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Any English teachers about? DD wants some extra homework! (Possible alien replicant thread!)

(26 Posts)
OccamsLadyshave Sat 20-Dec-14 10:52:59

I think she's been kidnapped and replaced by a robot!

DD is 13 in Y8. She is generally bright, but is much stronger in maths & science than she is in English. She got it into her head in primary that she was "rubbish" at English, and for a long time would just write almost nothing because she didn't know what to write. Her teacher in primary despaired but they got her through her SATS with a L5 because her reading and SPAG are very good, and she is now targeted a L7 for the end of Y8. Her school still do levels btw.

This week she's come home with a report saying she's still at L5c. She's had to go to extra booster classes which she hates because the only other girl with her has a history of bullying her.

I personally think the problem is that she's always been the top performer in maths and science at both primary and secondary, and she doesn't like not being the best. I also think her total lack of imagination (mild ASD traits) is letting her down. They are now starting to do analysis, symbolism etc and she doesn't get it at all. She also really struggles with creative writing or putting much emotion into her work.

She got really upset a couple of days ago, and said that she feels really stupid and she wants to get better. She has no other homework all holidays, so she said can I help her learn how to do the analysis stuff and to write stories. I have a degree and MA in Eng Lit, but it always came very easily to me (maths was another story!) so I don't really know how to teach it. Can it be taught? Where would you start?

Notinaminutenow Sat 20-Dec-14 11:18:31

You say her reading is very strong. Does she enjoy reading? Does she read for pleasure? Does she like the theatre? Take her to see a play - doesn't have to be big budget - lots of local am dram and regional stuff. How about poetry? My DS (y7) still loves poetry read to him. The rhythms and patterns and expressive language all inform his writing I think.

My DS writes well because of his reading. In his case one follows the other.

Science on the other hand...if his baseline level is anything to go by he was taught nothing in primary for 3 years. Luckily he seems to be making up ground quickly.

Oh and he is very jealous of your daughter for having no homework. Clearly his teachers are all a bit bah humbug!

pieceofpurplesky Sat 20-Dec-14 11:33:16

English teacher here. Reading is the key to writing - a good reader sees patterns and vocabulary and is able to include it.
Sounds like you daughter lacks confidence - if at a Level 5 at primary she obviously has the basic skills. I would buy her a journal and get her to write every day in the holidays about what she has done - not to think about it too much, just to write - get her feelings and emotions down on paper. Don't judge her on it or the standard of writing - she just needs to learn the purpose of writing and start to enjoy without overanalysing. It is easy to stifle writing skills by being too technical.
There are lots of websites to get help from - but I would avoid formality and get her enjoying writing. Hope that helps

TheOnlyOliviaMumsnet (MNHQ) Sat 20-Dec-14 11:43:15

Clearly I am not a teacher but in terms of creativity, what about something like *story cubes - which could provide a framework to hang a written piece of work around?

Also nice stationery, and a non scratchy pen help imho.

*Usual HQ disclaimers apply.

OccamsLadyshave Sat 20-Dec-14 11:49:24

Hi Not

Yes she loves reading. In Y7 they did the Accelerated Reader scheme and she won a prize for reading the most words in the year group. She read 67 books in the year! She always has a book on the go or several. She's read lots of the teen stuff like Hunger Games and Lost etc, and is planning to reread the whole Harry Potter series this holidays. She read them for the first time in October half term (8 days for all 7 books!) Before that she had decided they were too scary. She read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time last week.

It's interesting that you see a relationship between reading and writing, because I definitely think that's true for most people, but it doesn't seem to work for DD. This is why I think it is a confidence problem rather than an ability problem. She has the same sort of mental block and meltdown when presented with English homework that I used to get with maths. I'm pretty sure that as soon as she believes she's good at it, the knowledge will be in there, and she'll be OK. I just don't know how to boost her confidence.

This year her school aren't doing the Accelerated Reader for Y8 (too expensive) so they are doing a book review scheme instead. Every time they read a book they are meant to review it and give their opinion. DD has only done one. She's read at least 15 books this term. The one she did she brought the sheet home and got me to help her. She was in tears at one point about how she was meant to know what ages might like the book.

Basically I don't think she's very good at not having black and white answers to things. I keep saying there isn't a wrong answer - it's all opinion.

OldRoan Sat 20-Dec-14 11:53:36

Primary school teacher here (but I have a secret desire to do secondary English). I was going to suggest story cubes, but see Olivia beat me to it.

You could also try the Literacy Shed website for ideas - there are pictures and short media clips. Your DD could talk about the story, she could write a script for the characters, she could write a short story...

