Vive la Writing Revolution!

Updated: Jan 14, 2020

I came across the concept of 'The Writing Revolution' through the work of Judith Hochman, Natalie Wexler and Doug Lemov. Also known as the Hochman Method, their work which centres around advancing thinking through writing in all subjects and grades, was recommended by one of my fellow teachers on LinkedIn. Right there I have used one of their techniques: the use of the appositive!

So often it is the case that teachers assume that their secondary school pupils can 'just' write analytically, with style and aplomb. Some can, but the Hochman Method shows how to teach explicitly writing skills.

Their ideas and methods are convincing and I do concur with their arguments that teaching specific writing skills, such as developing complex sentence structures using the aforementioned appositives, conjunctions, fragments, etc, can improve vocabulary, encourage extended writing and identify gaps in knowledge and understanding. I think that sometimes some pupils are 'written off' as just not being very good at writing or essays, when in truth, perhaps they have not been given sufficient direct instruction on how to be good at this.

I had to put the method to the test, so I opted to experiment with my Form II History class (aged 13/14 years old) that is currently studying World War Two. They are at the stage where they are learning about the war in the Pacific and the resultant bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

I began what would be a series of two hour-long lessons with a 10 minute teacher exposition about the the region of the Pacific and the attack on Pearl Harbour. I then asked pupils to complete the following fill in the blank task to check their initial understanding of the information:

The War in the Pacific Retrieval Practice Activity

Relations between Japan and the United States had become steadily worse since Japan invaded Chinese territory of ________________ in 1931. In 1937, they followed up this success with an invasion of the rest of __________. Japan was clearly determined to carve out an empire for itself in South-East_________.

For Japan such expansion was essential to become the ____________ power of the region. Japan’s most serious problem was a shortage of vital raw materials like _______ and rubber. The militarists who ran Japan decided that the best way to acquire these was to conquer the _____________ that had them.

These militarists, the commanders of the army, ______ and air force, also knew that this strategy was bound to lead them into conflict with the United States, the dominant _____________ power.

In July 1941 President _________________ demanded the withdrawal of Japanese forces from China and blocked the sale of American oil to ___________. Great Britain, equally concerned about Japan’s threat to its ________________ in the area, supported the stopping of oil sales to Japan. This oil ______________ would have a devastating effect on Japan’s military plans since the Japanese bought 80% of their oil from the________.

We then watched the following You Tube clip about the attack on Pearl Harbour:

Pupils were asked to take structured notes on the following worksheet. I encouraged them to identify 7 interesting facts or points that they gleaned from the clip. I then posed a range of oral fact-finding questions to the whole class:

The next task required pupils to consider the following two pages from the brilliant GCSE textbook by Ben Walsh:

As we went through the text, I posed questions to draw upon prior knowledge and noted key words (kamikaze, casualities, etc) on the whiteboard.

The class then moved on to the activities that I designed using the Hochman Method:

The pupils found this tricky, but worthwhile. Many enjoyed puzzling out the fragments and structures. This practice also helped cement the prior knowledge as it was reinforcing the content that had already been taught. These exercises also revealed to me some misunderstandings that some pupils had regarding the Enola Gay plane and the outcome of the Battle of Midway. Through these activities I was able to target directly these gaps. The premise behind the tasks above are all based on the theories contained in The Writing Revolution. These theories of teaching writing can be applied to any subject. I have just adapted the ideas to suit the requirements of my pupils.

We then moved to a class discussion about Truman's actions. Were they 'right' at the time or with hindsight? What would they have done in Truman's shoes, I asked. Many claimed that they would have sent a warning to Japan prior to dropping the bomb. Others claimed that it would have been an easy decision. After a 10 minute discussion, I asked them to construct arguments for and against Truman's actions using the worksheet that I had designed for this task:

The pupils were then tasked with writing empathetically, as Truman. They had to justify their actions and try to convince the American public that his actions were 'right'. This really pushed many of my pupils to think analytically and politically. I asked a few pupils to read aloud their speeches and this worked really well. Some were dramatic and heroic in their stance and words.

In sum, I enjoyed using the theories found within The Writing Revolution and found that they presented my pupils with a desirable academic challenge. I might have used a comprehension based task in its place, but can see clearly that the academic gains are considerable using the Hochman Method. It develops an ability to construct complex and stylish sentences while also developing reading and retrieval practice skills. It is a method that I will be using at all levels of my teaching practice.

I have no affiliation with this book or its authors. I purchased my own copy.

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