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Improving oral rehearsal skills to lead to quality written outcomes

Case Study
  • Authored by: Jennifer Tinsdeall
  • Status: Approved

Introduction

What were your reasons for doing this type of development work?

Ethel Wainwright is a large primary school serving part of the Ladybrook estate in Mansfield. The area is predominantly white British although there are 14% of children with English as an additional language. There are currently 340 children on roll with 34% of children in receipt of free school meals. The school has recently come out of Special Measures.

Data identified underachievement in writing and so raising standards in writing is a whole school focus on our school development plan. Although speaking and listening activities with high expectations were embedded in my classroom, often writing outcomes did not reflect the progress evident in speaking and listening sessions. When I was asked by our literacy consultant to be a part of the talk for writing working party I was delighted to learn more about oral rehearsal, to develop and refine my own practice and in my capacity as AST (Advanced Skills Teacher) to support my own school and other schools to implement talk for writing to lead to better quality written outcomes.

Who might find this case study useful?

  • Headteacher
  • SIP (School Improvement Partner)
  • Teacher

Key points

Point 1

'If you can't talk it you can't write it!'

Point 2

Do you want to raise standards in writing?

What

What specific curriculum area, subject or aspect did you intend to have impact on?

  • English - speaking and listening
  • English - writing

How did you intend to impact on pupil learning?

  • By engaging children with the whole process a writer goes through to shape a text, starting with imitation using body actions; then loitering with the text until the children could talk the text towards innovation.
  • Encouraging a talk for writing culture in my classroom where stealing ideas was seen in a positive light.
  • Through talk, scaffolding language structures to improve overall text cohesion.
  • Focused questioning alongside book talk and writer talk to encourage children to discover why certain words and language structures were chosen by the author.

What were your success criteria?

  • Can the children orally rehearse parts of a text to help them internalise the language structure?
  • Integrated oral rehearsal and scaffolded talk throughout all phases which focuses on children amending and refining their vocabulary.
  • Accelerated progress with better quality independent writing outcomes.

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What information or data did you use to measure progress towards your success criteria?

  • Periodic teacher assessment
  • Pupils' work

What did you do? What teaching approaches (pedagogy) did you use to achieve the intended impact?

  • Assessment for Learning (AfL)
  • Other
  • Use of pupil talk for whole-class teaching

Describe the teaching approaches you used

‘If you can’t talk it you can’t write it!’ I’ve said it hundreds of times. However, although speaking and listening activities with high expectations were embedded in my classroom, often writing outcomes did not reflect the progress evident in speaking and listening sessions. Children had difficulty orchestrating all parts of sentence and text level alongside vocabulary choices. This case study outlines the Talk for Writing approaches I tried with my class in conjunction with existing speaking and listening and Assessment for Learning approaches. Such approaches led me to the realisation that instead of giving children a fixed set of success criteria at the start of a text type, I used focused questioning alongside book talk and writer talk to encourage my children to discover why certain words and language structures were chosen by the author.

This case study details the journey of my class, starting with imitation using body actions; then loitering with the text until the children could talk the text towards innovation. An encouraging Talk for Writing culture emerged in my classroom where stealing ideas was seen in a positive light. Integrated oral rehearsal throughout the planning phases not only helped children to imitate the text - it also helped children internalise the language and structure of the text. Throughout all stages of planning and writing their ideas were scaffolded, amended and refined and with the help of walk and talk, babble gabble and plenty of magpied ideas this led to better quality independent written outcomes.

I likened the whole talk for writing process to the analogy of climbing a mountain and a key question: would you feel safer / more confident with or without a safety harness and or a map? Within phase 1 children are equipped with the internalised structure of the text type (they have a safety harness and a map of the route). Consequently, during phases 2 and 3 they can more confidently cope with generating and selecting different vocabulary and sentence structures (changes in weather and terrain). They feel safer and more confident.

