Like any area of learning and teaching, the teaching of writing and how best to approach it, has been a constant area of debate for decades. Some of the most widely used approaches include TalkforWriting by Pie Corbett and The Writing Workshop by Lucy Calkin. Here at JB we have begun exploring an approach stemming from a method called The Writing Revolution based on the Hochman Method. It has been designed by Judith Hochman and is underpinned by six guiding principles:
- Students need explicit instruction in writing, beginning in the early grades
- Sentences are the building blocks of all writing
- When embedded in the content of the curriculum, writing instruction is a powerful tool
- The content of the curriculum drives the rigor of the writing activities
- Grammar is best taught in the context of student writing
- The two most important phases of the writing process are planning and revising
We have begun to explore this method in Year 2. Led by the brilliant work of Jessica Martin, a member of the Y2 teaching team and an English Subject Coach, the students and teachers of Year 2 have been adopting a number of The Writing Revolution methods with some positive early signs of success.
As always, before deciding on adopting or trialling a pedagogical method, we first determine its impact elsewhere. This approach does have a sound base in terms of impact. Additionally, the principles underlying the methods have an evidence base. In particular, the focus on sentence level is a key element in the approach’s success. Anyone who teaches writing will tell you how easy it is to overload students cognitively. Writing has so many elements to it and the focus on sentence level ensures students are solid and secure on this most fundamental element prior to developing other areas.
Teachers in Year 2 have been trialling this method and in particular adopting the techniques focused on;
- Difference between a fragment and a sentence: working with students to understand the difference between fragment; a group of words that are incomplete, don’t make sense as opposed to sentences which must have a verb and noun.
- Scrambled sentences: activities based on unscrambling words so that they make sense.
- Run on sentences: working with students on not overusing the word ‘and’ as well as making sentences too long.
Much of this practice does not involve a lot of writing initially but instead focuses on developing a deeper understanding of what a sentence is. It includes a lot of oral work and explicit teaching before students are asked to apply their understanding.
We have already noticed some very positive signs in terms of the students’ writing quality. Reports from the Year 2 teachers are that they have seen significant gains in writing quality across the year group and even some quite pronounced gains with individual students. Encouragingly we have also seen positive results in the Year 2 students performance in a recent standardised assessment called No More Marking. In spite of school closures, our Year 2 students scored very similarly to previous years. This assessment was taken by some 780 schools and a total of 36,763 students. The schools were primarily UK based but did also include international schools. Our average was comfortably above the national average. See Year 2, Alice smith below in the pink band.
Overall vs National Average
We remain in the exploratory stage with the Hochman Method but these are extremely encouraging early signs. We will review the project in the future and determine the next appropriate steps for us as a school.
If you would like to learn more about this approach please listen to this Podcast with Judith Hochman.