Developing the writing skills of our students is so important and there are lots of great ways to do this.
John Tomsett’s blog about the merits of copying off the board and explicitly teaching students how to think and write quickly in exam conditions was a really interesting read. It really resonated with me how important this is and the fact that our students today write less than I would have done as a student. After all, much of their communication is digital. As a child, I occasionally wrote letters or sent postcards!
It got me refocusing on one of my favourite techniques for supporting students with their writing and that is writing alongside the students.
This year, whenever I set my students a practice question under time conditions, I endeavour to complete the question myself. It’s really useful because I’m able to create an exemplar answer which I can then use as a teaching tool during Reflection Time. Furthermore, it shows to the students that I can do what I’m asking of them and hopefully inspires confidence. It demonstrates how much you can write if you are able to think and write quickly. My 7 sides of A4 in 45 minutes, admittedly a scrawl by the end, shows just what can be done and provides a model for students to aim towards. I can choose to really hone in on something I want students to focus on such as academic writing. I can also explain my thinking and thought processes to the students afterwards and crucially how approach the thinking behind the question and how I plan out a coherent answer.
It is also a useful technique because it gives me the opportunity to be in their shoes and to experience the pressure. Actually doing what I’m asking the students to do enables me to empathise more with the time pressure and that horrible feeling of thinking you’re not going to finish your essay. I can gain an insight into the stubborn mind blank in your penultimate paragraph or the intensely painful ache in your hand as you battle to finish your conclusion.
Way back in 2009, I entered myself into an AS exam for what was then a new A Level syllabus. Sitting in the exam hall, alongside other students, was also a profoundly rich pedagogical experience. Fortunately, I gained a decent grade but I remember the feeling of anticipation when the exams officer phoned to say my grade was in.
So, if you want a quick tweak to help develop your students’ writing skills and experience then next time your students are doing a test log off the e-mails, put away the marking and have a go at the test yourself. You might be surprised how much you gain from it!