at spelling and are more motivated to write. Handwriting and good presentation has a high focus and high status in our school. Teaching staff have consistently high expectations of handwriting and presentation across all subjects and encourage children to apply handwriting skills taught across the curriculum.
Handwriting is an essential skill for both children and adults. Demands for neat, legible handwriting remain great within the classroom and beyond. Handwriting is a skill that, like reading and spelling, affects written communication across the curriculum. Even in the age of technology, handwriting remains the primary tool of written communication and assessment for pupils at both primary and secondary school. Beyond formal education, most employment situations will require some handwriting. Most importantly, neat and legible handwriting makes children feel proud of their work and attracts a reader to engage with a piece of written work. Getting the right habits established early on is key to future success.
Spelling is taught daily in the Foundation Stage and Key Stage 1 as part of phonics lessons. It continues to be taught frequently in Key Stage 2. Spelling rules and patterns are investigated, taught and practised alongside with ‘exception words’ (words which are exceptions to a specific rule or pattern). Common words and a range of strategies that can be used to practise spellings are also taught.
Lists of words are sent home each week for children to learn. These are either: lists of very common words in the English language; lists relating to the class’ theme; lists of words that fit a particular pattern or rule learnt in class that week. In addition to this, all children in Key Stage 2 have ‘personal dictionaries’. In these they collect words, which they have spelt incorrectly in their writing and have been corrected by the teacher.
We have a number of spelling interventions in place to support children who find spelling challenging. Trained teaching assistants use a variety of strategies and programmes to support these children. These are planned and directed by either the Special Educational Needs Coordinator or the English Subject Leader.