David Didau kickstarted our Primary English Conference this year to address Surrey’s key priority in improving writing outcomes.
Sentence structure is a barrier to writing attainment: During his informative session on supporting children’s writing, David Didau delved into children’s understanding of sentence structure and how this can be a barrier to writing. He referred to recent findings by Daisy Christadoulou into what students found easy and difficult about writing. She found that pupils that are not secure in their understanding of sentence fragments are likely to have a writing age 12 months behind their peers that have a secure understanding of all components of a simple sentence. He explained how No More Marking ‘Writing Hub’ has created guidance and resources to support teachers to develop their understanding.
Couch to 5k approach to teaching writing: He then promoted a ‘Couch to 5K’ approach to writing in primary schools, encouraging pupils to write less for longer to avoid embedding errors. David was clear on both the importance of scaffolds and the necessity to remove these as children make progress. In addition, he explained the slow writing process and how this can be used to embed a variety of sentence types to support all pupils. He advocated the approach used by his academy trust, Ormiston, in which sentence types are explicitly taught, practised to the point of mastery and then retrieved regularly to be used when writing across the whole curriculum.
Proofreading: To support writing, David recommends promoting proofreading rather than marking. Children are asked to draft rather than write and only give the work to the teacher when they feel it is excellent.
Vocabulary application: David also promoted the importance of vocabulary and teaching new words through a ‘Say it, Spell it, Know it’ approach to provide opportunities to practise new words and understand them in context.
Talk for writing: Finally, David spent time focusing on the importance of talk as the main intervention to support writing. Using thought stems, children develop the technical language required and are scaffolded to answer academic questions verbally before attempting to write them.
In conclusion, be aware of what pupils need to know to write well, ensure sentence level mastery, make proofreading a habit, teach vocabulary using explicit instruction and intervene at the point of speech. Using these strategies is sure to have an impact on the attainment of all pupils but especially those who are disadvantaged which we know is high on all our priorities