It's been a term since I resolved to do what I could to stop students' writing becoming formulaic, using the PE+ paragraphs I developed with @ACCooke5 as the main tool to do this. You can read the initial blog I wrote in October here:http://borismcdonald.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/pe-part-one-down-with-peeal.html . This shows you some of the resources we created to aid students with the new approach, as well as outlining my plans for actioning it in my classroom.
In this blog, however, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my teaching of PE+; I want to investigate whether it has achieved what I was after and look at how I could develop my teaching of it in the future. That being said, it is already noticeable (in assessments at KS3 and KS4) how the PE+ model gave more able students a more flexible model to develop their ideas through as well as giving less able students a structure that encouraged them to add more detail into their analysis of literature.
Teaching Students How to Use It
When doing this, modelling was vital. Where I trialled the method without first modelling what to do, students really struggled to get to grips with what to write. Even now, when going back to PE+ after a couple of lessons away from it, I still quickly model how to write the key components of the paragraph. This includes giving a choice of sentence starters for less able students (I teach mixed ability) to give them a start for their response.
Likewise, it was helpful to students to have a differentiated version of the PE+ mat (which you can view in my previous blog). I projected this onto the board and restricted the amount of questions for each section as well as providing an optional order to write them into (thanks, @TeachMNU, for that suggestion).
As you can see, here I used the hexagon model (you can see more examples on my Twitter account) to get students to plan their work before writing it up. This encouraged many students to go into more detail than usual, as they were motives by filling in the boxes. After writing into a paragraph, they then highlighted and annotate the various sections to demonstrate which areas has detailed explanations.
Using these hexagons to plan was also beneficial when getting students to consider an overall essay structure: we did group work where they would link each other's hexagons together to create a group essay plan and then did their own as a plan for their assessments. This example is from a year 8 student:
Areas to Develop
As this was a new concept, I expected some teething issues and the main one concerned students' desire to fill in every box. For some students, this meant that they added in random contextual factors without really relating them to the point: in future I'm planning to go over the important of linking everything to the point and only filling in the relevant sections as part of the modelling process.
It is also true that, for less able students, the need for an order (what order to write sections in) led to some evidence of formulaic responses. However, I feel that this is something that they might grasp with practise and it is important to note that these students were still producing a more detailed explanation/analysis than they did with PEEAL.
Lastly, there were some issues applying the method with my Year 11 class, who has difficulty grasping the method. For them, I reverted to PEEAL (mainly due to the time constraints when it comes to preparing them for the exams). However, I'm going to trial using the group essay planning activity when revision texts for the Literature GCSE, replacing the section names with the relevant assessment objectives (for example, AO4 instead of context).
I now want to focus the development of PE+ to apply it to the new GCSE specification, so that it will be beneficial for essays written in exams (where detailed planning is not an option). As we are currently doing GCSE style assessments with our year 9 students, this is an ideal time to start.
Moreover, I'm going to create a series of flipped learning videos for different sections of PE+. These could be used both to teach students the overall method as well as serving as an independent study guide for students who need extra help (to be accessed at home or through mobile devices in the classroom).