It’s All About the Pace
First things first: disclaimer time: Slow Writing is very much David Didau’s thing– I attended a literacy conference last year, and it was an an excellent presentation by him, in which he outlined his development of it as a technique for teaching writing, (and subsequently the reading of ‘The Secret of Literacy’, his brilliant book) that convinced me to give it a go. I’m so glad I did.
Now I’m not normally one for hyperbole – unless I’m teaching persuasive writing of course – but I may be tempted to say it’s the single most effective technique to improve pupils’ writing that I have employed in my nine years of teaching. It’s straightforward, incredibly effective and the pupils love it. Okay, ‘love’ is hyperbolic, but they certainly appreciate it.
I trialled Slow Writing at the end of last year; this year, I’ll be embedding it into my planning from the word go: for all years, for all types of texts, and for all ability levels. It really does work a treat.
You really should check out David’s full explanation of Slow Writing here: http://www.learningspy.co.uk/tag/slow-writing/. But in a nutshell, you force the pupils to think about every sentence they write by outlining explicitly how their sentence should be constructed: you might insist on a certain number of words, demand they include a semi-colon, or stress the need for it to start with an adverb or include a simile.
As Didau explains, “this process forces them to concentrate on the how not just the what.”
The sentences can be randomly generated (Didau credits David Riley with having produced a piece of free software if you want to randomly generate your sentences: https://www.tripticoplus.com) which is very satisfying.
But you can flip this technique too. I’m going to try some analysis of persuasive writing and work towards getting my pupils to write out their own Slow Writing instructions for themselves or each other.
As Head of Literacy, I’m already gearing up for persuading the rest of the staff that we should adopt it across the curriculum. Right now, I’m thinking along the lines of using a music analogy: if you want to write an effective Christmas (input any genre) song, what’s the first thing you do? You listen to all of the best Christmas songs, deconstruct them, then go about employing the same formula yourself. And voila, you have a Christmas song.
Well it’s the same in English with Slow Writing – only better! And it could also be the same for science or history or drama. How do model answers start? What features do excellent concluding sentences include? How does a pleasing summary employ colons and semi-colons? Mimic this in your own writing, include these things in specified sentences, and go from there. Of course pupils can tweak and re-draft - they really should - but as a starting point for the scaffolding of successful writing, a more effective technique than this you will not find.
There’s no shortcut for the initial teaching of the techniques. I’m still expecting to spend a lot of time at the board droning on about punctuation marks. But what this method does is give pupils an immediate and on-going chance to employ the techniques in their own writing. No longer will you run the risk of teaching a colon in isolation. Perish the thought.
A quick google suggests that the word on Slow Writing has spread fast. It’s still early days for me – but I’m thinking I’m going to be big on it this year from the word go.
Do you use it? How’ve you adapted it? Does it sound like it could work for you? I’m looking forward to blogging about it throughout the year, but I’m already convinced that my pupils’ progress will be faster - because of Slow Writing - than ever before.
Jon Sellick is an English teacher at Range High, a secondary school in Sefton, Merseyside.