Several weeks ago I wrote about the general lessons learnt by teachers at my school while implementing and teaching using the Hochman Method as described in The Writing Revolution (TWR). Afterwards, there was quite a lot of correspondence regarding some of the finer grained elements – What do the specific activities look like? What are some common questions or problems arising from particular TWR activities?
As a result, I asked our team to put together some of these finer grained lessons we have learned from two years of teaching using the Hochman Method (big thanks to Jo Ball and Penny Braid). Some of the points below are explicitly addressed in the TWR texts and associated online learning and some are not, but all of them are things that our team has grappled with and has had to address repeatedly. We are hoping that these lessons might be helpful for other teachers and schools as they are working with TWR.
1. Remember the purpose of the Hochman Method. The strategies are intended to ‘advance thinking through writing’, to increase the knowledge and understanding of our students. As such they support reading comprehension as much as conventions of writing. This aspect is easy to forget, and we sometimes found ourselves thinking that the Hochman Method is a formula to teach writing. The content of the tasks should draw out the core thinking you want your students to do.
It is easy to get caught up in writing a question or task that just uses the strategy for the sake of using the strategy. A key guiding question for us was: Is the content we are using to complete the TWR strategy key knowledge or understanding we want our students to know?
2. Format matters. You must follow the formatting guidelines with fidelity. The Hochman Method has been used in many schools with thousands of students, and therefore has been “battle-tested”. There is a well-thought out reason for each formatting feature. The importance of formatting becomes particularly apparent as your students advance through each level of a strategy. A classic example of the importance of formatting is the use of dotted lines or solid lines depending on whether you are asking students to note-take or write in full-sentences. It is easy to ignore this advice, yet when students are used to this formatting it creates a structure and expectation that pays off in the long-term.
3. Order matters. Beginning with sentence and KPAS at the beginning of each school year is important. These skills need review (even when you think students have it covered) and support all later strategies.
4. Always write anticipated responses for every student task. You need to know the likely question/response or you’ll have your students wasting time getting caught up in misconceptions. We cannot emphasise this enough – this front-loaded work avoids situations where activities are not working, or are more difficult than you had intended.
5. Make sure you do not introduce too many techniques at the same time or in a small period of time. I have seen quite a few sequences of learning where new techniques are being introduced each day of a single week. We have learned to be patient with the teaching and practice of strategies. Think of the development of student writing and thinking as a “long game” and give students time to consolidate their learning.
The same applies for your staff. It is a good idea to choose one strategy a week or month for the team to master. Begin with shared professional learning on the strategy, encourage the teachers to include it in their planning, visit lessons to observe and provide feedback on that strategy, then move on to the next strategy. Too many at once makes it hard to ensure all members of the team are delivering the strategy with fidelity, can lead to misconceptions and inconsistencies that are hard to undo later on.
6. Start with general examples and then move to content specific work. A good rule of thumb is that the complexity is determined by the content. Each time you move into new subject matter, you should be going back to an earlier step or an out of context example for the strategy. It is actually ok to a good strategy to use the SAME general examples from year to year and in different year levels. These shared examples are useful because you know the examples are effective and students can use them as a reference point to recall the strategy.
7. Use the graduated stages for each strategy. This graduation can allow for differentiation in your classes. Additionally, we needed to learn that just because students are older doesn’t mean we can skip earlier steps with each strategy – always start out of context (see point 6) and move through the steps. Remember: ‘the content provides the rigour’.
8. Identifying fragments strategy. Remember to remove all punctuation and capitalisation. It was surprising how many times we had to come back to this. We suspect that the use of the kernels (and the different conventions) later in the process made us confuse these conventions.
9. Because But So. This is often the strategy that we gravitate to but there are some wrinkles in its application that we continually needed to address:
a. The So in Because But So does not mean “so that”. The So is supposed to indicate a cause and effect relationship rather than a temporal relationship. One way to tell whether the So is being used properly is to replace the So with So that – if it still makes sense then that So sentence needs to be adjusted.
b. You don’t need to shoehorn Because But AND So into tasks – choose the aspects that are appropriate to the content and skill that you want students to learn. Each of them can also can be introduced separately.
10. Don’t get kids to summarise a text and then use these summary notes to reconstruct the text. To begin, teachers should always be writing the sentences/text that students will turn into a summary and vice versa. The sentences should be straightforward to flip between notes to sentences and back – make sure to do the conversions beforehand to make sure they work (see point 4). Teachers need to deliberately choose and/or adapt the text for summarising. It needs to be simple and ‘easily’ summarised.
11. Sentence starters. When students write or complete sentence starters orally they must write or say the WHOLE sentence – not just the finishing fragment. We needed to be really disciplined with this and come back to the purpose of the activity and the habits it was creating in our students.
12. Sentence expansion. The kernel should be a simple sentence not a fragment – check this carefully as it cropped up time and time again in our work. When checking student reponses, make sure that the kernel stays intact. We found that beginning with the ‘when’ helped support the construction of more complex sentences later.
13. Single Paragraph Outlines (SPOs) are plans and not drafts. Students should do many more SPOs than full drafts. This means that, when you are planning your units, you will need to provide lots of opportunities to plan using SPOs.
14. Make sure the 4 parts of writing (planning; drafting; revising; editing) are all emphasised. Often the underlined sections are less well-addressed as the other two. We felt a pull to skip or reduce these two sections, particularly when we were short on time.
15. Revising is different to editing. Watch your language around this in class as many of us are used to using these terms interchangeably. Revising unelaborated paragraphs should not involve editing errors – instead it is to adjust sentence construction or adding in details that are important.
16. You never finish ‘teaching’ TWR skills. You can’t ‘tick them off’ – we keep teaching them. Every time we use them, we teach them.
17. Format matters!