 

Phase 1 and learning outcomes

We read and orally retold lots of high level non chronological reports. At first most children found the communal retellings difficult. This was perhaps due to the fact that I was expecting them to retell too much text; and because we don’t normally talk in the 3rd person or the present tense - the sentence structure is harder to master. I decided to split the text into more manageable chunks and after lots of sentence babble gabbling the children were resilient writers and could eventually talk paragraphs. Noticeably the more retellings we did the more the children rose to the challenge of identifying tricky technical vocabulary and the higher attainers used dictionaries to find out unknown meanings. The imitation of language features, learning a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like), was essential to give children a structure of the text type. It was almost like working backwards. Rather than giving children all the success criteria and asking them to find examples, explicit writer talk (reading as a writer) encouraged us to discuss how a writer creates an effect e.g. related information is paragraphed which chunks linked information. This gave children a clearer understanding of the text type and the purpose of the text. Repetition of ‘Book-talk’ encouraged children to be more creative and open in their responses to the text type. It allowed time for children to think creatively about the effect of words and ask questions. Through the sorting activities children discovered for themselves that, apart from the introduction and conclusion, the paragraphs can be ordered in any way. When writer-talk and book talk was used in conjunction with other speaking and listening games, a climate of supported discussion was created. When I modelled the verbalisation of the writer’s thoughts this set the text in context and made the children consider how they could translate these techniques and strategies into their own writing. The importance of allowing time for familiarisation, unpicking and immersion with the text type cannot be over emphasised. It helped most of my children to internalise the structure of the text so they had a clear model in their minds to support them during phases 2 and 3.

 

Phase 2 and learning outcomes

The children orally rehearsed then retold differentiated paragraphs of the text using body actions to help them remember key vocabulary. At first, most groups tried to use body actions for every word but this was hindering rather then helping the retelling process. Collaboratively it was agreed that only key words should have actions attached to them. This really helped children to internalise key vocabulary. In this way the children naturally moved from imitation to innovation. Kinaesthetic learners, especially lower attaining boys, were motivated to take part in the lesson and became active learners. When responding to the presentations from other groups we tried to tie in the AfL marking system which was already in operation in our classroom to provide constructive suggestions about changes and improvements. This took magpieing to the next level as it led us to realise the need to agree on generic body actions for connectives and paragraphs. The children themselves were leading the way with suggestions.

 

Capturing ideas

I showed children a planning structure and explicitly talked through the process that a writer would need to collect information around certain ideas (diet, habitat, appearance) before they planned. Encouraging children to think of questions the writer would have asked to plan each paragraph helped me to fully understand writer talk. Working seemingly backwards from the finished report to the planning stage and using writer talk to unpick it provided the bridging link that I feel had been missing from my practice. It overtly modelled the process the author went through to get to the finished product. It gave children ownership of their own planning and when searching the internet for information most information on the plans related to the subheading.

Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Plenaries were used to ‘tell me more’ about each of the headings and collectively we added information. Children then innovated under the constraints of the headings. I then modelled how to retell the text using the bubble map and incorporated body actions. The children were very quick to pick up when I used an incorrect body action for the connectives we had agreed. The challenge was could the children present bubble maps from other groups? The interpretation reinforced our class ethos that ‘resilient writers run risks,’ that different interpretations are good, and that playing with language choices helps to make writers effective.

 

Oral rehearsal

Talk partner routines and expectations were already established. My question was how to extend this so that children were exposed to a range of different choices and didn’t always work with the same partner. I introduced a method that we now call ‘walk and talk.’ The class walk around to music and when the music stops they share their ideas with the nearest child. We do this several times so that the children are able to listen to three or four models. This sets no ceiling on performance. ‘Walk and talk’ is effective as it scaffolds opportunities for children to develop, practise and refine their ideas. Children took ownership of their own writing journey when developing and improving vocabulary themselves.

 

Phase 3 and learning outcomes

I, in role as expert writer, modelled how to use the oral rehearsal and notes to draft then create high quality paragraphs. Supported composition involved the children becoming text detectives to decide what language features/structures were needed. Children used their knowledge of the text they had learned off by heart to discuss the success criteria needed. The internalised structure learned in phase 1, in conjunction with the introduction of walk and talk, and writer talk, had the most significant impact on innovation and writing outcomes with regard to content and use of language. Magpieing became more effective as children were actively challenged to edit and amend several different sentence and text level choices on whiteboards before and at the point of writing. As children were exposed to a wider range of sentence structures and vocabulary choices (during walk and talk, ‘babble gabble’ and oral rehearsal) this impacted on both the quantity and quality of the final written outcome. When children used their planning spontaneously and started to orally rehearse without being prompted, this emphasised the importance of loitering with the text type, the usefulness of scaffolded planning and the impact writer talk had had on my children.

