Impact on school attainment
Many schools have found that daily storytelling can have a dramatic influence on progress in composition. For instance, the initial teacher research into this approach focused on 4-and 5-year-olds in Reception classes. At the start of the year, only 2% of the sample was able to retell a whole story. By the end of the year, 76% retold a whole tale in fluent standard English.
In a study carried out in Lewisham (reported in ‘Stories to tell, stories to write’, available from Lewisham Professional Development Centre, Kilmorie Road, London SE23 2 SP), 100% of the primary age pupils tracked made average progress in writing and 80% made 3 or more sublevels of progress in one year. This was particularly impressive because the children being tracked were selected because they had been making less than average progress. A more recent study in Lewisham (2010) found that a similar cohort of children made on average 2 years progress in one year, this time focusing on the impact of ‘talk for writing’ on non-fiction writing.
A recent study in Salford by teachers at St Thomas of Canterbury Primary School showed that the approach works very powerfully for children who have English as a new language – indeed, compared with a control group in similar schools, those pupils benefiting from the ‘talk write’ approach on average made outstanding progress.
Where schools have a systematic approach to implementing Talk for Writing, results have been outstanding. For example, at Trevithick Primary, Cornwall, KS2 results have risen from 43% achieving level 4 in writing to 100% in 2012 and 2013; with 55% achieving level 5, and 14% level 6. Similarly, at St George’s Primary, Battersea, the school has risen from dire results to achieving 100% level 4 in all the tested areas with over 50% of children scoring level 5 in English in 2013.
In 2010, Honiton Primary in Devon received an Ofsted judgment of Notice to Improve; consequently they adopted the Talk for Writing approach and in 2013 they received an outstanding grade across the board.
What the children say about Talk for Writing
“Dear Pie Corbett, I am writing to you because I think your ideas about how to get children to stand up and say stories is brilliant. I used to hate writing. It was boring listening to the teacher groan on and on because I would just sit there and do nothing. Also then it was hard. Now I love it because it is so much more easy and I produce more work. I think it’s got easier because our teacher teaches us all the things and then we learn stories that include all the things. I also feel more confident…” – Pupil’s letter to Pie Corbett presented as evidence of impact by teacher on the Sheffield ‘Talk for Writing’ project.
“I also find it helpful actually saying the words so I know what kind of words I can use for my own writing. It’s amazing how much I’ve improved my writing, though I can’t spell every word.” – Pupil from Sheffield ‘Talk for Writing’ non-fiction project. “It helped me to memorise it, and drawing the pictures was fun. Usually, I don’t enjoy writing but with this we got to act out and learn in a fun way. Now I know what the writing should sound like and then I can write about anything.” – Sunil, pupil from Lewisham ‘Talk for Writing’ non-fiction project
“Yes I like writing more because I like the flow of writing – it feels good in a way. I’m concentrating and listening more and that has helped my writing.” – Hope, pupil from Lewisham ‘Talk for Writing’non-fiction project
What the primary teachers say about Talk for Writing
“Previously we did lots of speaking and listening but it didn’t seem to emerge in the writing. The ‘talk for writing’ techniques really motivated the children. Now they automatically read what they have written and discuss whether it sounds good. It has transformed the way they write.” – Leading teacher from Primary National Strategy ‘Talk for Writing’ project
“I’ve had such a great time in the last year doing ‘talk for writing’ with my class that I really want to share this. The effects were extraordinary. I could see the effect in all the subjects and the evidence in the books is amazing. When you watch the children write, now you can see them thinking about how to compose.” – Shona Thomson, teacher showcasing impact of the approach at the non-fiction Lewisham conference
“Having done a lot of oral storytelling with KS1 children, I was a little sceptical about getting Year 5 children to stand up and get really involved in expressive oral re-telling. How wrong was I!” – Maria Wheeler, teacher on Lewisham non-fiction project.
What secondary teachers say about Talk for Writing
“At last a literacy consultant who understands the phrase ‘across the curriculum’ rather than trying to make us all English teachers.” – conference delegate
“Julia was brilliant, passionate, inspiring.” – conference delegate
“I have had a look through the evaluation sheets and, to be honest, they brought tears to my eyes.” – Brighton literacy consultant summing up feedback from a follow-up training day which included teachers feeding back on how they were integrating the approach into their teaching.
“Teachers in all departments have been very enthusiastic about the approach. Students have loved stealing ideas.” – Deputy head from Talk-for-Writing pilot secondary school, Feltham
“Consistently engaging, highly relevant and practical.” – conference delegate “Just thought I would offer a quick update. As planned, we are continuing to reinforce the strategies that you brought to us and ensuring that strategies are implemented across the school. During a recent LA review, the renewed and consistent focus on literacy was highlighted as much improved practice. Thanks again – you have left us with a strong legacy.” – Deputy head teacher, Whitehaven
“I think this was dynamite and is THE issue we should focus on as it encompasses much of the AFL and behaviour sessions.” – teacher following school training day in Coventry
“There was something about the ‘Talk for Writing’ project that struck a chord with me. This was comparing maths to written communication in a direct and explicit way. It felt like an epiphany in the hall listening to Julia Strong explaining about talk for writing. This was the answer and as I began to work with aspects of this approach I started to feel as of this was the magic wand I had been looking for to move my students and me onwards to the land of written mathematical communication.” – Zeb Friedman, Maths adviser and teacher, Brighton and Hove
“Thanks so much for these materials. I started today to put some of the ideas into action in the classroom (getting my low ability Y8s to come up with an icon for each of Point Evidence Explain has helped already: ‘evidence’ as a little magnifying glass over a page – brilliant) Teaching “imperatives” to my Y7s via mime (one girl then remembered they called them “bossy verbs” at primary school and it all clicked!) So I’m following your advice and trying to make it work in my own classroom first before I do much whole school stuff.” – Literacy coordinator from a school in North Yorkshire
“I was inspired by your Talk for writing presentation and have tried some of the ideas in my science lessons. I feel that it is a natural next step for us. If you are interested, I have video interviews with year 11 students who used the approach and found it enormously helpful.” – science teacher, Lancashire “I attended your Talk-for-Writing conference in London last Friday (you may remember me, I was the Professor of Dragonology). I found the entire day truly inspirational! It is now my job to inspire others in my school.” – Reading Assistant Head (and Professor of Dragonology)
“I attended your Talk for Writing session at Varndean school last Friday and I wanted to email you to say thank you. I have a very difficult year 9 group. They are mostly low ability and many have behaviour problems. I used your boxing up activity today and also instructed them to be word thieves and select sections from the modelled piece of text that they could use in a letter I wanted them to write. I had a fantastic lesson with them! They were all engaged, they all finished the task and they wrote brilliant letters! I’ll be carrying on like this with them! Thank you so much. The session gave me a lot to think about and this is just one example of how effective the methods you went through have been for me this week.” – Emma O’Keefe, English teacher, Brighton