Strategies for implementing explicit writing
This resource is part of a suite of conversations between the English Curriculum Team and teachers and school leaders from across the NSW Department of Education. These recorded sessions draw upon research and experience in subject English and present a range of evidence-based strategies for improving writing.
Audience: Stage 4, 5 and 6 teachers and leaders
Watch 'The Seldon Method – improving writing' (1:27:08)
(Duration – 1 hour 27 minutes 08 seconds)
…literacy across the school and breaking down that resistance that you do find in a lot of faculties when they say, ‘Oh, look that’s – we do different things over in history and science’, or whatever the case may be, and I've been told the same thing by, you know, different head teachers across different faculties and we've had those conversations and engaged in that TPL, you know, and everyone's really on board now.
So, that's obviously an important part of that process for anyone who's here as a literacy coordinator and being able to get that homogeneity of practice across the school specifics, especially in the way in which kids are writing and the way in which teachers are speaking, it is very conducive to helping their writing skills.
So, I guess most of you are familiar with the document, which is the CESE document, ‘What works best’, if you haven't, get into it, it's a fantastic document. It was released in 2014 with an update in 2020. We were lucky enough to have a little segment devoted there to explicit teaching, around Balgowlah Boys. It's a fairly brief summation of what we do here at school.
But one of the things about that document when it came out, it was pretty exciting for us because it appeared to validate a lot of the processes which we'd, I guess, gravitated towards as a result of the work that we've done with kids, you know, the data crunching and trying to figure out what works best.
We’re in a boys’ environment, it's a boys’ school here and a lot of the boys’, I guess, educational research points to the necessity, or the value in, specific guided teaching as well as scaffolding and all of those kinds of things, and we found that boys really profited from that process, and we engage in that process wholeheartedly as a consequence.
So, it ticks a lot of things in terms of high expectations, explicit teaching, effective feedback is a huge part of it, collaboration is an important part of it, and we also believe that quality teaching is one of the best pathways or conduits to class management as well as wellbeing. So, it really ticks a box in terms of class management as well and I'll talk about that briefly later on.
So, the most important part of that document for us at Bally [Balgowlah Boys] was, I guess, the explicit teaching part and as it says there, explicit teaching practices involve teachers clearly showing students what to do and how to do it, rather than having students engage in that process of discovery learning and that's a really important thing.
I grew up in the 80s, I experienced a lot of discovery learning and I think English was probably my weakest subject, really, as a consequence of that, to be honest. The process that we have is very cumulative, it's very systematic, it's repetitive and it's ongoing, and it allows for that cognitive loading that's really important for students in terms of gradually building their familiarity and their expertise over time. So that element about clearly showing is a really integral part of embracing the concept of explicit teaching and that goes without saying.
The most important part of that document for us is the next part where it talks about the critical thinking processes. If I could have a look at the next slide. The critical processes that depend upon factual knowledge stored in long-term memory and this is a really important part of the document for us where it talks about or recognizes if you want, to a point, one of the false dichotomies in education, as it says there, which is, I guess reducing the concept of content knowledge to rote learning.
And there's always negative connotations in conversations around education, around rote learning, and what it clearly states there is it says that in actuality, critical thinking depends upon factual knowledge stored in long-term memory and our capacity to recall that.
So, a lot of what we do is, is really about helping students develop a very strong sense of what is the best practice, best practice for writing, the way in which you can use templates to, a particular template to put sentences together with increasing confidence and increasing complexity, and then being able to draw upon that knowledge and that vocabulary in the situations that require critical thinking, which is, you know, for assessment tasks and larger written responses, for example. So, that's a big part of that.
So, what that means is that, yes, we have to reconsider how we think of ourselves as teachers and for us, this means thinking about, I guess, what it means to teach and where the students are, in terms of their own learning and their own journey, because I think there's sometimes a misconception that I guess because students can speak English that they can somehow write that.
And that's clearly, as all of us would know, that's not the case. So, we need to be as explicit as possible in teaching students how to write in the appropriate register. So, one of the things that we've done at Balgowlah Boys is we spend a lot of time having a conversation, I guess, around where the students are in their learning and the concept of students being at an apprenticeship phase.
And we have a lot of students around the northern beaches who go into their trades, for example, and the idea of where apprentices are and what that means for them as learners. And if you go in, and you talk about the apprenticeship phases, as it says there, the early parts of that apprenticeship journey are modelling and approximating, and that is where students see the act, as it says there. The complete act is observed and contemplated, and then the observer begins to mimic the actions of the teacher.
For us, the boys in Year 7, through to Year 12 are very much in an apprenticeship phase. And the idea, I think that students can somehow launch into some really complex ideas without explicit guidance, explicit introductions of vocab, teachers explicitly introducing the complexities of social and philosophical context for example, when you're going into higher order thinking, they require us to help them with that process, to give direct instruction about what that looks like. Rather than, as this little comic suggests, hoping for some miracle to occur that we can stand at the front of the classroom, have a chat about some of those really difficult concepts, and then say, ‘Okay, guys, write, you know, write an essay about that’, because that's not how the process works.
And one of the things that I realized probably a handful of years ago that was a real epiphany for me, is that most of the – I spend a lot of time talking, I’m spending a lot of time talking now – and as teachers, we spend a lot of time and some of us are very articulate and passionate in the way in which we talk about the content that we're looking at, whether it's T.S Elliot, whether it's Shakespeare or whatever the case may be. But students don't learn by listening, most of them, most of us learn by viewing and doing and so, it's really important that we go through that process of showing students how to do that rather than hoping for that miracle to occur.
Okay, and this is slightly facetious, that title there, but you are going to find opposition to that process. We've encountered, you know, opposition over the years to the idea of explicit teaching and what that means and most of that comes down to, I guess, teachers saying things along the lines of, ‘I don't want to give the students the answers.’ which is kind of unusual because I'll be talking about mathematics later on and, you know, it's the best maths teachers that I've seen in practice they guide, teach you through that process and show them how to reach the correct result and what that correct result looked like.
This little comment here is a is a comment I got from a disgruntled teacher, I guess, some years ago. So, I apologize for that, but it says, ‘Bubble theory and deconstruction are instruments of analysis, and no substitute for textual integrity. My philosophy favours a deeply considered and genuinely felt response to the novel.’ which is fantastic, but at the end of the day, you're not going to go into the HSC, and you're not going to get marked for how deeply you empathize with the feeling, the messages of the novel, whether you are moved by that.
In fact, that subjective response is not evaluated at all and nor should it be. We shouldn't be judging the students on how deeply they're moved by a text, but rather their capacity and as the HSC does, the capacity to understand those concepts and articulate them in the appropriate register, in an objective manner.
And while the world around us with social media is becoming increasingly hysterical and subjective, I think it's really important to help boys navigate – sorry not just boys, but female students as well, obviously, and I apologize that's a bit of my context there – finding the best ways to articulate, to develop an objective and academic register that helps them articulate their ideas with clarity.
So, look, that is opposition that you're going to get and I think it's important to remember as well that students really are at the beginning and those 2 slides there, they give you a little indication of, just a reminder of the type of things that our young students get up to.
[Image 1 shows a young boy with his head stuck between the metal bars of a window. He is surrounded by emergency services personnel. Image 2 is of ‘Grogu’ a character in The Mandalorian. He is connecting 2 wires together and is about to give himself an electric shock.]
[Presentation paused and speaker appears on screen]
Hello, the screen has closed.
Yeah, I'm just adding the little –
All right. Yeah, look, this is amusing, but it's the kind of thing that we see in the classroom every day or in the playground.
[Clip from The Mandalorian plays. Mando looks down a shaft at Grogu and guides him on how to assemble some wires. Grogu is confused.]
Yes, good. Now you're going to plug that red wire where the blue wire goes in the board. Put the red wire where the blue wire goes in the board, okay. But don't let them touch. See where you took the blue one off?
Yes. Now put the red one – no, don't, don't put the blue one back – put the red one where the blue one was and put the blue one where the red one was.
But be careful, they're oppositely charged, so keep them away from each other make sure you hold them apart from – no, hold them apart.
[Contrary to Mando’s advice, Grogu examines both wires he is holding and brings them together. Sparks fly and smoke billows from the shaft.]
Are you okay?
Look, he was doing his best to be explicit there, but sometimes it wasn't working, so sometimes you just need to continue with that for a long time. But yeah, it's a light-hearted look at, yes, at the way in which some students manage to, the type of things that they can do on their own. They really are young, young kids growing up in the world and its incumbent upon us to guide them through that journey.
