Give them a reason to write

Our new curriculum stresses the importance of making links to real life contexts. Recently, Chris Leslie of Scottish Book Trust visited St. Andrew's Academy in Paisley, who are doing some great work to make these links clear to their pupils. 

In our writing videos from Nick Hesketh, Nick talks about giving pupils a real reason to write. As an English teacher I had the freedom to choose topics which I felt would engage the pupils (that's why it's such a great subject to teach!) but when it came to making meaningful links to other subjects, I kind of struggled, to be honest.

In March I met John Halloran, depute head at St. Andrew's Academy, who told me about letters his S1 pupils had written to the UN Secretary General about child soldiers. It seemed like the best possible reason to write, so I visited the school to find out more about how it was done!

PT English Anna Caira explained that S1 pupils had learned about child soldiers in Modern Studies and had written the letters as a follow up task. In order to teach the skills necessary for writing the letter, the English department used one of the five S1 English periods as a Literacy Period, with a different English teacher to the one the pupils would normally have. 

In this period, the Literacy teacher would go over letter writing skills, and the pupils composed their letters. There were practical considerations to take care of: the Literacy tutor was obviously not as familiar with the topic of child soldiers as the Modern Studies teacher, so the Social Subjects department issued the Literacy teachers with sheets explaining the background to the topic. 

The other issue to be addressed was of course that not all the S1 pupils were in Modern Studies: within Social Subjects, some S1 classes were in Geography and others were in History. This was addressed by the creation of similar tasks for these subjects. Pupils doing History were asked to write a newspaper report about the Battle of Stirling Bridge; those doing Geography wrote a formal report about extreme weather conditions. Again, the skills used in these formats were taught during the Literacy period.

What's really great about all this is the explicit awareness the pupils have about the transferrable nature of literacy skills. The school has issued all S1 pupils with a literacy log, which asks them to log all the points at which they use literacy skills in subjects across the school. 

Despite CFE's focus on the process of learning, I've always thought it was important not to neglect what they were learning (I remember having an interesting discussion a while back with a teacher who thought it 'devalued' the learning experience if we tried too hard to make the content enjoyable for the pupils). I think St. Andrew's has provided a great example of how to attend to both the what and the how of learning. 

I'll be visiting the school again to see the project being rolled out after the summer, so expect an update and possibly some video footage too! In the meantime, you can click here to see examples of materials and pupils' work. Enjoy!

Has your school done some great writing projects? Let us know about it by getting in touch below, or by email.