Talk4Writing with @PieCorbett

“You enjoyed that, didn’t you? I watched you mulling everything over.

I can now add Pie Corbett to the list of people who know that my face cannot hide what my brain is thinking.

IMG_7867.JPG(Photo from

What a fantastic day! I have had the privilege of attending a Talk4Writing conference in Newcastle with the man that shaped the approach, Pie Corbett. This conference focused particularly on Writing in EYFS and KS1, the crucial point in a child’s academic career where basic skills need to be taught and refined. Without these, children will have few foundations on which to build their learning.

Now, I am aware that attending a Talk4Writing conference is not cheap. So as not to devalue the experience (which was worth every single penny), I’ll not blog absolutely everything that Pie talked about, but instead I’ll pick out my highlights.

I have been using the Talk4Writing approach for teaching Writing for a few years now, although I have never had the opportunity to have training delivered by the man himself. This conference today, therefore, served as a reassurance for me that I am currently doing the right thing and going in the right direction with how I teach Writing. It also gave me many, many tips on how to further advance my practice and therefore the writing skills of the children in my class.

For me, there were two standout messages delivered throughout today’s conference:

• have high expectations
• teachers are model learners

Without high expectations of what children can do, how will they ever achieve their best? I was horrified by an anecdote that Pie gave about a teacher who went through a picture book and simplified adjectives, as the children in her class would not have been able to understand them. Apparently, this teacher believed that “massive” is incomprehensible to children and should be changed to “big.” Gobsmacked. Expose children to a rich vocabulary and over time this will work its way into their lexicon.

Children learn lots through imitation. They learn vast amounts from imitating their teachers. I make sure that I always model correct spoken and written English so that the children I teach may imitate this and improve the richness of their language. On the other hand, I know that I do not always model exemplary handwriting. I find this difficult, I must admit this. I find writing neatly to be a challenge. I find that I don’t always correctly join my letters. I must improve this. There is a difference between this and adopting a standard handwriting style across a school, which I believe to be wrong, but that’s another blog post entirely. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that unless children are best and fluent handwriters, the quality of their writing and the stamina with which they write will suffer.

I was amazed when we were shown this picture:

This was written by a child at the end of Reception, by a 5-year-old, by a child from inner-London in a school that could be viewed as having a challenging intake. If they can do this, surely everyone can? Upon reflecting on this, I did wonder what proportion of this child’s day is spent engaging in child-initiated learning, but I hope that my implied negativity can be disproved and that this is simply the result of quality teaching using Talk4Writing, a tried and tested approach.

So what will I be doing differently tomorrow? What will I change in my practice straight away? What am I taking away from today to justify being out of the classroom for a day and spending a lot of money on this training?

First, the handwriting issue addressed above.

Secondly, tomorrow morning instead of bumbling through a rough plan of the day like I usually do, I’ll talk about what we’re going to do while orally modelling the time connectives that I expect the children in my class to use. Daily exposure to these will ensure that these phrases become part of their vocabulary in no stone.

Thirdly, I’m going to introduce a ‘Poem of the Week.’ When children are exposed to these poems regularly, they will develop a catalogue of writing patterns and will be able to enhance the vocabulary available to them. I’ll write again about this soon.

I’m looking forward to seeing how today’s learning can affect the learning of children in my class. Watch this space.

P.S. I’m not in the habit of blogging anymore and I feel that my ability to write coherently has deteriorated. I’m sure there’s a lesson in there somewhere….

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