Improving Extended Writing: the TOWER Model

Since September I have been looking at effective student behaviours with fresh eyes. This was triggered largely by my rereading of ‘Teaching for Effective Learning‘ – a collection of ideas from the Project for Enchancing Effective Learning (PEEL).

One behaviour that I was particularly interested in was getting students to reflect on the quality of their written responses and improve them so that they created pieces of work that reflected their true ability. Part of the problem was that students were seeing written work as an end product, rather than part of a wider process that is designed to improve their learning. I started to experiment with a number of techniques from the PEEL book and also drew on ideas from David Leat and Esther Arnott and openly shared what I was trying to do with the students. Reinforcing these ideas with students helped to cement the positive behaviours I was looking for.

The result was a five-part model for improving longer written responses that had built into it a number of strategies to enhance the quality of the work being produced. Here is an example of the model in practice:

TOWER record evaluation sheet

In outline, it looks like this:

T = Talk
Provide a piece of stimulus material and allow students time to ‘verbally rehearse’ (thank you to Dan Lyndon for that phrase) points that will be used in their work. I give this a focus by providing a clear question to go with the stimulus. At this stage I also like to use the Explorative Strategies that I adapted from Drama.

O = Organise visually
After talking students need to make their thinking visible. I will provide one graphic organiser for them (there are good examples of organisers here), but allow them to select another if they feel it better represents what they want to achieve.

W = Write/Produce
At this stage I ask students to create a draft of their work. They understand that it is important, but also that they will get a further opportunity to improve their work.

E = Edit/Critique
Once a piece of work has been produced we edit it in a number of ways. Firstly, there will be a critique where students can draw out the general principles needed to create work of quality. Next, their work will be marked by either me or their peers to drill down on more specific issues within their work. I personally prefer to use the Shirley Clarke approach of setting three criteria and then highlighting the best example of each within the text. I also set an improvement question that students need to answer (3 stars and 1 wish, essential).

R = Reflect
The last stage is to redraft the work so that it responds to the advice given in the edit stage. This redrafting builds up the learner behaviour that quality does not happen easily and that it needs to be worked at. Once the final draft is complete the work will be formally marked.

After discussions with people at the wonderful Berkhamsted Teaching, Learning and Assessment Conference (on 16th March) and several on twitter (especially with @LA_McDermott, I made several changes to the style of the booklet and added the evaluation timeline (see above). The evaluation timeline is similar to the one I use for Project Based Learning – adapted from a process used at High Tech High.

One of the key reasons why the Noor Inayat Khan piece works is that it is a question worth answering. I could have used the question ‘Why is Noor Inayat Khan significant?’ However, getting them to grapple with the question ‘Did Noor deserve to be awarded the George Cross in 1949?’ adds a layer of intrique and engagement that makes students get involved with the topic.

I need to continue experimenting with the process and getting feedback, but I am already convinced that it is having an impact. In summary, I believe there are three main reasons for this:

1. It was based on planning for positive student behaviours and the impact they can have
2. Good questions engage students and therefore make them produce better work
3. The use of critique deepens understanding of the task and the process of writing as a whole

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7 thoughts on “Improving Extended Writing: the TOWER Model”

  1. Really enjoyed the workshop on Saturday, I’ve been using this with my Y12 students this week and plan on trying it on my Y8s on Thursday. Thanks for the great ideas.

  2. This is great – a very useful synthesis of ideas which will certainly improve writing. How would you feel about me including it in my forthcoming book on literacy? Properly attributed of course.

    Thanks, David

  3. I really like this method of developing writing skills. It provides strong evidence of dialogic learning with students responding to feedback and improving their work to cement progress. I will endeavour to use these methods within my practice. Thank you for sharing!

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