That means yeah, okay, so, we think about our philosophy of pedagogy, and it means the students as learners, and it's students mimicking and observing rather than leading learning.
And you know, and personally, over the years, I've found that whole conversation around students leading learning to be somewhat unusual. You know, I don't think any of us spent the years that we spent in university or the years that we spent passionately pursuing our subject area to be relegated to the concept of a facilitator in the classroom. And I think it's a good thing that we recognize ourselves as the experts in that area.
So, what does that mean in terms of, there's an old aphorism and it talks about those who can, do and those who can't, teach – and I think there was an image of it there, but I can't see it – and it's important for us, I think, as teachers, to reject that and to move on to the idea that, yeah, we as teachers, we do it, we can do it and we do, do it and it's not just enough to think that we can do it, but also actually to go through the physical process of doing that.
So, what does that mean? So, the scaffold and the teaching process that we have is one where the whole process begins with teacher responsibility. That means teachers developing the focus of the lesson. It means completing the task that we asked, and then as a consequence once we've gone through that process, being able to gradually over time – which might happen a number of times over the course of the year, or it might happen gradually on the journey to Stage 6 – gradually letting go, so that in the process, students become increasingly independent in that process.
But that does mean that a large part of that period, especially initially, it's explicit guided instruction and you can let your hands go occasionally in that process to give them that chance to experiment. But I think you're going to be continuing to come back again, and again, and again to explicit direction of new content and explicit direction and introduction of new vocabulary, and new explicit direction of how vocab should be used, or how it looks like and what it looks like in a sentence.
So that, for us, that means – if I could just have a quick look at the next one – the process that we have, I guess is simplified by that. It's the teachers do it, and the students observe that, and then over time there is a gradually letting go.
That second picture where it says, ‘I do, you help’ is probably where most of the teaching and learning takes place and when I talk about the teaching tool presently, most of it will be in that area, in that space where the teacher is using the whiteboard and using students to help create the sentences that the students are going to be using.
And that interaction between the student and the teacher is a really critical and really exciting part of that process, you know that's the part of the process where you do get to be the ‘Captain, my captain’, and jumping up on the table to elicit those ideas from the students, and the opportunities for rewarding students there and giving really positive feedback, you know, is a really exciting part of that process.
So, that means I guess we need to reject that role, which says that we're not the expert, but rather we’re the facilitator and the coach, but rather embrace the idea that we are the expert in the classroom. Whenever I go online and I have a look at, and I type in classroom, teacher whiteboard or something, invariably I'm shown the same picture and it's invariably it's a teacher, it's not an English teacher with the board writing, it's a math teacher. And in some ways English and math teachers, at least in my experience, have been the experts of explicit teaching. They're the ones that go step by step, number by number, asking students to help complete those formulas or those additions, whatever the case may be, until they achieve that solution.
And I think it's important for English teachers, or in any subject area, for teachers to replicate that, to buy back into what the whiteboard means. To make sure that we're using that to guide students through sentence by sentence, sometimes word by word in the best ways to write about new language, rather than just have a couple of words on the board and hope and hope that a miracle occurs where they're able to join those together in the best way. But rather they actually see best practice in action, and we assist them in that process in a very, very explicit way.
So, we are the experts, we master our syllabus and most importantly, I think there it says that we complete the tasks that we ask the students to complete. What does that mean? That's actually a really critical part of the whole idea of explicit teaching for us in Bally. It means that we have an expectation when students go into – when teachers are teaching Stage 6, for example – that they have written a band 6 essay or as close to an approximation of a band 6 essay as they're able to collaboratively create, because that's really important.
I think one, it builds a lot of clarity and a lot of confidence, but it's really important that if you haven't written the response that you're expecting the students to write, I don't think it's fair that we can critique and respond to the stuff that the students have done. And in all honesty, you know, I think there is a tendency or a willingness specifically in English where it talks about personal responses, for teachers not to engage in that process. I think teachers completing that written exemplar to the best of their ability, so that it subsequently informs their teaching is the single most important thing that you can do as a classroom teacher.
I know that the way I used to write years ago when I wrote Hamlet essays or something, was a load of rubbish compared to how I managed to improve the quality of my writing as an exemplar over the years after I went to HSC marking. For example, where I moved from very descriptive writing to a lot more analytical writing.
If I could just duck back one slide very briefly. These created exemplars is where the work is, and it looks like those 2 pages, often it's done hours and hours over, alone at a computer or with a pen, if you prefer and then ideally, we collaborate with our peers to come up with the best response.
I have asked science faculties in the past to all answer a single question that they had in reproduction, and I had 8 different responses and they really struggled with those responses. And yet we're asking students to complete those without having gone through the process ourselves and without actually having created a faculty standard about the best way to talk about reproduction, for example.
So, that process of developing a faculty standard, an homogenous faculty standard for how you talk about language or how you approach a particular text is incredibly important and the professional dialogue that facilitates in the staffroom as you're engaging in a discussion about the best way to talk about a particular technique, for example, is incredibly rich and some of the most powerful shared professional learning that you can experience spontaneously, as a group of teachers in a staffroom.
It's a really exciting process when you move away from having a conversation about morning tea and what people did on the weekend, to a conversation about what's the best way to talk about this zeugma at the end of this Yates poem, for example. And, you know, and talk about that phrasing so that you can give really explicit feedback to teachers, sorry to the students. It's fantastic.
So anyway, what is the other benefit from that process, is by going through this process of writing an exemplar which is going to take up most of your time. You develop a far more cohesive understanding of what you should be teaching in the classroom about the parts of text that you need to be focusing on.
If we could have a look at the next slide sorry. About what part of the text you really need to be focusing on, as well as the kind of language that you need to use, the order of ideas as well as the best practice language and I don't know if I mentioned that previously, but, you know, if you're creating a collaborative exemplar that's going to guide your teaching as a faculty, you're going to understand if you've got HSC marking that the quality of responses that achieve a band 6 is incredibly high.
It's incredibly high.
There's a wow factor to them and very few percentage of our kids can achieve that wow factor on their own, and we take great pride in the fact that we teach a comprehensive boy’s school, in a subject where boys traditionally don't do particularly well, and they're able to achieve at the top of the state and we empower the students with the tools to achieve that level of success.
And I think as a classroom teacher, yeah, it is incumbent upon us to introduce, not only just give the kids, for example, academic readings as I read through those, but also to have read those ourselves, so we can understand and be able to write them and see how we would incorporate those into our essays because the quality, the standard of band 6 is advanced, it’s at university level, it's ridiculous and certainly something that I wasn't able to achieve in high school, that's for sure.
So, that idea of creating the exemplar is incredibly important and probably the most, outside HSC marking, probably the single most important bit of professional development that you can engage in.
Okay so, with that aside, that's the philosophical conversation around explicit teaching and that's really important because I think is as leaders of literacy in your classrooms or whatever the case may be or in your schools, the biggest barrier, I think, to explicit teaching is the mindset and once you engage in that mindset that, yeah, all students need to be guided explicitly for a large part of their journey through high school, I think there is a willingness to engage in a lot of the technical elements of explicit teaching.
So, the nuts and bolts, what are the nuts and bolts? What is the teaching toolkit? Okay. So, it's a very, very simple process and I know that some people have had a look at a couple of videos on YouTube, for example but I'd like to take you through the very simple sentence formula that we use and what that looks like in class and what are some variations to that formula that allows it to become far more flexible as we go on.
So, there it is, it’s the ‘this does that’ sentence formula. It's pretty simple, it's a bit of a flat bass drop really when that's all it is, is, ‘this does that, doing that, doing that, doing that, and doing that’ and you can go on for as long as you want, really, but that's the simple format and it basically identifies the fact that in language, it originated from the idea that students were not talking about language techniques.
They weren't talking about the metaphor or the simile or the personification or the author's use of those techniques and then talking about what they did. And the idea of having all these ‘ing’ verbs, I guess, relates the idea that it's not just one simple idea. And often we have frustration as English teachers, it's like, okay, ‘the metaphor implies he's strong.’ yeah, but what else is it doing? And this is a scaffold that encourages students, especially, you know, boys only want to write one clause – bang – and this scaffold, which often we use probably with 3 clauses or so really encourages the boys to draw the ideas out and I don't know if you've, you know, if any – the experience that I remember from my HSC marking very much is that when you do have students writing about techniques and they're continuing to draw out increasing layers of complexity when they're writing about that, is that's a really exciting thing to read rather than just sort of a single clause deconstruction.
