“The engagement of the class with these texts was outstanding”
Hear from Ian King, Year 5 teacher at Fairlop Primary School in Ilford, on why he chose digital unit Short Stories: Space from Read in to Writing and how it has developed pupils’ writing, punctuation, vocabulary, empathy and much more!
Tell us about your class
My class is comparatively hard working and motivated. Nevertheless, there is a wide range of reading and writing abilities, and not all take readily to reading and writing activities. On average, their attainment upon arriving in Year 5 (in September 2020) was slightly higher than the level expected.
How did you use the Ray Bradbury Read into Writing unit with your class?
Both The Rocket and All Summer in a Day are texts that have really engaged the children and tie in well with the Year 5 unit of Earth and Space. For example, we were able to compare Ray Bradbury’s depictions of Venus and Mars with what we know of the planets today.
I used the plans as they were, though found myself adapting one or two of the activities, so if I felt that drama was not going to work then we imagined that we were directors sat in groups discussing how that part of text may be dramatised, why characters may react in certain ways, and what this tells us about the author’s intentions in terms of character portrayal.
How did your pupils respond to such an in-depth study of a book in terms of their enjoyment and engagement?
On the whole, the engagement of the class with these texts was outstanding, as was the resulting writing (relatively speaking).
The Rocket provokes philosophical discussion from the first few pages to the last: Should Bodoni follow his dreams or should he listen to the time-soaked wisdom of old Bramante? Should one of the Bodonis travel to Mars when the others cannot? Would Maria really have handed Bodoni the key to the closet in which she has locked the children? Is Bodoni, at the end of it all, a good father? These discussions really engaged the children.
Similarly, with All Summer in a Day, there is plenty of opportunity for philosophical discussion as well as drama and developing empathy for characters. I had mixed emotions (though I’m ashamed to say my initial emotion was one of delight at how affective the text was) when one of the children in the class burst into tears because, as someone who emigrated to the UK eighteen months before, she felt what Margot felt having been relocated to the planet of Venus where the rain falls continuously. She understood Margot’s emotions completely and, boy, did it show in her writing.
The dialogic opportunities presented by these discussions not only allow the children to engage constructively with each other’s views - creating hypotheses, clarifying their ideas, questioning each other’s assumptions etc. - but they also allow exploration of the writing process itself.
How effective was the Read in to Writing approach in improving reading skills?
The children benefitted hugely from developing an in-depth relationship with the text: vocabulary, punctuation and syntax. Taking time to engage with the rhythm of the text by exploring how a writer has intended a text to be read, both through imitating how the teacher reads it and by exploring in pairs, is crucial to developing an understanding of the writing (and by extension the reading) process. The Read into Writing approach also emphasises the importance of critical engagement with unfamiliar word and phrase choices, developing not only the children’s vocabulary, but also their skills in deciphering language. As a result, confidence in reading has improved and children have been able to transfer this approach to reading to good effect in SATs tests.
How effective was the Read in to Writing approach in improving writing skills including grammar and vocabulary? Did you find it effective to develop these skills in context?
I found the Read in to Writing approach highly effective in improving writing skills in particular. For the duration of this unit, children were always ready to write, showing they had developed a good understanding of the texts at a fundamental level, grasping not only character but also narrative structure. Examining how a writer writes and emphasising an engagement with a text on this level, while encouraging children to imitate the style of the writer, is the only way to get children to begin to understand how to write with ‘voice’, to understand how character is developed and to improve understanding of how dialogue works, as well as the silences in a dialogue between the spoken words.
The children need to become the writer; it needs to be a piece of theatre! If children are carrying out a write what happens next task as they do at the end of All Summer in a Day, the exercise of writing the preceding part as Ray Bradbury - as being the author - sets then up nicely for continuing to write in his style.
Investigating the construction of sentences and paragraphs and emulating these is also central to the Read in to Writing approach and it is wonderful to see confidence grow with children of all levels.
Why Ray Bradbury’s Short Stories: Space? What makes him such a great author to share in a classroom and to link with the wider curriculum?
Ray Bradbury is one of the classic American writers. He was prolific and his powers of imagination were immense, so there are many other stories of his with which to delight the children. The themes of The Rocket and All Summer in a Day are relevant to the children at all times, the theme of bullying in All Summer in a Day in particular. Space stories link beautifully to the topic Earth and Space, but it must also be remembered that Bradbury was writing in 1950s America, a time when interest in Space travel was huge. Today, thanks in part to the 50th Anniversary of the Moon Landings in 2019, interest in Space exploration is once again astronomical.
In your opinion, what are the benefits of exploring whole texts rather than shorter extracts?
All Summer in a Day and The Rocket are short stories, so they are perfect for a whole text approach that allows children to investigate how themes and characters are developed, as well as permitting sustained exploration into how a particular author writes, thereby giving the children the opportunity to learn the craft of writing through imitation. There will not be the same depth of character development that there would be in a novel, but the concepts of developing character through action and dialogue and in how they react to whatever conflict the stories hold will be valuable learning experiences for the children. Short extracts do not offer this same opportunity.
Do you have any tips for other teachers using the Read in to Writing Short Stories: Space unit?
To get the most out of these plans, I think that teachers need to read them and engage critically with them, ensuring that they make them their own. They are detailed and a sharp pace needs to be maintained in order to get through them in an hour. This, of course, is not so much a problem if a teacher is happy to be flexible with time, as is the case for myself. There is certainly no worry that the children will be anything but engaged should lessons extend to 90 minutes. However, plans can be adapted and ‘trimmed’ if necessary. Similarly, lessons can be dropped if not relevant to a particular class, or if there are any time constraints.
Adequate time does need to be given to the writing of the final story. The final lessons in the unit are full of ideas for modelling writing and carrying out editing and redrafting, and should not be followed to the letter. I didn’t follow them tightly at all, but used them as guidance and to focus my children on elements of their writing that needed improving.
Learn more and access free samples of Read in to Writing here.