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An Inspirational Approach to Learning English

An innovative approach to literacy is finding favour with English teachers across the nation. Talk4Writing is now in use in some 5,000 schools, including Prestfelde School in Shrewsbury.

Reciting stories and poems out loud helps children internalise vocabulary and different language structures.

That is the theory behind the ground-breaking approach to literacy Talk4Writing developed by educational trainer Pie Corbett and now used by around 5,000 schools across the UK.

Prestfelde School, in Shrewbsury, adopted the scheme six years ago. Head of Middle School Catherine Morgan said the approach has been transformative for certain children who do not engage well with traditional English lessons.

She explained that power comes from imitation – children have experienced the language they need for a particular topic, by saying it out loud, before they put pen to paper themselves.

“We found a lot of boys, especially, were struggling to get their ideas down on paper and their writing was not indicative of their true ability,” she said. “Through imitation of language, they learn language features, grammar and structure. These things are embedded in their engagement with the text, rather than doing standalone grammar lessons. They see a real purpose for what they are learning.

“We have seen a dramatic improvement in output since we adopted Talk4Writing. The quality of what the children are now producing is outstanding. It is extremely rewarding for our teachers to see children, who were reluctant writers when they came to us, approaching lessons with enthusiasm and a much more positive attitude.  The approach is inclusive and allows children of all abilities to engage with their learning and make excellent progress.

“Previously, we taught units and lessons which were compartmentalized and lacked context and inclusivity. The progress they are making with Talk4Writing is so much more dramatic, as it brings, reading, writing, speaking, listening and drama together as one.”

The method is a three-pronged approach. Step one is the ‘imitation’ stage, where the children often learn physical movements, supported by a ‘text map’ (pictograms) to help them recall a story or non-fiction piece. Teachers use ‘wow sessions’ to improve engagement with the text; recent text-linked activities have included bathing a woolly Mammoth, hunting for man-eating plants and fairy hunts.

“The pupils are so engaged at this age, part of them really believes the imitation activities are real!” Cath said.

Step two, the ‘innovation’ phase, sees children using the exemplar text as a prompt for to create a piece of shared writing, before attempting their own. “At this stage, we will have a concrete focus on certain textual features,” Cath explained. 

Teachers write their own text using the progression document from Talk4Writing, including the features they want children to learn and use. Pupils highlight these during daily shared writing sessions.  They then use planning grids to talk the text through with a talk partner.

“This is a vital step,” Cath said. “It allows pupils to talk before they write.”

Next, pupils will assess their own finished writing using ‘toolkits’, marking off the features they have used.  They also peer assess, by reading a partner’s work and feeding back on what went well and what might be improved. 

“Our more able students plan their own toolkits so it isn’t too prescriptive,” Cath said. “The last thing we want is for the whole class to produce the same, regurgitated piece. Teachers work with pupils who are struggling with a particular feature, in small groups, helping them to grow in confidence.”

At the final invention/application stage, pupils are expected to independently plan (using boxing up) and write a story or cross-curricular non-fiction piece such as a discussion text or set of instructions.  Teachers will start pupils off by engaging them in the task with a short film clip, a picture, music or set of images.  Keeping with the Talk4Writing approach, children talk through their ideas first, with a talk partner, before they begin their writing.  These independent pieces are used to track pupil progress and are moderated by staff on a regular basis.

“It’s hard work to get Talk4Writing embedded in a school,” Cath admitted “It involves a lot of work for teachers, but they love it because pupil engagement is excellent and teachers are constantly seeing progress.”

For more information visit www.talk4writing.co.uk

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