So, if you have a look at the next slide, that's the kind of, you might have seen this online it does show the, I guess the exponentially expanding formula that we use, ‘this does that’ which is the initial introduction where we just get students to talk about a particular technique and one effect and then we go on and increase and we add clauses.
One of the important things about this is that we never talk about really, we don't talk about the metalanguage of English grammar when we’re in our classrooms, for a lot of it is just basically, it's an ‘s’ verb and an ‘ing’ verb, an ‘s’ verb and a comma and an ‘ing’ verb or an ‘s’ verb an ‘ing’ verb and comma and an ‘ing’ verb and we don't overcomplicate it.
I was talking to Richard Glover on Drive, and he asked me whether we should introduce reintroduce this conversation about reflective pronouns and all these kinds of things and I would say absolutely, that's an absolute hard no from me they don't need that.
I certainly didn't know about them in schools and as teachers it's great that we know them, but we don't need to complicate that process and this this makes writing very, very simple and you can see there that, depending on the layers of the student's level of expertise they can become increasingly complex.
And the one at the bottom there, which has the gerund to start it with, the verb, the ‘ing’ form and you know, it's really fun because the boys, or the students get in the habit of playing with these clauses and you might have seen that if you've had a look at the video where they're moving things to the front and they get to experiment with these separate parts.
And it's a very, very simple tool. It's a foundation tool and over time, as they gain in confidence in the way in which you use different clauses in a sentence, then we can add variations. But one of the things that I do say to the boys initially when we're starting this process, is that this is the form that we're using, I don't want you to use a ‘it does that, and does that’, or ‘does that to do that’. The formula is this and we do that for a reason to build some, build, I guess confidence in understanding the way in which you we can play with clauses, you know, and then we then we go off in Year 9 and Year 10 and go and add more elements of variety.
So, the process, if you flick on to the next slide is pretty simple and straightforward in terms of what it does. It relies on us as classroom teachers talking about a subject or a thing and I use the word thing very deliberately, again, to take away, I guess, any, you know, layers of complexity. What thing are we talking about in our subject area? And that's across, and this is deliberately relevant across a number of KLAs.
It's like we’re talking about a mitre joint, for example in TAS, or are we talking about the metaphor in English? Are we talking about meiosis, the Marian reforms in history, the Truman Doctrine or in PDHPE, I discovered recently, talking about the efficacy of condoms, for example. But identifying what are we talking about? And then using a variety of verbs to help elicit content and put sentences together using that scaffold.
And what you're going to find, for example, look, for example, there we have used effectively, condoms prevent pregnancy, reducing the risk of disease and chlamydia.
In another subject area, it might say, what's the next one? Fertilization – and these are examples that we've taken from our, you know, the way in which we've been developing this, I guess, this approach to teaching and writing in different subject areas across the schools.
So, these are real examples that are being used. Fertilization involves the union of two gametes in the fallopian tube, forming a zygote and so on. So, you can see how what they do is they allow students to [use] a very simple scaffold to put in complex information in a very intelligent sounding way and I have spent a lot of time going around classrooms when I was working in Oxford Street, for example, and you see a lot of signs on the, you know, they have bullet points of things. You know, they have a lot of nouns on the boards and bullet points.
But students don't know how to use verbs to connect to those bullet points and giving the boys a variety of verbs to use and empowering them in that process is incredibly empowering for their writing. I remember years ago in Year 11, we started that process and we had a young man use the word ‘evokes’ in an exam situation and we were really excited about it, you know, now we introduced that in Year 8 and the kids just bounce a bunch of verbs around with a lot of confidence and it's an amazing thing to watch, and they do that because they've been introduced to those explicitly, because what was happening before that is every kid was using ‘shows’, and ‘shows’ has been banned. We’re not allowed to use ‘shows’ in our school.
And if you do HSC marking again, you know, those top-down responses, those students demonstrate a capacity to play with a variety of verbs and use a variety of verbs very effectively.
So, when students are saying, you know, ‘it gives voice to’ or it ‘subverts’, those answers stand out and in high school I never used the words subvert ever, probably didn't even know what it meant. No one ever told me about it, and you know, that's the case for a lot of students that need to be guided in that process.
There are going to be excellent students who read widely and who have a greater control of language. But there's a huge percentage of students that don't have access to that language and don't have the confidence to use it, wouldn't know how to use it. But if we introduce them and give them the tools, they're able to do amazing things.
And there's nothing remarkable about that as you see from the cats, it's basically how you write sentence normal sentences. Is there a slide missing? There's one that has some yellow bits on it which I sent, which is possibly one of the most important slides. I apologize.
Was it this one?
That one. Yeah.
Yeah, this is further down.
Sorry. I'll jump back in a minute. We've had a lot of questions about where this goes in, you know, in the writing about, if you've put together an extended response, you'll know that every, when you're talking about language, whether it's film or poetry or whatever the case may be, that you need to talk about representation. You need to talk about the language that the author or the composer or the direct, whatever the case may be is using.
And this is this is where this process is very applicable because it's a very easy scaffold for students to talk about the language technique, to drop the language, the textual example in, and then to talk about the effects of that. That's where that's taught in cohesion with, as you can see, you've got to at some point, you're going to go back and you talk to the students about introductory sentence, you talk to them about description and content in an essay, which is going to be very, very brief.
But then you're going to go mostly then into that analysis and explanation of that language and that's where that sits in a paragraph for the most part.
And, you know, someone mentioned alarm in terms of their questioning, but when you're doing that representation in there, there is explanation and analysis, but there are also elements of description that are woven into those sentences, specifically when you're talking about how language is being used or if you're talking about a camera shot and you're describing that camera shot. There's elements of description embedded in that sentence, in those sentences as well.
So, I've spoken about this to some other schools and that question came up, ‘what about the other sentences?’ I mean, it's, there are, it doesn't mean your whole paragraph is just a whole bunch of multi-clause sentences going ‘the authors use of’ there, they sit in as a part of that of the paragraph.
So, if we could go back to where we were the with the cat I think, lying looking at the ceiling. There's really nothing complex about this which I think is the best thing about it, I think it's beguilingly simple and I think that that disarms people who look at it. They think, ‘is that it?’ and the answer is, yeah, that's it. It's just, you know, it's a verb with a comma and another verb with an ‘ing’.
And it's that, giving that simple template gives students the capacity and the confidence to write increasingly multi-clause sentences. Whether it's starting off with a single clause and then moving into 2 or then 3, and then to play those around and if we have a look, it's basically, you know, it's something that you can use for a variety of sentences in a variety of contexts. We often bubble out, for want of a better term – if I could have a look at that next slide – the topic sentence, for example, is the same thing where you have – sorry, this is showing the consistency and the differentiation from Stage 4-6 where you're teaching the students to write in a way that's replicating how they're going to be writing, conceivably, you know, in Stage 6. There's yeah, not every sentence is going to revolve in that way, obviously. But one of the great things about doing this as a classroom teacher is you can go through, you can put together a little map, multi-clause sentences that the boys put together, the students put together in class and then you can show them something like the one on the right, which is an example from a band 6 essay in Stage 6 and say, look, your structure is exactly the same.
You've got a subject, there’s an ‘s’ verb, a couple of ‘ing’ verbs. You're already doing well in terms of your complexity of language and how complex you have to write. They've pretty much ticked every box. And what immediately, what happens when students go through that process, when they've written a multi-clause sentence and they see what it looks like in Stage 6, they start to buy into the subject because we all know that one of the biggest barriers for English is, ‘I don't know what I'm doing’ or I, you know, that element of context in any subject area.
And the moment they start saying, ‘Oh, look, all I can actually do in Year 8 what I'm supposed to do in Year 12.’ they start participating in binding to that subject in a big way. And look, I'm pretty confident that I can say our boys at the end of this part, partway through Year 8, are writing sentences better than 80% of the stuff I see in the HSC without a doubt, in exam conditions.
So, and the other part – the next slide please if that's okay – the other part is that – oh, okay, I can't remember what I've got up there sometimes. Yeah.
Let's go back and have a look at what it looks like in action and that little picture of the door to the whiteboard is really important because yeah, the whiteboard is a huge player in this process. As I, as I said earlier, and I'm sorry if I repeat myself a few times, but we don't learn by listening, we learn by looking and by doing and so making this process as visual as possible, you know, on the board, you know, is hugely important.
