Slow Writing – Step by Step
“Miss, I don’t know what to write!”
“Sir, how do you start?”
These are questions asked by students who find it difficult to get into descriptive writing. Without adequate one-to-one support, puzzlement can lead to frustration, and frustration invariably results in disruptive behaviour. With all the will in the world, we struggle to give these students sufficient attention to support them in a full class of 30 plus children. Nevertheless, with a clear and simple strategy and some practice, hopefully, these students will acquire an essential skill to overcome the initial barrier, a skill that all effective writers possess – attention to details, one at a time.
Incidentally, David Didou has written a blog on “how” students can complete a creative writing task by following a series of instructions. Following that, he has also suggested “how slowing writing might speed up thinking“. In my case, I tried to find a solution to the question of “What do I write?”
Don’t we often hear ourselves repeating the same instruction, “Slow down!” “Don’t rush!” “Add more detail!”? We even mark their books with these comments, too. Then same questions erupt from all corners of the classroom: “Where do I start?” “What do I write?” To find a solution, I decided to stage teacher instructions by means of a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation would be sent to every child in the group via email for them to access on their iPads. My idea was to “hold their hands” to complete the writing task, slide by slide and step by step, walking up to a “haunted house” to describe the scene in as much detail as they were instructed to, just like being on a guided tour minus the atmosphere-building description. The students would have to do that themselves.
I had also planned this lesson with the new GCSE writing task in mind. Hopefully, this way of teaching descriptive writing would help them develop skills and confidence to respond to visual stimuli that may contain more subtle details that require careful observations.
Below are a small selection slides included in the step-by-step scaffolding of the writing instructions:
The result was on the whole pleasing. Firstly, the number of questions, “How do I start?” and “What do I write?” reduced dramatically. Secondly, the more confident writers could get on with their work with fewer disruptions (I am assuming it was easier for them to block out teacher talk). The more able students had the chance to ask questions about more sophisticated crafting of style and writing. After 20 minutes of guided, slow writing, students from my lower-set Year 7 group produced some fantastically detailed description of the haunted house.
Plan for the following, too:
1. How can students without their iPads access the resources?
2. Encourage more confident writers to work independently and to take advantage of “slow writing”.
I would be interested to find out:
How does this way of writing work with much smaller groups?