Teaching students to become great writers can be as overwhelming as the idea of writing an entire text. How can teachers approach this in an accessible way that’s engaging for students and produces great results?
By following the Five Secrets. Seven Steps to Writing Success, Australia’s largest educator of writing literacy, bases its practise on five underlying principles.
- Chunk large tasks
If you taught tennis, would you ask a child who has never played before to pick up a racquet and play an entire match? No. You would teach her to master each skill – a serve, a backhand, a volley – before putting it all together.
Likewise, asking students to write a full text without any scaffolding can be like asking them to play an entire tennis match without any practise or demonstration.
Writing, like tennis, can be broken down into chunks, or smaller units. It’s easier to mentally process information if it’s broken into chunks. The key is to make sure the size of the chunk suits the ability of students. If the chunks are too small, students will get bored; too large and they’ll give up.
Seven Steps breaks down writing into seven chunks, enabling you to teach students the individual techniques used by great writers. The Steps also separate the creative process from the physical writing process, so students can practise generating extraordinary ideas before turning them into a text.
Chunking writing enables students to become skilled at one Step, before progressing to the next. So, when they eventually pull together an entire piece, they can do so with creativity and confidence
- Repetition builds muscle memory
Your brain is like other muscles in your body. It grows stronger or weaker the more – or less – you use it. Targeting specific muscle groups can make them stronger. The same goes for practising skills that our brains acquire.
We want writing skills to sit in students’ long-term memory, or implicit memory. This way, students will be used to brainstorming, planning, drafting and editing a written piece.
Seven Steps encourages repeating writing skills as many times as you can. For example, practising coming up with Sizzling Starts only needs to be a five-minute exercise, but it should be done daily, to build muscle memory. Reduce the lesson complexity if students are struggling but allow students to practise without fear of correction – and submit their favourites.
- Brainstorm first – Write second
Asking students to plan before they write can be a struggle. Students may jot down a couple of ideas and decide to write on the fly from there. Seven Steps helps students learn to generate ten ideas to find one great idea. The first ideas are usually the ones everyone else thinks of; students need to dig deeper and think harder to come up with unique ideas.
Planning can be scaffolded so students become familiar with the entire process. We might give them the topic ahead of time, help them plan it out, give them time to think of an interesting hook, work out a conflict and resolution and do some research before they begin writing.
As students progress, run planning speed trials to prepare them for test situations that require them to flip from planning to writing in a short space of time. The more students practise, the quicker and more creative they will become.
- Verbal is vital
When our creative juices are flowing, our brains are working at a faster rate than we can write, type or even speak. Removing the need to write everything will increase the flow of information and reduce the bottleneck of ideas in our brains.
Some students can find writing mentally straining; others are likely to be distracted by correct spelling and grammar. These roadblocks can limit creativity, whereas speaking encourages it.
Lessons including verbal activities nurture collaborative learning. Students will feed off each other’s energy and develop better ideas. Acting out ideas and engaging students in the writing process with their minds, voices and bodies leads to great writing.
- Consistency creates change
This practice focuses on the bigger ideas, including a whole-school approach to literacy. Consistent expectations, goals, practice, language and feedback in vertical learning environments can rapidly accelerate the learning process. Students will know what to expect, allowing them to focus on improving their skills.
The Seven Steps focuses on a common metalanguage to integrate into your school from early years to secondary. The Australian Curriculum requires teachers to foster Critical and Creative Thinking, in which students think ‘broadly and deeply.’ Following the Seven Steps approach gives students the tools to not only do this in their writing, but in all areas of school and beyond.
For more information, visit: www.sevenstepswriting.com