I've had a lot of teachers ask me during teacher training, about how to reach those Greater Depth standards in writing in Year 6, in particular, managing shifts in formality. A method is wanted. Texts to use, situations to develop those elusive shifts. It has recently been made into a work of art by many, as a need has developed to formally show 'shifts' without being too prescriptive. At the moment, we are unsure of what next year will bring by way of Key Stage Two writing assessments, but the shift in formality is in the National Curriculum and needs to be addressed regardless. It hopefully won't be as prescriptive an assessment procedure next summer, but we just don't know as yet. So, for now, during the first term, we can work on feeding ideas to the pupils in various ways by looking at how it is tackled with texts already being used. We need to show that it is all part of the writing process and that we can magpie many ideas from what we hear or read ourselves. I'm going to suggest starting this as early as Year 1.
Bear with me....
Take a text. Identify the main character and create a character map using evidence from the text using 'show not tell'. What do we know about this character? How do they express themselves? What might they say? I've seen Year 1 children retell stories and develop their characters with such understanding and certainty, that it was such a pleasure to hear them. They were animated! You could almost think they could become one of the characters. Give them a prop and it's like a magic wand. I love it!
I tried developing characters in this way with my Year 3 class, using the story of Boudicca during our Romans topic last spring. I was linking our recent reading skills of finding evidence to show what a character is like by their actions or dialogue, to a topic story. We read the story, that included different characters with strong personalities. We discussed how each character would react to a small snapshot or freeze framed part of the story.
Putting themselves into role in mixed reading ability groups, allowed each of them to become a different character in the story. They critically analysed one another and decided what and how each character would react in a different situation - in this case, it was a battle that Boudicca led, with elderly relatives, children watching from the sidelines, as well as the battle crazy Celts and their enemies. They could choose.
Now for the writing.
Their task was to write a newspaper report on the event, using the criteria used in the English lessons two weeks previously. I just let them do it. At least 2 characters had to feature in the report.
They naturally made those shifts in formality by starting with a formal introduction, then moving to a vivid description of a battle. As characters were interviewed, their personalities shone through. One child described how they felt during the battle from the eyes of an infant. Another had an elderly relative watching in alarm and using direct speech (indirect speech is covered in Year 4). They were able to put their character's feelings and empathy into their writing with ease when explaining how they felt as different events occurred. They concluded with a formal conclusion of the event.
Now, this may seem simple, but if, as teachers, we can bring texts or stories to life through drama, role play and empathy, talk for writing and embedding stories into children's minds, then we are onto a winner with these shifts, as they become a natural part of their writing. Bringing texts to life for the reader.
We will need to further develop these skills, but if started and focused on earlier on in the writing processes in KS1 or early KS2, the Year 6 teachers will gladly thank us all! It is, after all, a cumulative curriculum.
Read to Write, Write to Read.
I have attached a link to a blog from Katie Pegum (Y6 teacher) on how she has developed ways to include shifts in formality in her classroom. Well worth a read.
Greater Depth by K Pegum