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What did you do? What approaches to CPD and learning for adults were used?

  • Demonstration
  • Learning conversation
  • Modelling
  • Training

Describe the CPD approaches you used

A video of my developing practice was used to model and demonstrate some of the talk for writing strategies to whole staff on an INSET day.

Speaking and listening staff meeting to develop and share ideas. I monitored planning alongside the literacy subject leaders to ensure a range of activities were identified in green.

Informal learning conversations happen on a day to day basis to share, develop and adapt practice.

What CPD materials, research or expertise have you drawn on?

Talk for writing development group led by LA consultant.

Talk for writing materials produced in conjunction with Pie Corbett http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/154519

Related national strategies resources

Who provided you with support?

  • External agency
  • Senior management

How were you supported?

I was invited by an LA literacy consultant to be part of a talk for writing working party to learn about, develop, refine and share my experience of implementing talk for writing with my own class. I then began to cascade methods of approaching talk for writing that I have trialled in my class to our staff team although this is still work in progress. In my AST outreach work I have shared examples of my practice in staff meetings, team teaching and lesson observations and the talk for writing culture is now becoming more embedded.

Impact

What has been the overall impact on pupil learning?

Improved writing outcomes which reflected the progress made due to integrated oral rehearsal at all phases, as children have internalised the language and structure of the text type.

Children are more confident to be adventurous in their word choices and actively encourage each other to refine their ideas.

Kinaesthetic learners, especially lower attaining boys, are motivated to take part in the lessons and become active learners when retelling their texts. They are now clearly writing for a purpose.

Qualitative evidence of impact on learning is supported by observation outcomes. HMI graded the talk for writing lesson they observed in my class to be outstanding. Children are much more aware of the text type, the audience and the purpose of writing. These skills are now being transferred across the curriculum.

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Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

Children felt more confident and as a result more willing to write as they could talk the text. This is due to the fact that throughout all stages of planning and in the build to write their ideas were scaffolded, amended and refined and in conjunction with walk and talk, babble gabble and plenty of magpied ideas this led to better quality written outcomes.

‘Walk and talk’ is effective as it scaffolds opportunities for children to develop, practise and refine their ideas. It sets no ceiling on performance as children are encouraged to share ideas with a range of children. In this way my children took ownership of their own writing journey when developing and improving vocabulary themselves.

When children used their planning spontaneously and started to orally rehearse without being prompted, this emphasised the importance of loitering with the text type, the usefulness of scaffolded planning and the impact writer talk had had on my children.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on learning

'Resilient writers run risks.'

'If you can't talk it you can't write it.'

'Good writers are thieves so if you like it steal it and put it in your swag bag.'

Quantitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Periodic teacher assessment

Qualitative evidence of impact on pupil learning

  • Learning walks / study visits
  • Observation outcomes
  • Pupils' work

Describe the evidence of impact on pupil learning

Outcomes of pupil progress data. In a class with 5 EAL children (20%) and 9 SEN children (36%) for writing 100% of children made 1 or more sub level progress in writing compared to 59% of children in the parallel class not yet adopting talk for writing. 54% of children in the class made 2 or more sub levels progress compared to 0% in the parallel class. There has been a 24% increase of children achieving age related expectations at the end of the year in comparison with the start of the year in the class adopting talk for writing.

Looking at pupils' work - Narrowing gaps on APP and identifying next steps.

Learning walks have demonstrated that working walls are now being used to support pupils' language choices and magpieing is encouraged at all times.

What has been the impact on teaching?

Teachers feeling more confident to use a range of drama and speaking and listening techniques. This has been given a higher status in every phase of the teaching sequence.

The development of working walls to support adventurous word choices and magpieing ideas supports interactive classroom environments.

Teaching has been more focused in the way it models and scaffolds the writing process. During supported composition there has been more evidence of the teacher in role of expert writer modelling how to use the oral rehearsal to draft then create high quality paragraphs. This makes the writing process more explicit for children. Reading as a writer has had an impact on shared and guided reading.

The case study was focused on non-fiction but this has now been extended into narrative.

Teaching is now judged to be good or better by HMI and our school has recently come out of the category of Special Measures.