So, we're going to have a quick look at an example from Romeo and Juliet. I still teach Year 8 and I teach this bit of text all the time. So, we're going to have a look at this particular simile and what happens when we do Romeo and Juliet, for example, we don't read through the whole text, this is anecdotal, I guess, but, you know, we have a look at the old movie, we read a bit of the text, we have a look at the modern one.
But when we’re reading the text, we're focusing on key bits of whether it's historically significant language or key bits of conversation that are rich in representation, you know, so we're not going to deconstruct, you know, there’s some dialogue that isn't that interesting, that just advances the plot and we certainly don't go near Queen Mab because I really have no idea what's going on there.
So, but this, you know, this, ‘she hangs upon the cheek of night, Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear’ is such a rich part of the dialogue. The simile, it's a big juicy simile so we hook into that and after we’ve read that scene we say, ‘let's look at some of the key elements of language in this’,
So, we’re going to look at this one, which is the simile. So, what we do is we go to – the first thing we do as a classroom teacher is we jot down ideas and we develop, at least for what we think is appropriate for our year group and the classroom that we have, a, you know, along the lines of, a moral response, what we want to say using that sentence scaffold.
So, here we've got gazing at Juliet at the ball, Shakespeare's use of simile suggesting she hangs upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel, emphasizes the quality of the beauty. His language demonstrates a powerful and destructive impact she has upon the, upon Romeo's psyche, foreshadowing the romantic nature of the subsequent infatuation, revealing his predilection for romantic excess.
And look I know that some people might say that some of that language is ridiculous for Year 8, right, but it's deliberately so. I teach a top class and a lot of it's about preloading complex terminology and language. So, we do is we do use this as an opportunity to introduce words like ‘predilection’, ‘psyche’, for example and so I'll talk about how that process goes.
So, we develop that response and then we go into the classroom and say ‘okay, let's focus on that simile’. So, most of the time, we put that simile in the middle of the board, or – because that's our subject, that's the ‘this’ in terms of ‘this does that’ – there’s Shakespeare's use of that simile and that's actually a template that we use again and again, and again, and again. I've got a very bright bunch of Year 8’s this year and, they kind of, they want some variations to that. And currently it's like, ‘No, not yet. We're just going to keep using that form until we've mastered everything and then we'll move on and look at some variations.’
But it's nominalizing that, creating that noun. So, Shakespeare’s use of simile and then we put down on the board, I guess the verbs that we want to build clauses out of, and that might say, okay, what does ‘foreshadow’ mean? So, it's an opportunity there to bring in verbs or introduce the students to verbs that they might not have used before. You know, and sometimes you as a classroom teacher, you go through a phase where it's, there was a point where I was using, I think, I read ‘operates’ in an HSC essay and I loved it. So, we were taking that back and everything was ‘operating’ as something, you know, so, and that's quite fun. Or ‘giving voice to’ that's really obnoxious as well, and that's great when students can say, you know, that that simile ‘gives voice to blah, blah, blah’.
So, that's, you know, guys in Year 8 writing like that is fantastic. So, anyway, sorry.
So, we get those verbs up on the board and then we start going through the process of explicit question and answer to help elicit and to build those clauses on the board with the students. So, for example, in the first one, there we've got the answer that we want, the sentence or the idea that we want the students to write out on the board, is emphasizing the unique quality of her beauty.
So, some question and answer there might be, ‘Okay, guys, is this simile emphasizing how ugly she is? So, what's the word there starting with ‘b’?’.
They might say ‘she's beautiful’. You say, ‘Well okay. What's the noun there?’
‘Okay, that beauty, is it common beauty? Is it emphasizing the common beauty? What's a word starting with ‘u’ that says it's like it's unusual, it's amazing, it's rare.’ ‘Unique.’
And then we can help put that sentence together.
We've all read, we all know the story of Romeo and Juliet so, we know what happens, they fall hopelessly in love. So, there are questions there. So, we might say he’s seen her, she's uniquely beautiful, so, what do we think is going to happen? What's the word when you fall head over heels in someone and it sort of controls all of your actions and you become mad with love. You elicit the word ‘infatuation’, for example, and you ask how that is spelled and you get that on the board and then, you know, you build those sentences with the student's word by a word.
The other one there is one of the target bits of language here is ‘psyche’ and as I said, we introduce that in Year 8. We ask the boys, ‘Okay, what is the word starting with ‘p’ and maybe ending in an ‘e’ that talks about, kind of that inner world of emotion and feeling and thought and those kinds of things.’ and look, sometimes there is a boy in the class who is going to come up with ‘psyche’ and sometimes we use hangman, and sometimes no one knows it and we drill it out and we write that out with them to explain what that word is.
And we ask, ‘Okay, so does she have a weak impact upon his inner world, his psyche or a strong one? Okay, so, what's another word for that? Okay. Powerful. What's the word starting with ‘d’ that means you shake things up a bit?’ and you elicit ‘disruptive’, and you know, how is that spelt?
And when those boys are or students are volunteering those words or helping build those words on the board, there's a lot of opportunities there to say, okay, someone comes up with ‘disruptive’ it's like fantastic, you know? And there's a lot of opportunities for to give a lot of positive reinforcement in the teaching and learning and the other really exciting part about that process is, in a sense, that's when you get to be the ‘captain, my captain’ moment. You know, you're talking about the complex things that this simile does on multiple layers, and you’re eliciting language, better language from your subject area, some of the students know it.
If you're in science and you're talking about reproduction, for example – I'm just going on a tangent here – you know, it's opportunity to draw metalanguage out and you're getting, you know, kids are demonstrating their knowledge of the metalanguage and the content and that's really exciting and you're building these sentences and introducing that language and sharing with them how you put those sentences together and they're writing that down.
You know, that's a really dynamic and exciting part of that process, you know, and you do the same thing with predilection. You know, you're going to probably 99 times out of 100, you're going to have to introduce that word to the classroom but an ‘inclination for’, ‘a tendency for’, and you introduce a new word. You know, and they're empowered by that process, you don't – look you can read the room. You know, you can decide what is the appropriate level of language that you want to introduce to the students.
But there's going to be a type, you know, you're going to have some really high students who are going to thrive on having some of that language and predilection, for example, I guess, it foreshadows the use of the word when we're writing about Elliot, I think, in year 12, when we're talking about his predilection for introspection or procrastination or whatever the case may be. But you know, giving students these language tools is really exciting. So, you build these clauses on the board and then you say, ‘Okay, guys, let's apply the sentence formula’.
And what they do is they then – oh sorry – that, that really just goes back to what I was talking about there, which is the learning pit. So, yeah, that and that's an idea that's mentioned in Hattie's Visual Learning as well and it's that idea that the question-and-answer process is the most fic hand part of this whole process of teaching, learning.
That's that, that moment where you're teaching, creating clauses and then sentences on the board with the boys and eliciting vocab is, is the most important part. And, and often I've, you know, I've met teachers and work with teachers in the past that, you know, I guess embrace the idea of explicit teaching as, they do the bubbles they’d write the stuff on the board and get students to write that out and that's not the case. Successful elicit teaching is a very, very interactive process and I can't stress that enough.
I mean, if it's done well, that process of questioning is the richest part of learning that that goes in the classroom. And giving students, you know, you when you go through university they talk about, ask those questions, give the students the opportunity to think about it. You know, to draw upon their content knowledge, to engage in recall all those kinds of things. So, if you do that, or to feel the answers if the case maybe, you know, that's hugely important and look, I won't I'll try not to go on too much about that, but that Q&A is huge, it is great so, and it's a lot of fun.
The other thing, this is just kind of random, the other thing is the tables also work.
I mean, you can lay your answers out like tables. We have different learners who learn in different ways and when I was working with science, for example, they, it all suddenly became clear to them when I presented the material in a table, they didn't like the whole mad scientists approach to having a whiteboard, but they loved the clarity of using a table.
So, you might find your classroom responds, you might find that you respond more with more clarity to the tables there. So, they do the same thing. So, once you've gone through this process of laying out these clauses and building those on the board with the students, then you go through and apply the formula, which is. So, the next slide, I think it's you apply, you might say to the guys, ‘Okay, let's do a 2 clause sentence or let's do a three clause sentence or let's do the next one.’ and basically write that out and for the first part of the process, you're going to be taking them through it. So, you might say ‘this does that’ – Shakespeare's use of simile emphasizes the unique quality of her beauty, comma, demonstrating the powerful and disruptive impact she has on Romeo's psyche.