If she hasn't read 'I capture the castle' it might be a good book for her - the main character is always writing in a journal and hiding away to get time alone with her thoughts. It paints a really good picture of an accessible character enjoying writing.

OccamsLadyshave Sat 20-Dec-14 12:04:11

Thanks for some more great suggestions. Sorry I cross posted due to slow typing.

Story cubes look interesting. We tried a similar approach a few years ago, but I think she's getting older now and more able to recognise what people expect, and churn it out. It doesn't come naturally to her, but she is learning to fake it IYSWIM.

The Literacy Shed looks good too, but I think the journal idea is what we'll try first. I think she needs to just write without being told her joining words are too repetitive or doesn't have enough sentence openers or different types of punctuation etc etc.

blueemerald Sat 20-Dec-14 12:06:55

You can sign up for TES and they have am enormous resources base.

You can also find all sorts of posters/resources explaining literary devices using disney films or cartoons etc, they may help her realise she already knows some of these techniques but hasn't put a label to them yet.

A task might be to come up with more examples from tv shows or films she likes. I work with students who struggle with English and they often find working with images easier than words so I use those to teach the terms and build confidence and then transfer the knowledge to print. I normally use fairytales as a first print step as most know the stories and characters.

example here

TheOnlyOliviaMumsnet (MNHQ) Sat 20-Dec-14 13:31:56

Actually - re: nice stationery an alternative tack.
I remember always struggling because I was too concise in my writing (hilarious if you know me as I am the biggest chatterbox ever and never stop talking)
I found once I could use a word processor for writing and I could easily quantify how many words I'd written and also found it easier to C&P and move pars around - not so easy once it's down on paper in ink.
Of course in exam situations and generally at school, it's WRITTEN not typed but worth a thought as well.

She could do some TV reviews too over the hols?

Best of luck to your DD - fgrin

Notinaminutenow Sat 20-Dec-14 14:13:55

Clearly an amazing reader OP. She is clearly very able, so it does sound like a confidence issue.

The journal idea is good. As are the reviews.

It is great to read a book just for the love of it and not because it is a set text. So too with writing; the chance to write freely, without it being marked and analysed may just be the key.

Happy writing...good luck.

Quitethewoodsman Sat 20-Dec-14 14:42:05

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Takver Sat 20-Dec-14 15:33:39

Does she read fanfic? Not really relevant to English levels per se, but in terms of enjoying writing, might you be able to persuade her to have a go at writing some short bits of her own?

DD never actually puts anything she writes online, but she enjoys taking the pre-existing characters and putting them in her own scenarios (Harry Potter abandoned by the Dursleys in infancy and raised by Welsh werewolves confused - I think this hasn't progressed beyond note form grin )

Takver Sat 20-Dec-14 15:39:24

And yy, good luck to your dd - maybe worth pointing out to her (depending on her long term aims) that she doesn't have to be best at English, she just has to get a decent GCSE and then she can drop it at 16 for the subjects she loves . . .

DD is like this, although she loves reading and as above enjoys her own writing, she's consistently run around 2 levels lower on her writing compared to reading/speaking (ie level 3 vs level 5, not sublevels). Basically IMO (obviously I am not her english teacher!) she just has to learn to write well enough for her own future needs, so probably most likely to be factual essays as she's really keen on the life sciences, business letters, etc - not creative.

She sounds a bit like your dd in that within the school system (ie marked and judged) she really hates things that are shades of grey, much prefers science, maths where at this level at least it's more clear cut.

OccamsLadyshave Sat 20-Dec-14 15:54:16

Takver - fanfic is a great idea. I can really imagine her going for that. I'll definitely try. And it will be Harry Potter related I'm sure!

She wants to be an engineer, and they are not known for their eloquent writing skills. She does just need to get through the next few years though.

I agree the way it's taught now isn't doing her any favours. She just needs to relax and enjoy it. Plus I think her targets are too high, which means the teachers are on her case more. They think she should be able to do it because her reading is good, but really she's not doing badly (top set, level 5) she's just around average but they want her to be higher.

Lots of good ideas. Thanks.

Takver Sat 20-Dec-14 16:14:28

Is it worth talking to her teachers about the targets? I think I'm right that a level 7 at end year 9 suggests a pupil has a fighting chance of an A at GCSE? At which point, is there any point stressing her wildly to get ahead of that, particularly if her main interests are science based anyway?

OccamsLadyshave Sat 20-Dec-14 16:37:40

Yes I will be talking about targets at parents eve in Feb.