Thoughts you think are relevant to impact on teaching

The importance of planning in and allowing time for oral rehearsal and open discussion of the text type cannot be over emphasised. It helped most of my children to internalise the structure of the text so they had a clear model in their minds to support them when writing.

Teaching the children to magpie ideas became more effective as children were actively challenged to edit and amend several different sentence and text level choices on whiteboards before and at the point of writing. As children were exposed to a wider range of sentence structures and vocabulary choices (during walk and talk, ‘babble gabble’ and oral rehearsal) this impacted on both the quantity and quality of the final written outcome.

Quotes you think are relevant to the impact on teaching

'Word association games fire my children's imagination - it makes teaching vocabulary fun!'

'Writer talk helps my class have an open discussion about how a writer creates an effect.'

Evidence of impact on teaching

  • Evidence from observation and monitoring
  • Evidence from planning

Describe the evidence of impact on teaching

Work scrutiny, planning scrutiny and professional dialogue shows:

  • a range of speaking and listening activities are being used across school across phases;
  • opportunities for shared and guided writing are built into planning;
  • opportunities for book talk are being applied to guided reading.

APP is being used in writing to identify gaps and to inform teacher's of their next steps to make teaching more focused on children's learning needs.

What has been the impact on school organisation and leadership?

AST support in my school and another school has focused on the implementation of talk for writing.

Raising attainment with writing is a key part of the school development plan. Teachers' performance management target setting is also linked with it. It provides a key focus for LA consultant support, staff meetings and INSET days and CPD for staff.

Monitoring of whole school planning by the literacy subject leader focuses on speaking and listening activities - the cycle of assess and review ensures it is being embedded in planning and teaching. There is more progression and consistency across year groups.

Thoughts you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

Staff meetings have been organised and led by the LA consultant, literacy subject leader and AST with a focus on AfL, speaking and listening, shared and guided writing and APP.

Quotes you think are relevant to overall impact on school organisation and leadership

AfL and a child focused approach drives teaching and learning 'What do our children need next?'

Evidence of impact on school organisation and leadership

AST asked to model good practice for talk for writing within school and in other schools. Model lessons to disseminate good practice with a focus on AfL/talk for writing strategies.

AST worked alongside LA consultant to facilitate the delivery of Y3 county training 'Engaging Year three pupils in literacy' with a focus on talk for writing.

AST working alongside literacy subject leader and LA consultant to deliver in house training to roll out talk for writing across school.

Summary

What is the crucial thing that made the difference?

Due to excellent training from the LA consultant, the leadership team has a clearer understanding of speaking and listening and so know what to look for during lesson observations/ planning scrutiny to lead the staff team. Talk for writing is given high priority and there is a shared understanding of the benefits of talk for writing.

What key resources would people who want to learn from your experience need access to?

National Strategy Talk for Writing Materials http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/154519

Talk for Writing seminars with Pie Corbett

What CPD session and resources were particularly useful?

Pie Corbett 'Talk for Writing and Talking the Text Type' seminars.

The working party set up by our literacy consultant facilitated us to work with colleagues from within the LA who were trialling different approaches across a range of year groups. This enabled us to share best practice and to discuss the impact Talk for Writing was having in our schools and to magpie ideas to help us develop and extend our own practice.

If another individual or school was attempting to replicate this work, where would they start and what would the essential elements be?

Support of the Headteacher and SLT to prioritise staff training time which is needed to ensure there is a whole school understanding of the pedagogies of Talk for Writing. (Planning, delivery, teaching and learning, learning environment / ethos.)

CPD training offered at first to individuals who are able to trail and disseminate best practice amongst colleagues through staff meetings and individual mentoring. The driver or a working party across the school leads and supports the staff to implement the principles of Talk for Writing.

Regular monitoring will ensure that there is continuity throughout the school. It will also highlight further staff training needs.

Networking with other schools where Talk for Writing is embedded will help develop and share practice.

What further developments are you planning to do (or would you like to see others do)?

Whole school staff training has been prioritised for next term which will enable talk for writing to be disseminated throughout the school.

As I have been developing talk for writing for over a year it is my aim to extend the philosophy across other subject areas. This will support cross curricular independent writing outcomes across a range of genres.

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