That's unreal, you know, like, you know, whether it's for Year 8s which is when we really start this process, I guess, deeply, because Year 7, you know, they're so traumatized in Year 7 by everything in life, you know, it's difficult to do a lot of quality teaching to be honest. So, we really start this in Year 8 and it's, you know, that's great.
But then, you know, you're going to find students who might be comfortable with the single cause, that you're going to find students who are comfortable with the 2 clauses and generally, if they're comfortable with 2, they're going to be comfortable with, you know, another one as well. So, you might add on the next one so if we can see the next example, yeah, you got ‘this does that, doing that’ or sometimes the idea that we swing that clause around to the front so like little bits of a jigsaw puzzle that you play around with. ‘Revealing Romeo's predilection for romantic excess, Shakespeare's use of simile suggesting she hangs upon the cheek of night.
Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.’
I mean, that's nice. And for a Year 8 student to be able to put together a complex variety of ideas in a very, very simple way with confidence is incredibly, incredibly empowering. I'll show you a student example of something like this presently. But what you're able to do there is basically this, you've got on the left, you have a Year 8 response, and on the right, you have a Stage 6 response and so, they're doing exactly the same thing.
You, without fail, we get the bulk of our students who are able to manipulate these clauses or put these little, these pieces of the puzzle together in that way to create multi-claus sentences, starting with [inaudible] if they want, or starting with the subject. So, they're able to replicate the kind of structures that you see are all that are required, or necessary to, even in Stage 6, to create a really top-level response.
So, as I said before, being able to make that connection and say, look what you've done here, look at, this is what you have to do in Stage 6, bang. You know, that's very exciting for the students.
Okay, next slide, if I may. I actually can't remember what's under there. Oh, yeah, right. So, assessment is performed, or the assessment is a really interesting process. So, what we have is if we go back one to that little picture, the young girl with the violin, assessment then becomes something akin to what you see, you know, with music in the HSC, assessment is performance.
So, what we have is, we create an expectation of whether it's short or longer responses, and the students have an expectation that they're to learn that and to reproduce that in an exam environment and we do that for a number of reasons.
One, because in that process, a lot of that language and those structures are stored into long term memory, which, as the document reminds us, is critical for higher order thinking. But at the same time, it gives them that exam practice and, you know, we don't have any hand-in exams in our, you know, in our syllabus – oh sorry – in our assessment processes and protocols all the way into Stage 6, I think.
So, yeah, we have exam as performance which is students learning that content and learning how to, understanding what are the parameters of success, and that's a really important part of this process, is students generally know exactly what is required, what they're going to need to write on. You might give them a selection of about, let's say, 10 textual examples that they need to write on, and you know, and they study those, and they might have to do 6 of those for example. But they know what a good answer looks like and they know what a top response looks like and so, a Year 8 assessment, looks something along those lines.
We've got the following extract from Act 1, Scene 1 and you have the simile in there, ‘She hangs upon the cheek of night’, and a good student is going to have studied that content and been able to produce a multiclause response that echoes or emulates best practice that they have worked together as a class to put together. The one on the right is a longer response and it would require them to have a topic sentence, probably use 2 or 3 bits of rep, I'm just having a look at that, 3 language techniques so, 3 bits of representation and probably a summary sentence. And when we're going through that longer part, which is when the friar is ripping into Romeo for lying on the ground, having a cry because he's been banished, we will be talking to the students about, okay, so how do you create continuity between one bit of rep and another? You know, so talking to the students about how you fuse these ideas together to create continuity because there are a few questions about how do we create continuity and it's, yeah, we teach that explicitly.
These, these are ways in which you create continuity, whether it's by a transition sentence or whether it's using, starting the sentence with ‘this is reinforced’ and reminding the students, okay, that's your, your ‘is’ is your ‘s’ verb.
So, everything else is going to be an ‘ing’ and they practice that. They struggle with it, and they practice it, and they get better at it over and over again and that's what our assessment will look like, and students go into that knowing, okay, I know what I have to do to get to, you know, full marks and it's based upon hard work rather than a felt, emotional response. And the long-term aim of that is that a lot of these all of this language is embedded, as I said, in their long-term memory and they use a lot of the language and structures in their senior studies.
If you have a look at this, this is an extended example from that exam, a young man, and you can see here, it's from the longer response. In an exam situation, in class assessment, the student wrote, ‘The Friar's criticism of Romeo climaxes in his use of simile, suggesting ‘thy wit, like powder in a skill-less soldier's flask, is set afire by thine own ignorance’ inferring that Romeo's lack of self-control and self-regulation is both harmful to himself and others encourages’ – so, he's got the ‘s’ verb wrong there – ‘the audience to question Romeo's lack of resilience and his predilection for hysteria while equating Romeo's self-indulgent self-pity to his lack of wit.’
I mean, that's pretty impressive, you know, that's a kid in your age who is probably a few months into the process, so, that's in Term 3.
But, you know, the fact that he's able to, he's used the Segway there using climaxes, it’s interrupted his ‘s’ verb later on, but for student in Year 8 and a young man to be writing about the language, using a lot of that complex language that we've introduced, you've got ‘predilection’ and ‘hysteria’ and playing with those clauses.
I mean, that's, you know, it's beautiful stuff it really is. You know, if you've seen HSC marking, you'll know that there's a huge difference in the quality of response and for a Year 8 boy to be punching that out and developing, demonstrating that confidence is you know, is massive.
This is self-direction from a class exercise, and this is 5 weeks into using the teaching process where, if you look at the top right where it looks like there's a 1, you can see a bubble, and you've got a bunch of the arrows with the verb ideas and I said to the boys, ‘Okay, write the quote in the middle of that and ‘get rid of your’, ‘get rid of your’’ – can't read it – ‘Yesterday is dead. Past mistakes are like a smoke in the breeze.’
And I asked the boys on their own, based on the conversations and practice we've been having, to identify the technique there, to use a variety of verbs to put some ideas together and then, if you look at the diagonally down and opposite, to use the sentence scaffold to put those ideas together. And for me, this is a really beautiful demonstration of how the scaffold allows boys to take, or students to take, a bunch of ideas and put them together in a way that's academic, and it's correct, and it's cohesive and it's complex.
So, what he's done there is he's written, ‘Directs us not to wander in the past’, okay, ‘Raises awareness about the importance of resilience’, it ‘Infers that in order to be successful, one must be able to move on and focus on what's in front of us’.
Okay. So, some of those sound even slightly colloquial and, you know, they're the ideas, and he's put a topic sentence – they were directed to – and then the little scaffold underneath it.
So, ‘The text raises questions about perseverance and resilience, the author's use of metaphor and simile describing’ – so, I wouldn't use the word ‘describing’ there and we talk about that at some length, but – ‘Get rid of your doubts. Yesterday is dead, past mistakes are like a smoke in the breeze, direct us not to wander in the past, raising awareness about the importance of resilience and inferring that in order to be successful, one must be able to move on and not indulge in self-pity.’ So, that's great. That's a perfect example of students going through the process, applying the scaffold and coming up with a very coherent and very well written multi-clause sentence. There is a, there is a small error there, but that's it.
The other, and once you've developed this, and this is a foundational thing, so we don't, that's not the only sentences we do. You know, one of the great things and we use the left side of the bubble quite explicitly for this, is introducing these things like context, for example. So, someone asked me about consistent clauses and words like although and things like that, and we often on the board break down the left hand side of the bubble and say, that's where we can, in the first clause before we introduce the ‘s’ verb in the subject, you can conquer and achieve so much in that space.
Whether it's ‘Within this context’, comma, ‘the author's use of’, or ‘Gazing at Juliet at the ball, Romeo's use of’, or ‘set against the shifting epistemological, cultural and philosophical parameters of the late Renaissance’ comma,
‘Shakespeare's text does something’, or as, some more context and description, as the protagonist engaged with X and Y comma, you know, his use of the technique. So, we use that front clause to introduce quite a lot of continuity, to introduce a lot of, you know, the wiles on all of those things. You know, it could be you could introduce, for example, an emotional context, you know, ‘Confused and angered by, as a blah, blah, blah the author’s use of’, or whatever the case may be. So, you can really use that space to add context and continuity.