It seems all targets were set at the beginning of Y7 based on SATs and CATs. She did well in both. I assumed they would revise them for Y8 based on Y7 results but the report we got this week shows otherwise.

Her maths target for this year is 7b. She achieved a 7b at the end of last year, and is currently working at 7a.

Her French target for this year is a 4c and she finished last year on a 4a.

Her English writing target for this year is also 7b but she finished last year on 5c and is still there now.

I don't think 5c is a terrible place to be in Y8. She's still in the top set. It's just that expectations are high because she's doing much better in other subjects. I'd be delighted if she got to L7 by the end of Y9. It seems a long way off at the moment. I agree with you that she needs to get a C, or preferably a B, so it doesn't hamper her university choices. I'm just worried that given her current attitude, she'll decide she's too rubbish and not even bother to try.

Mistletoeandwine1 Sat 20-Dec-14 16:45:17

Maybe worth having a chat with the school senco as they may have tried and tested techniques they use with pupils with Asd/asd traits who have difficulty with English writing.

OneInEight Sun 21-Dec-14 06:27:40

My ds's are diagnosed with AS and there is a large discrepancy also between their writing and reading skills. In truth they have a very spiky profile in literacy e.g. vocabulary is great but handwriting is dire so I would say as a first step try and identify the areas where your dd is struggling.

For my two it would be handwriting (we are investigating using a computer for some work) , organisation (work on essay plans or get her to write instructions for doing something where clearly it is important things are in the right order and are detailed enough), mind working ten times faster than handwriting speed (proof reading), taking questions literally, not giving enough detail in answers because they think they have answered the question with a "yes" or "no" (teaching them what is unwritten in a question e.g. 3 marks equals 3 points), perfectionism (ds1 is doing a philosophy lunch club to teach him that there is not always a right or a wrong answer which is working well), not being able to put themselves in someone else's shoes, finding it difficult to express what they feel.

Some of these are obviously easier to tackle than others and the last two may be beyond the realm of the English teacher but is something perhaps you could be working on in an informal manner at home if your dd has similar difficulties e.g. you could discuss what characters may be feeling as you watch T.V.

Takver Sun 21-Dec-14 13:00:31

Agree the thing of 'you have to make X points in order to get X marks' is an important one - it's something that some teachers seem to stress and others don't make so clear (eg in dd's Welsh homework there's often the instructions 'you have to include X different points as a minimum and use complex sentences with Y characteristics, which really helps.)

dwarfrabbit Sun 21-Dec-14 13:10:28

English teacher here. She may need a nudge for ideas for her writing. I suggest downloading entrance papers for schools ( third form entry) which are all free under admissions. They are generally divided into section A which is comprehension, and Section B which is writing inspired by the piece. The reading passage is generally engaging and interesting. Very often, the section A questions will ask about writer's effects, so she can study her lit terms in context. They take about an hour and you can then go over it in the afternoon.

TheWordFactory Sun 21-Dec-14 17:26:35

I think one skill needed to do well in English is to slow down and think about the craft the writer is using ; the words chosen, the devices used etc.

Once you start noticing these things, you can analyse them in comprehension tests etc and you can also start applying them to your own writing.

PastSellByDate Sat 27-Dec-14 09:39:47

I'm just a parent - but having similar issues with DD1 (Y7). I think it may help if your DD were to see writing tasks - and I mean any task - reports/ critique/ creative writing/ letters - as a process. In the same way she might approach a multiplication problem or an algebra equation and knows BIDMAS.

At some point there was a discussion on secondary about a writing acronym but unfortunately I can't locate it now - maybe somebody reading this may recall it.

My advice is this:

First off teachers are marking against level descriptors/ sometimes called AFF - so understanding what they're looking for for the next level/ target level and including it in your own work will help with progress. There are lots out there - but one I quickly found was this: - it's from Northern Ireland - but I think a lot of what is laid out here holds for England.

I also came across this writing tip advice:

In the US they use TEXAS as an acronym for the structure of any paragraph: T = topic/ E = Explain/ X = eXample/ A = anlaysis/ S = summary. One thing I will say is that analysis isn't just reiterating what other people think or say about an author/ issue/ topic - but your review of their arguments (well supported/ unsupported/ emotional/ logical/ etc...)and your opinion on these explanations/ views - which does not necessarily have to agree with any of them but can address something all arguments aren't addressing, or an alternative point of view etc...

