Revolutionising writing

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For the past couple of years I have been working with my school’s English team to try to apply some research findings to the teaching of writing.

This has mainly focused on the need to pay attention to cognitive load and therefore break writing down into it’s component parts. Barak Rosenshine’s American Educator article on explicit teaching has been helpful in guiding our thinking. We have also recognised that writing is knowledge dependent; you cannot expect students to write well on topics that they know little about. So part of the process has involved selecting writing domains worthy of extended study. This has involved moving away from the banal writing prompts implicitly encouraged through standardised testing such as NAPLAN.

I wrote about some of the things we have learnt here.

I had never heard of the “Hochman Method,” or “Writing Revolution,” but when I read a recent article on this in American Educator, I immediately recognised a very similar set of ideas. The article was about an approach to writing instruction developed by Judith C. Hochman. There’s not quite 100% correspondence with the work we have done, but there is enough to encourage me that we are on the right track. It’s reassuring to notice this kind of convergent evolution because, as in nature, it suggests a robust solution to the problem.

A book based upon the Hochman methods, “The Writing Revolution,” by Hochman and Natalie Wexler, is available soon and I am keen to get my hands on a copy.

I am left to contemplate two points. Firstly, I had somehow managed to miss literature on the Hochman Method and I need to perhaps be more thorough in future. Secondly, American Educator has once again proven that it is the publication of most practical value to teachers.


6 thoughts on “Revolutionising writing

  1. The Hochman method has been the MOST effective single strategy I have used for teaching secondary English explicitly. It is effective across disciplines as a ‘literacy’ strategy because it focuses on knowledge, but, more to the point, it can be scaled up and down with more complex prepositions and adverbial phrases, so English teachers can lead its implementation without watering it down into vapidity like the NAPLAN prompts do when working with other subjects. Remarkably, it was a well-respected Math teacher colleague who replicated my success using it as an entrance ticket for formative assessment/revision purposes.

    Unfortunately, if you are a high-school English teacher, we are working in the Dark Ages. The explicit programming of the past is lost and ‘best practice’ seems to be endless open-ended questioning about texts and contexts students don’t have the knowledge to answer. It’s extraordinary that Hochman’s rationale, to model for students writing structures and have them practise their implementation, is seen as a ‘revolution’, but that just goes to show how far English teaching has moved away from words. The textbooks are gone and those of us trying to teach English are working from scratch :(.

    The focus has to return to vocabulary. All subjects should have domain-specific words, but English needs to return to description and rhetoric. From there, students need to how writing is different from speaking through increasingly sophisticated academic sentence structures (see ‘show sentences’ in Stage 4, progressing to resources like’16 analytical sentence structures’ from Andy Tharby in Stage 5). Bringing Words To Life should probably be the English-specific text recommended to new teachers. I hope The Writing Revolution can be paired with it.

  2. Alex Brown raises some excellent issues, in particular the point about how speaking and writing differ. The piece in the American Educator [I look forward to reading Hochman’s forthcoming book.] underscores the importance of content in the curriculum and alludes to the fact that the teaching of informational texts hardly exists in many primary schools. Yet it is through such texts that domain-specific vocabulary can be taught and contextualised.
    On the subject of the importance of being able to write a sentence, Stanley Fish’s How to Write a Sentence and How to Read One (Harper, 2013) provides an amusing and compelling accompaniment to the subject.

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