One of the key features of deliberate practice, a highly effective approach to teaching writing, is to approach instruction at the level of components, splitting up the complex task of extended composition into small steps that can be practised in isolation before being combined together. Rosenshine’s Principles of Instruction also suggests that we should ‘present new material in small steps with student practice after each step’. Both of these frameworks are explored in depth in my new book, along with lots of fully explained examples about how to apply them to the classroom.
This post will explore how to build up increasingly complex analytical writing by teaching and combining individual analytical components.
Last term, my year 8 class completed a 20 lesson instructional sequence that taught them how to write noun appositives: see this post for an overview. At the end of this sequence, all could produce and manipulate the structure in both descriptive and analytical writing. A fully explained sequence can be found in Explicit English Teaching. This term, I wanted to give them additional practice with using this structure when writing in response to texts; I also wanted them to combine it with other skills so that they become accurate and fluent in creating transferable, useful and well-crafted analytical paragraphs.
Here’s an overview of the steps that are being combined, in the order that they were taught:
- Appositives used for labelling language and as the start of analysis
- Appositives + not only….but
- Appositives + not only…but + zooming in
- 2 adj start + Appositives + not only …but + zooming in + authorial intent
Here’s what we did. The lessons below did not only focus on the things described and there were other lessons in between that involved reading and discussing the Crucible and other texts.
Lesson 1: Recap of Basic Appositives
I asked students to write an appositive about some of the characters from the Crucible (our main text this term), giving them labelled models to use as analogies.
Lesson 2: Combining Appositives with ‘not only..but’
We read Lamb to the Slaughter and used this as a focus for analytical writing. First, I asked them to write a couple of sentences about two characters, giving two labelled examples and harnessing the ‘worked example effect’.
I then wrote this example under the visualiser while they watched:
After writing it, I labelled and numbered it, highlighting to the students the components that make it successful and the things that they would be including when they write theirs:
- An adjective that adds interpretation to the appositive
- The appositive which labels the type of language in the quotation
- (and 4) ‘not only….but’ A means of adding multiple interpretations to writing.
With the example up on the board, I asked them all to write a similarly constructed piece, using this quotation:
Before they started, I asked them to answer the following questions in pairs, using Think Pair Share to help them generate and develop ideas. What type of language is it? What does it tell us about Mary’s state of mind? etc After a short discussion, they all began writing in silence. While they did this, I went round checking, giving little prompts and helping a few students. When they finished, I asked them to label their writing with the 4 things that are on mine: this is a precise form of AfL self-assessment, acting as a check and reminder that they have completed it properly. I then showed 2 student pieces under the camera to the class, giving a further model to everyone and motivating the students that I chose. Because 4 students were still a little inaccurate, I asked everyone to do a second one, following the same procedure as A. This part of the lesson can be seen as guided practice where I am helping them to move from examples to application.
After this one, the whole class were successful. This high success rate meant that I moved to massed, independent practice, asking them to complete two more without support:
Success rates were high and we ended the lesson by showing more great student work under the camera.
Lesson 3: Further development: adding in ‘zoom in’
The next lesson we read and discussed an article about pollution, looking for interesting language that the writer used. First I wrote a model under the camera that mirrored the example from the previous lesson:
This model shows them that despite the fact that the text is different to the previous lesson (non-fiction vs short story), they can still use this construction when responding to it. Transfer is difficult to achieve but two promising avenues for increasing the likelihood that students can transfer what we teach them is by creating varied practice opportunities as well as drawing their attention to the similarity across different tasks: varying the text type here meets both of these requirements.
I then wrote a second model, showing them how they can extend their writing further by adding in another analytical skill: zooming in on a word. Because they have practised this skill in isolation, there was no need to practice it before asking them to combine it with the previous structure. See this post for an overview of how to teach zooming in.
After labelling this second model with the three things that make it useful (analytical appositive/not only…but/zoom in), I asked them to complete 5 similar pieces of short analysis using five pieces of evidence that they had found in the article. This is independent massed practice and the aim here is accuracy and fluency.
Lesson 4: Further development 2: adding in ‘2 adjective start’ and ‘authorial intent’
In a previous lesson we had spent time discussing John Proctor’s language when he decries the absurd and unfair accusations against his wife. I wrote this model under the camera and labelled it:
I drew students’ attention to the addition of authorial intent (number 5). I then showed this quotation:
We discussed it using think pair share: What does John Proctor mean here? What technique is being used here? What phrases or words could you zoom in on? Etc
I then asked them to write a comparable structure to my example. They all needed to include the 5 labelled elements in the model. While they were doing this, I went round and checked, sometimes commenting on what I read to give people further help: ‘Darren has started his with Fearful and Skeptical…..Penny has zoomed in on ‘born this morning’ etc as well as making corrections and giving reminders to those who need it. This is guided practice and the goal is accuracy and the beginnings of fluency.
When they were done, I showed 2 students’ work under the camera as further models of excellence. I asked the class to discuss in pairs where each of the 5 elements were in the answer, giving further reinforcement on the components. Because success rates were high (all had completed the task successfully), I asked them to do one more, using this quotation:
I removed my model from the screen and replaced it with a list of what they need to include, increasing the challenge and removing the scaffolding:
High success rates in these lessons are perhaps unsurprising due to the models, success criteria and highly restricted nature of practice tasks: as a result, it would be silly to equate success here with learning. Success here is performance not learning. Over the next 10+ lessons, I will ask them to keep practising this with less and less support until they can do it fully independently. This practice will be increasingly distributed to ensure that they retain what they have been taught. Practice will be maximally varied: different text types, different ordering of components, sometimes doubling components (2 ‘zoom ins’ etc). This is to help build flexible knowledge. The sequence above and the lessons that will follow are moving students through ‘The Instructional Hierarchy’. Learning often begins with restricted mimicry but this is often a necessary foundational stage on the journey towards adaptive, flexible and generalised application.