This post offers a very brief outline of a specific sequence of modelling analytical writing that I’ve recently used with a Y10 class. In it you’ll also see how I’ve used What How Why as a thinking tool first and a writing tool second as well as how we move incrementally from live modelled writing to a full extended essay.
So, step by step, here’s the modelling sequence:
1) The sequence, unbeknown to the students, started about 6 lessons prior to its culmination when I set as a retrieval based Do Now the following task:
At this point, we had we had been studying The History Boys for only a few lessons and had been focussing on the initial contrast and clash between Hector and the Headmaster. So, this task helped to collate a lot of the discussions we had already been having.
It’s worth saying too that I had not prior to this task introduced WHW in any formal and systematised way, in fact I hadn’t introduced it at all. I will do soon, but I rather like this covert way of beginning to embed these prompts into normal classroom discussion and thinking without it being a ‘thing’. This will make the inevitable and more formal introduction a lot more seamless and natural as well as reinforcing it as a thinking tool first and writing tool second.
2) A couple of lessons later, I set this same task again, but now added Irwin into the mix so they had to think about all three. After each attempt, we discussed the different examples students had offered, and I asked them to make a note of any points they did not already have.
3) Now, a couple more lessons later, we begin what might be considered the more explicit modelling sequence. Once again, I set the same retrieval task as the above, with them needing to recall ‘what’ and ‘how’ for Irwin, Hector, and the Headmaster. We then, and as before, discuss the different ideas that we’ve had and as we do so I fill in, under a visualiser, a blank copy of the table in my own modelling exercise book.
4) At this point, I ask them: how can we turn these ideas into a well crafted, insightful and analytical piece of writing? I explain this might seem difficult or even impossible (after all I say it’s just a table of quotations) but it’s really very easy. Let me show you how.
5) I take the Headmaster column and begin to live model what this might look like as a piece of writing, asking no one to copy anything down but just to watch and listen as they’ll be doing something similar in a moment. I verbalise my thought process as I transform the ‘what’ section of the table into an incisive opening sentence and begin to select which quotations to use from the ‘how’ section. As I do this, I’m verbalising the kind of prompts that comprise WHW: what is the character’s pedagogy? How is Bennett highlighting this? I’m also explaining that I have no intention of using all the quotations we have gathered and I try to enumerate which to select and why. I then unpack these chosen ones, dwelling on the specific images and words being used as well as how to embed them fluidly. At this point, I introduce into my thinking and modelling the thus far unseen ‘why’ part of the equation: why is Bennett doing this?
6) So now we have a fully modelled analysis of the Headmaster, using the table that is by now very familiar to the students. I now ask the class to do exactly what I’ve just done, but with Hector. They have the table to guide and scaffold this response, like I did, and I might pop onto post it notes some further WHW-style question prompts to guide their thinking. I give them time to do this in silence.
7) At this point, and after they’ve had time to do the writing, I live mark volunteered pieces, although letting the student decide whether my feedback is celebratory (only commenting on things I think are excellent) or more balanced with constructive comments on how to improve. Either way, I place the work under the visualizer and verbalise my response to this work, highlighting in blue what is going especially well and why.
9) Following feedback form this live marking session, I now ask them to do the same again but with Irwin. Again, they can use the table to scaffold this response but can also now assimilate their experience of applying the same process to Hector.
10) By this point, we have: 1) live modelled an example of analytical writing about the Headmaster; 2) attempted their own version with Hector and had live feedback embedded into this; 3) attempted a further version with Irwin, assimilating the feedback from the Hector writing. Now, I’ll set, on the back of this sequence, a full essay asking how Bennett presents different forms of education in The History Boys, in which they can take their work on the Headmaster, Hector and Irwin and embed it into a singular, coherent essay. As we have gradually built up to this point, their focus can now be on constructing and driving forward a really clear overall argument, marshalling the analysis of each character to this end.
These 10 steps, just one sequence of learning spread across several lessons, are designed to very gradually take students from limited extended GCSE essay writing experience to preparing for a full essay within the domain of one single text. Along the way, they would have been exposed to and attempted unpacking imagery, embedding quotations, constructing a cogent argument, and using WHW as a thinking and writing tool.
In many ways, the end product of completing an essay is an artificial task since they are being led to this point very carefully and gradually, but the aim is to engender a high success rate and to provide a real sense of both ease and control for what can often be a very daunting task. The aim going forward will be to build on these initial skills, gradually fading away the level of support and deploying what we have done together in new contexts, with new questions and new texts.