And then at the same time, you know, we don't talk to the kids about relative clauses, but we just say, ‘Okay, we can, we can drop in a ‘comma which’’, so when we're doing relative clauses, we'll just go, ‘Comma where’, or, ‘Comma which’, and we'll just model that, and the boys through that process of seeing it and using it, become more confident with how those work. So, I guess rather than delving into the mechanics of grammar in that way, we model it.
And so, you know, the, the bubble allows you, just using the simple subject, the object principles, it allows you to build increasingly complex sentences over time. So, we'll have a look at the next one, look that's just another different sentence that uses, it's got some passive forms like ‘is redolent’, and ‘is reflected’ and it doesn't use language in the middle it uses that affirmation and Yeates’ Airman as the subject.
But I won't talk about that too much, but it just shows you other ways in which you can use that bubble.
The, and as I said, this is relevant these are topic sentences from Shakespeare in plays and you can use that process there. So, we would have had Shakespeare in the left-hand side, we would have had Shakespeare's Hamlet, as, you know, as in our bubble, and said, ‘Okay, what does that reflect? Where is it emerging? You know, contextually, where is it emerging from?’
So, we can put together topic sentences or thesis sentences in the same way by using this simple process of, you know, an ‘s’ verb and an ‘ing’ verb, you know, so it's applicable to a variety of contexts. You don't have to be talking about representation. It's just as I said, it's just a sentence with an ‘s’ verb and an ‘ing’ verb or a couple of them and it can be used pretty much anywhere, and the boys have a lot of confidence in manipulating this.
This is just a slide I slid in kind of recently, but one of the really, I think, one of the ways in which we go about this process, is that when we do, on the left-hand side that's a bit of written analysis of Frost's poem ‘Mending Wall’. What the process is there is that, okay, as a faculty we put our heads together and said, ‘What is a really effective way of writing about this? You know, as a model, for example’, and we came up with this kind of response, there was ‘Its intuitively defiant of artificial constraints…’, like you can read that.
But what we do then, is we say, okay, if we want to take students down that pathway of a really complex sentence in a complex idea, you know, we pull apart the separate – one of the things that's important for the teachers to do is to pull apart the separate parts of that sentence and say, okay, how would I? What would be the expressive process of question and answer that would help students come up either with these kinds of ideas or, you know, something explicit, something similar?
You know, so, as I said, you know, like probably in the Year 12 year, we're not going to be as explicit in the process. But there's going to be an opportunity for students to have a bit of variation in some of the wording that they use and the language that they use, for example. And you can come up with a whole bunch of other stems off of that but what you'd – to help the teaching and learning process is, you know, I've found very effective is that – you identify what is your subject and pull out those little parts so that you can go through that question, answer process to build, to help the students annotate the poem. And then probably in that Year 12 stage, it's, you know, it's a point where we do a lot of annotations, and they can draw on what they find is the most effective for them.
But yeah, definitely writing and then pulling apart, saying how it would work in a bubble if you're going to put it on the board is a real, I think, important process to help students annotate. I don't think it's enough to say, you know, line and just put restriction of natural boundaries or iambic pentameter or indefinite pronoun. I think it's important to model and help elicit with the boys, how would you talk about the abandonment of the iambic grid there? Or how do we talk about his attitude in response to the restrictions of natural boundaries?
You know, so it's, you know, the process of composing and then thinking, okay, how do I pull it apart part for the kids so that we can take them on this journey? It's like writing, putting together an amazing Lego model, and saying, ‘Okay, how do I write the little like instruction booklet to help students build this?’ You know, so that they understand the language and can annotate that. So, that's a really important part of the process.
Okay, so where are we up to? So, what you see here in this process is a lot of cognitive loading. Increasingly complex layers of writing that are introduced and it's repeated again, and again, and again, and like, you know, building strength in the gym. You know, you're lifting single or double clause sentences, the ‘s’ and the ‘ing’ and then once they gain confidence there, you add another clause, and add another clause, and then you put the ‘ing’ on the front and over time they become more confident.
And once they've demonstrated a confidence and a capacity to play with language in that way, then we introduce words like ‘this is reinforced by’ to add complexity to that, and they create segways, and they join 2 bits of rep together and then they join 3 bits of rep together and put a topic sentence on top so, we're building from the inside outwards.
And I've actually spoken to the staff about – I've got a little 5-year-old boy and he loves his Legos – so I've been talking to the staff about the idea of, you know, the process of creating a model and then helping students create that model themselves. So, the yeah, we build internally from the small bits of rep and build outwards and he topic sentences and introductions and conclusions are the last thing that we get to when we're talking about a unit or an approach to a text because the topic sentence or is based on what we put in the paragraph and the overall introduction is based upon what we put together in paragraphs.
So, that's always the last thing that we talk to the students about. We never, ever say, ‘Okay, write an intro’. There is a specific scaffold that we have for writing the introduction and that's a different conversation.
But it's, we have a 2-sentence scaffold using multiple sentences like ‘this does that’ that allows students to really nail a succinct introduction and those templates are very powerful for the boys because I remember, I don't know how anyone else feels, but I certainly remember as an English student thinking, ‘I know kind of what I want to say here, but how do I start?’, and so, giving students those tools to start sentences, whatever the case may be, you know, solves a lot of that, the problems around that.
Okay, so, that's a diagram [that] shows, which just refers to, what I was talking about there in terms of the layers of complexity. We start with just sometimes introduction and just, you know, a description and then we move into more complex ideas as we go that we read. So, we reinforce, if the yellow and light blue might be talking about language, we do that again in Year 9, but then we add a layer of complexity, maybe it's the topic sentence or we do a paragraph, and then in Year 9 we go on and we do two paragraphs, for example.
We don't actually write our first essay in Balgowlah Boys until Term 3 in Year 9, which is a long way, because there's no point in having them write an essay if they can't write a paragraph and there's no point in them writing the paragraph if they can't write the internal parts of the paragraph properly. So, we get mastery of the internal and we build exponentially out that way.
Next slide please.
So, yes, so we've got short sentences, as I said in Stage 4, we structure an exposition for NAPLAN practice and that's the closest we get to a longer response there, but our first essay about text is in Term 3, and we get writing tasks in-class assessments, all the way through to Year 10 where their learning is stored in long-term memory the best way. The language, which becomes then a really conscious part of the way in which they write and some of the terminology that they use.
And that talks, that informs the whole planning process so, you have teacher-determined learning outcomes, as it says in the explicit teaching in the document, what to do, and how to do it. So, you know, I think it's, you know, I think if you're going into a unit of work like Romeo and Juliet or like Hamlet, which is very complex, I think it's really important to the faculty to go in there and say, ‘This is this is how we want to approach this text’.
You know, ask students in the midst of a very, very difficult year to spend the extra time, I guess, coming up with developing their own personal thesis response to Hamlet, you know, I think is an incredibly poor use of time. You know, there is really a correct way to write about Hamlet and there is an incorrect way to write about Hamlet and that goes for a lot of texts. And I think students need to be guided in that process about this is how we talk, this is what this text is talking about, and we do that in class.
But I think we can afford to be far more explicit in, these are the bits of representation that we need to look at explicitly if we're going to put a cohesive argument together. So, once you create that exemplar, whether it's Frankenstein, for example, if you're doing Frankenstein, there are specific bits of representation that the students should be looking at and, you know, you don't need to be looking at 100-300 pages of the text. You can look at 6 pages closely and in depth and say, these are the bits that we need to annotate and be able to talk about because they're the ones that support our thesis and have those students deconstruct and annotate that language as a class. So, then you plan around those exemplars, you build lessons around what are the bits of text that we that we need to look at in Romeo and Juliet? And then you assess that, so, you assess in-class writing to a specific question.
And look, I've seen, you know, it’s no disrespect intended, but I know that there are some pretty creative interpretations or responses to assessment, you know, I’ve seen things like, ‘Hey we build a cake, we have the students build a cake’, you know. But how, in what way, shape or form does that in any way prepare the students to complete the task of the HSC? And I think it's incumbent upon us, and I think it's an abrogation of our professional responsibility as obnoxious as that sounds, if we're not preparing students to complete the written parts of the HSC.
And while there are expectations about formats and presentation formats in Stage 6, whether it's oral or whatever the case may be, then you need to make sure that you're devoting time for students to be in class practicing writing in an exam environment, you know, as much as possible. And giving them assessment tasks, which don't in any way replicate what they have to do, whether it's a, you know, a 500-word podcast or something, because you don't write essays of 500 words in the HSC and if you do, you're going to get half marks. You need to you know, it needs to be around 800-1000 and so those assessments should replicate that process and not be a creative representation of what the HSC looks like. Anyway, but that's sort of more practical than philosophical, but I think it's pretty important part of the process.
