Jane Considine – The Write Stuff
Most of you will have seen me rave about Jane – yes we are on first name terms – we have spent 10 hours together, even if she couldn’t see me! She has created some amazing videos which give a real insight into how we can effectively teach writing. It has been a real joy watching these videos, I feel like I was constantly either nodding my head, or writing something down.
There are ten instalments all together, each about an hour long. I will hopefully get round to reviewing all ten, but I have started by looking at session one. Which was INCREDIBLE for anyone who wants to improve language choice, and application.
Session 1 – Demonstration Writing with Jane Considine
This session is all about sharing and modelling good writing, creating writing experiences where we can share our thinking with children, and articulate a ‘behind the scenes’ view of what writing choices look like.
Technology has been an incredibly useful tool, and support system over the past few years, but Jane questions whether good modelling has been lost. Not because people have forgotten its importance, but that in a rush for the children to include all the grammatical features, and in order to fit writing into our allocated time, we have used Notebook and Powerpoint to simply show what we want, with all the features already included. Whilst this does show a good outcome, it doesn’t explicitly teach the process, and leaves us saying, “I just don’t understand how they don’t get it, my WAGOLL was amazing!”
So what did I learn that could help me become a more demonstrative writer? (Besides the fact that Jane is my Hero and I need all of her books…NOW!)
Modelling the ‘act’ of writing
The most important thing I picked up was that the writing is done live, and with a pen in hand. I think at WCPS we are already great at using our whiteboards and big sheets of paper, but watching Jane, and seeing the strategies, really hammered home the importance.
It isn’t just about modeling the right way to do something, it’s modelling the struggles. The strategies we used to overcome these, are as important as getting them right, and articulating this is key. We are really great at modelling methods in maths, but what about method’s in writing? How can I show what I’m keeping, rejecting, or sharpening?
Children need to “See the writer’s brain”, and learning needs to be visual. I realised my writing choices need to be explicit, and they need to be shared in a way where children can see the choices I am making, or why I change my choices. Neatness goes out of the window, because we are exploring and experimenting with writing, and it won’t always be a straightforward process!
Positive or negative – What is the writer’s intent?
The writer’s intent is really crucial, sometimes we become so bogged down with the language and vocabulary, we forget to articulate our intent and why we are selecting that specific language. What effect do we want to have on the reader?
Jane demonstrates this by ‘flying in’, or rather borrowing sentences from authors – and creating sentence scaffolds based on already successful sentences. She advocated using sentences from a range of really strong authors and unpicking them in order to teach the structure and alter the intent. She modelled how changing one word, or a small set of words can alter the reader’s perception.
Although it is such a simple change, the discussion to be had with children is so powerful. It can be developed further still to encompass description and speech.
“Delicious!” exclaimed Mrs Bumbry-Scott, whose mouth was full of boiled sweets, “These are sublime!”
“Delicious!” gagged Mrs Bumbry-Scott, whose mouth was full of escargot, “These are sublime!”
I found this so simple, and yet a really clear way of demonstrating intent. This is certainly something I will look at when developing characters, or describing a scene. The discussion of the language and intent would be key here, do you want to create something positive or negative? How does this change your language choice?
The most important thing I picked up here was that language can be played with, and that the intensity of the language we chose is important, and like everything, needs to be modelled.
Jane talks about children understanding language in synonym families so they can judge its intensity. She believes (and I wholeheartedly agree) that if you are giving a child a new word, you must give them the definition in the moment, and connect it to words they already know. Again, a bit like maths, if they know 2 x 3 is 6, then 3 x 2 is 6. If they know ‘an old building’, and ‘a run-down building’, you can explain how to apply ‘a dilapidated building’ in that context; because the links are already there in the child’s understanding.
Jane highlights that dictionary work is not the most effective way to support the development of vocabulary, because the language they find doesn’t have context. She uses an example where a child had used sad, and she sent them to use a dictionary. When she read their work later, their character was suicidal. Now the child had changed the word, but it did not match the context. It was too intense. She talks about language on an intensity scale, where children select language and they are aware of how it fits in the context.
There is an example below, with a synonym family for ‘happy’, some of the words are more intense, and some are less. But building this scale is just another way of being really explicit with language teaching, in a visual way. I can’t wait to apply this, because I believe our children are developing a great vocabulary (through our LIRA and Gather, Skills, Apply) but this will help them to contextualise it, especially as this may be language that is seldum used in context at home!
Overall, I have learnt that I need to verbalise my thinking as a writer. I am guilty of assuming that children know why I have chosen a word, and I fire new langauge at them daily, but through watching Jane, and seeing the scaffold, I realise that the key to good writing is good talking and clear discussion. Make the implicit explicit, and discuss/ show your thinking (and intent) as an author.
I highly recommend watching ‘The write stuff sessions’ on Youtube, and have a notebook ready!