I went to a wonderful course on writing …

Dear Kelvin

Brilliant poke at the way we are pressured to teach language, I thought I was a lone voice bleating in the wilderness.  I liken it to putting the ducks in a row and shooting them but actually shooting the fairground ducks is way more fun. The joy of teaching language had almost gone for me because of this trend but I actually did go on a really fantastic writing course last year in … organised by Vicky Sefton about writers notebooks, mentor texts, and getting class passionate about writing. Even I was inspired to begin a notebook and my class loved it. 

Thanks for your post it helps!


Now what do I find in my notes?

He said he looked at writing as if a reading recovery model

An excellent analogy for the teaching of writing don’t you think?

The model to follow is to progressively introduce new aspects of, for example, Recount: in y. 3 there may be eight things to focus on; at y. 4 there may be ten things – the learning is progressive

There is a process to follow in writing: for example, start with macro group, then move on to micro groups

The absolute base text is to put the teddy bear on the chair, then the children need to be able to describe and write about the teddy bear from a number of perspectives – UNLESS THEY CAN DO THAT THEY CAN’T MOVE ON

The first thing in any good piece of writing is that there are two sets of demands – content and literacy demands, both have equal value (that is good to know)

How can I organise these to meet the social purpose – to classify and describe for an information report

Information report

In an aircraft example we varied the perspective: position, number

For children with learning difficulties we could focus on the same perspective for each paragraph, for example, position

In this professional development, we aren’t learning about aircraft, we are learning about the structure of an information report

Whole language was once taught in by whole language in a whole in Australia – we have moved on from that

Macro, then micro, then describe the micro groups

We then choose another perspective (that hasn’t already been used) in the paragraph

When children first start with this we could use the same four perspectives, one in each paragraph. As children become more experienced we can vary the perspectives for each paragraph

They will write a lot of information reports in their lives so this will stay with them forever

You will find girls are happier to go on a learning journey with you (they can put up with nearly anything)

Boys are only there for a short time and there is no going back for them

When you do have boys’ attention, they are good on the content and want to go on about that, but don’t tolerate for a minute, direct them to write the number sentence, the position sentence, and so on

To cover all the things that need to be covered step-by-step, other curriculum areas will need to be given less time, this is often art and drama

Frontloading: tell them before the start  what they need to do to be successful, tell them to listen carefully and follow instructions, the satisfaction from this will more than compensate for some initial scratchiness

Frontloading should be seen as a key step in discovery learning

Remember – macro to micro

In the template, the macro and the three micro sentences are above the dotted line – the linking sentence is below the dotted line

Remember written in the passive (this is quite easy to explain to children) and no personal and personal pronouns – they could lose their jobs over those ones

Most information reports don’t have conclusions


Start by describing yourself

Move on to describing an object

Then to a literacy item, for example, the Big Bad Wolf

Next move on to Recounts, when the descriptions are linked together

From here you can move on to simple Information reports (which should be the focus of children’s writing)

Response text

Are things good or are they bad

Good examples: ‘The apple is yummy’ or ‘The apple is yucky’

Response text is usually not suitable for younger children

This is an active voice text, use personal pronouns

Television is full of things to be judged

They could be viewed as something like book reviews (a much loved form of children’s writing)

Judgement words need to be put into judgement sentences (an important point to get across)

The linking sentence secret is to start with the word ‘overall’

The second paragraph will be basic recall

Concluding statements give the text cohesion


The best way to start a good argument is with good connectives such as firstly, and so on

Don’t start arguing too quickly

The first sentence makes the reader think you are an expert so write in the passive to eventually move to the active

For that you need modal  verbs and adverbs

Remember an important idea is to inspire children to write away from the style of children to that of adults

Take a big thing and break it into smaller parts

At the conclusion move to high modal words

And there we have writing for the 21st century. Be direct with the children, if a point is considered good enough to be useful for their writing – frontload it. And remember, the children learn nothing, discover nothing, in the actual process of writing – sentences and ideas must be generated in the children’s heads, repeated orally many times, so they know exactly what they are going to write before they put pen to paper, or fingers to keys. With this approach, boys aside, the class will be a ferment of excitement.

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3 Responses to I went to a wonderful course on writing …

  1. Bruce Hammonds says:

    I thought for a minute ‘you must be joking – you can’t be serious’ and when I got to the end I realized you were.

    Are there people going around developing such formulaic and un- creative ideas with teachers.

    Worse still do teachers actually use them?

    I thought we had got past this genre writing for the teacher stuff?

    What is wrong with letting students write about their felt experiences or things that interest and concern them in their own lives?

    Surely language is about voice, choice and ones own identity.

  2. Kelvin says:

    A Dunedin teacher writes: Interesting article Kelvin.

    I find in my own experience (for what it’s worth) that we do far too much ‘genre’ writing as you described in your piece. I believe that there is little or no value in teaching these things at all, and that kids need more ‘real’ writing that is used in some sort of real way as soon as they have finished writing it.

    It was only after transitioning myself away from genre type writing that I actually enjoyed the teaching of writing and seeing what kids could create and share.

    The genre type writing leads, I believe, to a heavy reliance on worksheets and structures provided by others. These make little or no sense to the kids, and they never seem to be able to apply these to another piece of writing.

    Finally, I do believe that we overreach writing in the hope they may be good writers by the time they reach high school/university, when in reality they will be doing hardly any ‘real’ writing in their lives outside of schooling. My only wish is that we balanced the wasted time in writing with music, dance, drama, sport etc.

    Hoping this finds you well.

    Nga mihi nui

  3. Kelvin says:

    George from Auckland writes: So where do we enrol?? Can I pretend to be a dummy too?

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