But anyway, so this is an example of how, for example, maybe a 4- or 5-week unit of work might look, you know, if you are teaching to a particular exemplar or an idea. And it's, you have, if you look at that closely, you can see on the left you've got a handful of lessons where you introduce context and some of the ideas and whatever the case may be. But then lessons through 4-8 or 4-7 are where you're taking the students through particular bits of rep that are relevant to the first idea that we want to discuss, or the first paragraph that we want the students to be writing.
And if you’re doing Lord of the Flies and you’re talking about the positive impacts of the institution upon the psyche, there are certain bits of rep that you want to pull out of that test as evidence of that, you know, whether it's the kids putting their hands up like at school, for example, you want to talk about that that simile. Those lessons are looking at those bits in the text and pulling those out and deconstructing them with the kids and talking about the ideas and building those sentences on the board so that at the end of that process, whether it's the end of like 8 lessons, you say to the boys, ‘Okay, let's put that sentence together, let's have a look at the rep that we've done in class and let's jigsaw puzzle that together, put a topic sentence on top of it and bang, we've got a paragraph’.
And you might do that a couple of times, so, you have very explicit, focused teaching in terms of, there are opportunities there, you know, there might be time in there to say, ‘Okay, guys, I'm going to read to you or watch elements of the film’, but, you know, a lot of it is, let's deconstruct the language and there's a lot of language deconstruction that goes on ideally to the point where the boys are sick of it or the students are sick of it, because if they increasingly get sick of it, it's going to be a more automated process.
So, paragraph building, yes is a part of that, we on the left-hand side there you see those bits of textual rep that the boys – or the students sorry I talk about boys all the time – that they've put together in their textbook and then they organize those. How would how would we organize those in paragraphs? And then we talk about the topic since we talk about Segways, so, we talk about connecting sentences. So, we get them to make connections between those bits of prep, for example and there's a lot of higher order thinking that goes on as well.
And as it says, they have very varying degrees of control, I guess over how much, how elicit you want to be in that process. You're going to find students that you need to be very explicit with and you're going to find students who, because they're better in the process, that you can give them a bit more freedom there. You know, and that's across the board, that opportunity to be less hands on and less direct is totally really up to where your students are in their journey. But that paragraph building, you know, is an important part of that.
So, look, I think some of the key takeaways of that toolkit is that it's very simple, it's very accessible. Students from an incredibly wide variety of writing abilities can access it. It's repetitive, it gives them enduring and ongoing capacity to practice that, it differentiates, single and multi-clauses. It's very flexible, you can do what you want with it, and it develops, most importantly, their fundamental and coherent understanding of clause relationships.
So, the boys, you know, I just marked some, I had a look at some of Year 10’s ones, and they're able to put together some amazing sentences that use this ‘s’ and ‘ing’ just with confidence. So, it just gives them confidence to put sentences together basically and it works across all subject areas.
And I know that we're running out of time, but what I do want to show you very quickly is some really satisfying success of this in a science faculty. And we looked at the science Stage 4 and 5 reproduction, and the first thing that we did was say to the staff, ‘All I want all you teachers to do is to go home and write a couple of answers’, and what was really interesting is all those answers, you know, let's say about meiosis or a couple of elements of asexual and sexual reproduction, all of those answers were different, so they didn't have a faculty standard.
So, the next stage of that was to say, ‘Okay, you guys get put your heads together and what is the faculty standard?’, and let's use the sentence scaffold that they had been exploring with for a couple of years, to be honest, to put those sentences together and – the next slide, if I may.
So, we work backwards as you need to. You create the exemplar and then you go backwards, or you at least you have a look at what the HSC requires. So, in our next slide there you can see we, in putting together a unit for the Year 8 biology, we looked at Stage 6 biology, and what were the key takeaways?
The idea of takeaways for us is really important and it's been really eye opening I think, for a lot of faculties. If your kid took this class for 5 weeks and on the way home in the car, they tell you 5 sentences of what they learned over those 5 weeks what would those 5 sentences be? Using the best practice, the best language and all of those things, because that's the key takeaways and they're the elements of that unit that really should be taught explicitly.
And it does mean that there's probably 5 or 6 sentences that you can teach explicitly, and that actually frees up an enormous amount of time for all the other elements of their teaching, whether it's doing experiments or engaged in activities directed around engagement. But one of the concerns that the science teacher has is that they’re going to be teaching writing all the time, and that's not the case.
You actually cut away the extraneous stuff that they don't need to write, and they had workbooks with pages and pages of blank lines, and we got rid of those and there's 5 or 6 very focused writing tasks that were taught explicitly and that the students had to replicate for want of a better term, in an exam conditions.
So, if you go to the next slide there, what we had the teachers do was use that method to talk about asexual and sexual reproduction, among other things. So, you can see the same process, the ‘s’, the ‘ing’, the splitting, fragmenting resulting.
And one of the really interesting parts about this and important parts about this, I think is – if you click the next –what you have is that those verbs, it gives the students, what I'm trying to say is, it gives the students a far more structured way to study. Rather than, you know, I had a look at some of those responses that had no pattern of writing in them and it's very difficult as a student – and I was a student of asexual reproduction myself – to look at that and make sense and think these are the key elements that I need to pull out of that. By giving them a structured approach to writing, it simplifies, the process of studying and recollection. So, you're able as a student to think, ‘Oh’, and those verbs act as a catalyst into the metalanguage in their memory when they're in exam conditions.
So, I think about, yeah, what does it involve? What does it split, or how does it split or fragment or bud and what does that result in? So, it's not just about simplicity of writing or homogeneity of writing, but it also helps students [to] study. And, you know when you go on the board, you do the same thing. You know, I've gone into classes now in science where they've you know, they've had the scientific element, they're talking about, the subject, in the middle and they're going through this process of using Q & A to talk, to elicit metalanguage.
So, they've spent a couple of lessons talking about it, experimenting with it, cutting things up, blowing things up, whatever you do in science, and then they've come back and they’ve said, ‘Okay’, and they engage in that question and answer, which gives an opportunity for the students to think about, reflect on what they've been learning, and then recall the metalanguage and put those things together.
So, it starts with I was just, I think a single parent organism, that splits into something and you go through the same process of question and answer to help build these sentences.
And so, with the head teacher, we put together longer ones as well. So, that's an example of a longer answer that uses exactly that same process. And again, what it does here is the selling point for faculties across in other learning areas is that it’s not about complexity, it’s not about showing off to a market. It's about clarity and simplicity, because what you're able to do there is create a cohesive and dense, complex response with clarity and cohesion rather than something that meanders and wanders. And so, this really tight writing scaffold, really gives students an opportunity to profit from that.
So, if you look at the next one, yeah, you build lessons then around, as it says there, you introduce the concept of budding & binary fission, you do skills, you do graphene, you do a practical and then you come back in the 3rd lesson. You say, ‘Okay, let's bring all that back to the written outcome that we want students to be able to articulate in the car when they're driving home and they're talking to their parents using the language from science about what they learned’, for example.
And yeah, there's memory in that process because as with every subject area, you need to store that into your long-term memory and if they're going to be recovering that in Stage 6, the fact that they've already engaged in that process makes it a lot easier for them both to recall but also have confidence with.
And we've actually experimented with this recently, and we've had – that's what the, that's what, the Year 8 science exam – so, it’s one of the advantages of asexual reproduction and they would be explicitly learning that content and punching it out as well as a diagram. So, the science has moved on from Quizlet to specific writing of content using that scaffold and that writing, the ‘this does that’ scaffold simplifies the process and allows the teachers to go engage in that Q&A process that is so important.
This is another one, and science has been going gangbusters. So, the other thing that it does is it allows that, you can see them putting together responses here, but it allows you to have a very clear understanding about the marking guidelines and marking criteria. So, outlining the neural pathways, one mark, 2 marks, 2 marks and so on. So, rather than having a general gut response, the parameters of success are very clearly defined, and students understand those parameters of success. You can even make those parameters of success very, very clear in the exam if you want and the students then create those sentences.
But as I said, those sentences there allow students to write with clarity and ease. And one of the exciting things – if you go back to that last one very briefly – you see the verb ‘counteracting’ there. I was down there when they were talking about that, and usually science has been a faculty which is like a social faculty with a science problem, and they're all talking about the new the verb that came up, which is ‘counteracting’, they're all talking about content, they were really excited about it.