Basic things to remember (just as you would with the process of a calculation in maths):

Any piece of writing needs structure - a beginning/ middle/ end - just it tends to be called introduction/ main text or argument/ conclusion. It is important to explain to the reader (because they don't fully understand your thought process) what you are going to do, then you do it, then you conclude by summarising what you've done. Kind of like the way a television documentary is organised: Tonight we're going to learn about the Moon - lots of facts and information about the moon & concludes with tonight we've learned lots about the moon and now can fully appreciate the wonderous object in our night sky which controls our tides....

With any piece of writing - if you reference your ideas/ sources of information - so websites/ newpapers/ magazines/ other books/ tv programmes etc.... and are consistent about how you do that (following school citation style, etc...) it will really help.

Vary your sentence structure - don't begin every sentence with the same word/ try to avoid using the same word over and over again.

Regardless of whether it is a critique of a book in English or a report - citing your sources of information/ doing a bit more research beyond what you were given is always a bonus - So don't just plagiarise what wikipedia says about a chemical element (as DD1 recently attempted) - set yourself a goal of looking at at least 3 independent sources of information on your chemical element (or any other topic/ fill in the blank). Paraphrase - write in your own words - don't just copy.

Research - in English criticism ask yourself whether this story is similar to other stories (by the same author or others)/ is the author adapting a well known story? i.e. is Pride & Prejudice really an update of Taming of the Shrew?/ find out more about the author (s/he's writing from the heart/ experience/ political viewpoint/ etc...). All much easier with the internet.

Going that little way beyond writing about George Orwell's Animal Farm and just talking about your interaction with the book - but finding out who George Orwell was/ what (may have) inspired him to write the book/ how it was received when initially published/ how it is considered today - will all help to make your work stand out. Was this his first book? Was this his final book? Did it relate to his working life? What 'genre' would this book fall into - not just fiction - but would it be political commentary? Dystopic future vision? Fantasy? etc.... Has the story gone on to inspire other writers/ cinema/ etc....

With research papers - so let's take the element project - don't just rattle off a list of information (as DD1 did initially with how her element was used without understanding exactly what that meant). If you're
discussing something and don't know much about it or understand what it means/ how it's used - find out more. (again easy with the internet).

PLAN - before your write really think about what it is you're trying to do - answer a question/ explain why you like a book and what particularly you like about it/ research into a topic a bit further/ report information to someone who knows nothing about the topic/ etc.... Take the time to think up ideas/ outline your paper (basic structure)

Finally - and many people forget this - presentation is half the battle - put the time in to write out your work neatly (if hand-written), or lay out your work (with images/ drawings/ diagrams/ graphs etc...) clearly and in an eye-pleasing way. A good presentation can make up for a lot of weaknesses in your text. Certainily DD1 keeps making the mistake of writing reports/ essays immediately into her class workbooks - instead of working up a draft.

I can see that ASD can make this transition to a more mature writing style difficult - there may be resistance to learning these new approaches initially - but from this point forward (right up to University) these are the basic skills you need to succeed. My DH deals with this kind of issue a lot at University (in his Welfare/ Tutor roles) - and he advises that if these don't work you should speak to the SENCo - because this is holding back your DD and it does sound like she could use a bit more support with this.



Notinaminutenow Sat 27-Dec-14 12:05:05

In secondary phase good presentation does not "make up for a lot of weaknesses in your text". Our English teachers (and DS's) look only at the appropriateness of the content and whether it has answered the task set. They could not be less interested in pretty pictures and graphics unless they are directly relevant and add to the work.

They don't even comment on handwriting unless it is illegible.

They look at how the children use language to convey meaning, understanding, emotion, drama. How the child evokes empathy in the reader for a character that is seemingly devoid of any redeeming features.

OP there are some great ideas up thread that are undemanding and will introduce your bright and focused daughter to some of the skills she needs for effective & interesting creative writing. A chat with her a English teacher & SENCo at the start of term may be useful for additional strategies.

PastSellByDate Sun 28-Dec-14 12:22:24

Notaminute raises a good point - and it probably is true for English - but (and I can only speak for our little corner of Birmingham) presentation in other subjects (well laid out/ nicely structured report/ display/ poster/ web page/ etc....) does seem to count.


TheReluctantCountess Sun 28-Dec-14 12:27:07

I'm an English teacher. I recommend the BBC bite size website.

Also, get her to think about the characters in the books she reads - and emphasise that there are no wrong answers because it's all opinion.
She should think about why the writer has created the characters - are we meant to like them or not? Are we meant to learn anything from them?

If the book is an old one, have things changed? Would a reader back then have thought differently to us now?

And keep telling her that there is no wrong answer - that's the beauty of English!

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