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The Impact of 'Slow Writing' as a Scaffold in English

posted 25 Feb 2017, 01:34 by Craig Nicholson   [ updated 25 Feb 2017, 01:36 ]
‘Every artist was first an amateur.’ (Ralph Waldo Emerson). 

This statement is very true of the writing process and the journey on which every young writer finds themselves. 

Many may look upon the concept of 'Slow Writing' as stifling the creativity of writers. I would however contest this and state that ‘creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality.’ Through the use of 'Slow Writing' prompts, pupils are able to use their ideas by slowing down the process of writing in order to convey their message. When the pressure of thinking of what to include in a sentence is removed, the ability to be more creative is increased. 

Providing constraints can actually promote creativity. The use of 'Slow Writing' allows the writer to slow down and consider their craft. They are able to focus upon how they wish to convey a message, not just what the message will be. Thoughts can be organised and more structured when they are scaffolded effectively. It is essential to note that 'Slow Writing' should not be relied upon by children; therefore should not be used in each and every lesson. As with any scaffold or support, there should be a plan to reduce and remove the scaffold over time, leaving behind a more confident and competent pupil.

David Didau asked the question, ‘What do you need to know to write well?’ This is a question all teachers ask themselves when attempting to equip children with the tools to become independent writers. Some key principles for the process of writing are: having an awareness of impact, understanding the structure of a text and a sound and secure knowledge of grammar.

When I first heard about 'Slow Writing' I was immediately sceptical. I am a year six teacher, very much focused upon raising attainment and ensuring there is a plethora of evidence in my writing books. Therefore, how can I ask the children to 'slow' down?! However, as with any idea, I was happy to read around the subject matter and discover more.

Using it as a scaffold, I carefully selected exactly what I wanted the children to achieve from their piece of writing. It provided a clear and concise structure from which to work and base writing on. The statements used were intrinsically linked to the unit-specific success criteria, therefore ensuring that the pupils had focus for purpose. 

The question on any teachers lips would surely be, 'But is this independent?' Well, no, not exactly. This is a scaffold, a teaching method and technique. This is not something that would be used in every lesson, it is not something that would create a degree of 'independence'. It is designed to quite literally 'slow down' the process of writing, in order for children to think through very carefully what they need to achieve from individual sentences. I have actively encouraged the children in my class to add extra sentences where they deem necessary and change the order of the slow writing prompts should they find that it works better in their written text. This has then created an added element of freedom and choice.

Writing should create choice, but without models and initial scaffolds many children remain unexposed to the choices that are right at their fingertips - or pen tips! Higher ability children have been guided by the prompts but often choose not to use them. I have made it clear that again, this comes down to choice. If they are truly capable and competent writers, they will be open to a wide variety of writing styles and opportunities. Those less able, require more guidance. This is but another technique to assist the writing process and is very much about quality over quantity.

I have enjoyed great success since trialling this technique. This has been particularly true for my middle ability children, particularly the boys whom as we know, stereotypically underperform girls. (See below for some selected examples.) They appear to like the methodical task of writing in this way. It has provided a 'comfort blanket' and a rationale behind their writing. As I have intrinsically linked it to the success criteria and the expected age appropriate grammar criteria, I am discovering that their knowledge of grammar, punctuation and spelling has increased. Expectations of the paragraph(s) have used technical vocabulary linked to our grammar lessons. This has also assisted children when answering questions linked to the grammar paper.

Take the example below: the prompts themselves have been edited so that the child in question understands what a 'subordinating conjunction' is, by using the acronym 'A WHITE BUS'. This is based upon child-friendly language, showing a concept many find difficult. This highlights how the child has transferred knowledge gained in a grammar lesson in to their writing. The 'Slow Writing' prompts have acted in this instance as a guide to remind children of their age related expectations. 

'Slow Writing' provides a focus and a structure to writing. I have also found it very beneficial to upskill children’s understanding of grammatical concepts. For example, when writing a sentence which must include a subordinating conjunction, they need to ensure that they are confident and secure in their knowledge of subordinating conjunctions. I have found this has enabled children to transfer knowledge from discrete grammar lessons, in to their independent writing sessions. The process itself ensures that the learning of the lesson is completely explicit. The Literacy Shed have also written a blog advocating the use of 'Slow Writing' for teaching children the technical concepts of sentence structure.

This piece of work was produced using 'Slow Writing' prompts. This child later chose the same piece of work to explain how the feedback she had been given had been helpful to her progress; she recorded her thoughts on a post-it note in her book.

Equally, this displays pupil’s feelings about the 'Slow Writing' prompts and their use. 


All examples have been taken from my own Year Six class, although other classes across school have also trialled the approach. For more information about ‘Slow Writing’ please visit ‘Tim’s Teaching Tools' here.

Stacey Campbell (English/KS2 leader) - 25th February 2017