And so the conversation in the staff room now has shifted from talking about what you do on the weekends to that wonderful moment where students and teachers are now talking about how to talk about scientific processes, and the best way to articulate that, and the best way to model that for kids so that students can replicate that in an exam process. Where you are in science, you are talking about scientific processes and there is a best way to articulate some of those principles and the ‘this does that’ really complements cause and effect or whatever the case may be. So, it's been very, very successful recently.
So, those concerns for other faculties, is it too much writing? No, there's not. Not enough time for content? Plenty of time for content. No time for fun and skills? Not at all. And I'm not an English teacher, you don't have to be, because it's that simple.
It's just, ‘This does that, doing that, this does that, doing that’, and that's it.
And the difference in the teachers’ writing, as they've gradually over time become more confident with that, you know, has increased incredibly. The amount of information and the clarity of their writing you know, has been fantastic and really exciting to watch.
So eventually, it's a cyclical process. You create an exemplar, you talk about teaching it to the kids, you break it down for them, they perform it in a sense, you review it and assess it, and you continue to refine and improve the quality of responses and in the process you become an incredibly far more efficient and articulate practitioner, which is really important.
Because if you go on to some of these last slides I just want to talk about – and I'll rush it in really quickly because I know that time is a factor – is the way in which this document or this teaching tool speaks to a lot of the elements of visible learning.
You know, when you refine your practice and how you articulate and talk about ideas with a particular variety of language, it really ticks the boxes in some of those critical areas.
For example, teacher credibility, which ranks really highly on Hattie’s scale.
It's those teachers who develop a powerful style of speaking that use fewer verbal hesitancies as it says, that contribute to this sense of credibility. And when you create the task and when you get to develop a faculty standard and you're in your faculty talking about the best language to use, that translates into the classroom.
So, rather than standing there thinking, ‘Oh, what's the best way to say this?’, you can model very explicitly the best way to articulate a response and that lends to credibility in an incredibly strong way.
Another part of it is clarity, obviously, because you know exactly what to say, what terms to use and what not to use. So, going through that process again, creating an exemplar really informs that process. You can have a look at these elements of visible learning on your own, I guess.
But the other one, you've also got feedback because as we saw from the marking criteria, you have a very clear idea about what needs to be done, what doesn't need to be done, the verbs that we use, the metalanguage that was used or left out, the language control. And so having that strong idea, a very clear idea about what the students should be writing, how they should be writing, it informs that process as well. And there's a link to a number of other visible and learning elements, including teacher collective efficacy.
But look, it does come back to helping students perform in the HSC and as I said, these are a couple of years ago and I actually used to think that it was all about me because these were my last HSC results in 2016, actually with a senior class, I didn't think we'd ever beat James Ruse.
Look, and I think it's not about beating or topping, but I think it's an indication of I'm very proud of the fact that we have, as I said, a comprehensive boys school that's topping the state and what's actually really interesting is since I left the faculty, the results have actually improved. So, it's not about me at all, it's actually about the system that the boys are using.
Those students who have been engaged in that system for 6 years are coming out very, very articulate with an incredibly confident use of language and it creates a culture in the school where students come in here and they know that if they buy into that process, that they can achieve success and that culture change takes a long time.
But, you know, it's something that you can start in a classroom, and we started in a single classroom because the results that I was achieving in my class were very unique across the school and then it started, it spread across the faculties and then it spread across the school. So, you can start, any teacher can start that in their classroom and build that success and that reputation and gradually create cultural change as a consequence of that, I feel.
So, look, there's a bit of talk about that on CESE and ‘What works best’, you've got the other audio thing where my hair looks like it's Lego. It's pretty awful, but anyway so you can have a look at that and it's a really long journey, but I really appreciate people coming on.
I know that some people have left in the process because, you know, that's a lot to listen to and a lot to digest. But I hope something – I know it went on for a long time,
it's 5:25 – but I hope someone got something useful out of that or get a sense of how they can use that in the classroom because it's been really successful for us and incredibly successful for the boys.
So, yep, there you go.
Thanks, and thank you, Ben and there's a couple of things. So, you've also been working with the literacy team and there is a link that is in the chat, but we'll also put up again, to a little video that was created with our literacy team around the Seldon method, the bubble theory that will be available to everyone.
And I just want to clarify, just ask a clarifying question because it's come up a couple of times. You identified that your school doesn't have hand-ins. Now part of my clarification would be that, knowing your context or knowing your different context, there would be reasons for that.
For example, I was aware of another northern school that didn't have hand-ins because of the plagiarism issues and the tutoring issues, which is because the premise of the syllabus is really clear with the new assessment criteria in that they're not all just examination style exams. Like it's very clear, you know, Stage 6 can’t be all exam, can’t be all unseen, I'm just like, as a clarification for some questions that came up in the chat, that's not you were explaining.
I mean, like in Stage 4 or 5, you know, basically it's whenever we have an opportunity, if there's ever a choice between a hand-in or an in-class, it's an in-class.
Yeah, and that would be because of your context I would be assuming as well.
Well we're not actually worried about, it's not those concerns about pla[giarism] – it's about exam resilience, it's about understanding that hard work and preparation for the exam with the very clear parameters of success, that if they engage in that process of hard work and preparation and mastery of that content, that yeah, if they are, they're going to be rewarded and achieving success if they're able to go in and punch that out in an exam because that's basically what it is. You can't go into the HSC and just, you know, with a couple of quotes and write an essay to get a band 6.
The fact of the matter is, the brutal truth is, that those band 6 responses are rehearsed well in advance, and everyone knows that.
Yeah, for the – yeah, and well for the most part.
You adapt it, absolutely and that's an important skill. But most of that content you need to know it. Yes.
Yeah, and it's the content you need to know. Exactly, exactly.
So, just it was a clarifying question because a couple of people have sort of asked questions around that. No, no, not making a statement and you're not making a statement about that that idea, I guess, of that it's the examination, because it could be a formative task that the kids are sitting down and doing in-class and especially with a short – because you're really qualifying that practical short paragraph response that kids don't actually – and I think what was really clear is when you said that they don't actually go into that extended response writing till the end of Year 9.
So, whatever they're doing in class, you could do multiple formative sort of.
Yeah, that's right, they do a lot of those. Yeah, yeah, as much in class, you know as you're legally allowed to do, really.
All right. Well, thank you so much, Ben. That's been very, very informative and very useful and I know that we've had quite a few people here today, and we've also had quite a few emails today asking if they can watch this after and this recording will be available to be viewed. We really appreciate your time and we're hoping that anyone here that's also aspiring, or the literacy coordinators of their schools can also see the use of this in different subject areas.
I think that you've answered most of the questions and if anyone has any other questions, they can email me directly and then I can share that on, or get some responses for the future because I know now we've had nearly, you know, it's been a wonderful hour and a half, but people are going to go away and mull and think and process.
So, really appreciate all your time with this so, thank you, everyone.
[End of transcript]
This is a recording of a live session (staff only) run through the English 7-12 Statewide Staffroom (staff only). This is available to department teachers.
This session will support faculty leaders or aspiring leaders to understand how to implement and work with an explicit teaching strategy for writing.
The examples draw on Stages 4-6 and illustrate ways to develop writing for the HSC. The impact of this work is identified in the What works best: 2020 update through one of the 8 effective teaching practice areas – Explicit teaching. Ben highlights how to implement his school's explicit writing instruction and explore how and why it improved students' writing, particularly in English.
Ben Seldon, Deputy Principal from Balgowlah Boys' High School.
The following structure guides the session:
- explicit feedback structures developed in the classroom
- the Seldon Method – Bubble theory
- applying – ways to structure this type of explicit instruction in the classroom and explores examples of practice
- assessing – connecting this theory to assessment and explores how to guide learning through quality teacher feedback.
‘This does that' is a strategy that teachers can use to support their students' writing. Also known as, 'The Seldon Method: Bubble Theory', the strategy can be used to explicitly teach students to explore texts and to create their own effective complex sentences.
Hear more about Balgowlah Boys Campus approach to explicit teaching and listen to students speak about their success in learning on the What works best podcast. You can also explore the case study exploring the Effective teaching practices at Balgowlah Boys Campus.
This accredited professional learning is connected to the domains:
- Professional engagement – Standard 6 – Engage in professional learning
- 6.2 – engage in professional learning and improve practice.