Nearly two months ago I posted this blog about my reluctant writer. With young Ben, I was really struggling to get his ideas onto the paper. His work was scruffy and of insignificant quantity to even begin to consider its’ quality. I was struggling to provide evidence to show that he was making sufficient progression under my instruction and his engagement with tasks was bordering on non-existence. In desperate need of help, I turned to Twitter.
Luckily for me a lot of people responded and provided me with helpful advice and instruction that I could use as I sought to engage and develop Ben’s interest in writing. I have used several strategies over the past two months which have seen a tremendously remarkable improvement in the quantity and quality (although not the presentation) of young Benjamin’s work. The examples below are testament to the improvement that Ben has shown in lessons
The last piece of advice I received from Tim Taylor was to put the child in charge then support, encourage and review. And so, in order, this is what I did with my reluctant writer.
The first thing I did was to sit down with Ben, one to one, and discuss his work. Perhaps, on refelction, my negativety towards insufficient work was not best practice and I can see now that it didn’t help. It was no surprise to Ben then that I wasn’t very impressed with the quantity of his work and perhaps that is why he had his answers for me already. He suggested that he often forgets his ideas before he has time to write them all down. We decided that it was best to have a whiteboard on hand in all lessons and Ben could bullet point his ideas as they came to him and return to them in the lesson. We decided that each day we would set a target on the page that we wanted Ben to write past. Ben decided this each day and told me; he was setting his own targets in terms of quantity. Slowly we would build up targets together to improve the quality. The next day Ben’s work had a small but significant improvement.
This improvement was praised to the hilt. I threw house points at him; I showed the whole class his work; I sent him to his old teacher; I sent him to the year group above us; I sent him to the headteacher; I told his mum and dad; I made him ‘star of the week’ and the impact was instant. He was so proud of himself. I kept praising him in every lesson for anything he did well. I didn’t praise absolutely everything, as I needed him to feel like the praise was genuine and deserved, but I sought out opportunities to build his confidence. After about three weeks he told me he had really enjoyed the lesson. I had just told him he had worked really well, which he had, when he said something that nearly made me jump for joy. “My writing is really good, isn’t it sir. Just look at the openers and I’ve used the word plethora right.” He was starting to believe in himself and this was seeping through into his writing.
Lend Me Your Literacy
As the quality of his writing improved, I used the Lend Me Your Literacy website to give Benjamin a wider audience. Within a week his work had been viewed over 100 times, and commented on four times, by people from all over the world. He was amazed that people from so far away could read his work and be so impressed with it. Now it wasn’t just his teacher or his parents who thought his work was great, but also strangers from across the globe, and his confidence went through the roof. Suddenly he wasn’t afraid to put his ideas to paper. They weren’t all cohesive or grammatically correct, but this allowed us to develop his redrafting and editing skills. Before we knew it, we had a confident and eager young writer on our hands. He wasn’t the strongest writer I’d ever taught, he was far from even being the strongest in the class, but he was willing and engaged to a level I wouldn’t have thought possible in January.
This week we looked back at his work since the turn of the year. The transformation in the book has been quite remarkable. To be able to flick through a book and see such evident progression fills both Ben and I with a great sense of pride. Now that we have quantity, and an improved quality, we can begin to hone in on the skills that he needs to develop. Truth be told, his handwriting throughout the process has become atrocious. At times it is barely decodable (the example below shows that), but I was reluctant to discourage him in any way. I know now that praise and encouragement works for Ben, and so the carrot on the stick to tackle this issue is going to be the elusive pen licence and I will encourage him all the way until he is awarded this.
“As I stared at what was in front of me I wriggled out of my skin. The horidness was bursting out with activities. In front of me was a pen full of: fluffy sheep, hairy horses, clucking chickens and roosters watching everyone up. By the pen were some different carts the odour of gruesome rotting pigs trotters and flesh.”
Two months ago I had a reluctant writer. Now, I don’t. The steps I have just outlined will not work for every child and for many of you they may just seem like common sense or normal practice. The handwriting in the piece above is horrendous and it isn’t grammatically correct, but the basis on which to build and mould Ben into a great writer is clear and I can’t wait to see the work we will be producing by the end of the year. The curious case of Benjamin Button has been solved.