WriteOnline Success Story

Northfield Secondary School

Duncan Anderson – Assistant SENCo / Progress Group Lead

At Northfield we have a number of Progress Groups – small groups of students who are struggling to make any real progress in their lessons. One particular weak area for many of these students is literacy skills; a number of them have very good subject knowledge, but struggle to convey this effectively in written form.

So, we decided to use some of our Pupil Premium funding to invest in tools that would help develop their literacy levels. Our LA SEND advisor recommended WriteOnline, and we asked one of Crick Software’s Education Consultants to come in and give the staff a demonstration. We were impressed by its potential and decided to invest in a Site License.

The Progress Group I teach is made up of 12 Year 8 students. They come to me for 15 lessons a week – I teach them English, History, Geography, RE…everything except the more practical modules, such as those required in Science or Design Technology.  We use WriteOnline to support writing in all my lessons, as both a teaching and learning tool.

This cross-curricular flexibility that WriteOnline offers is key; I have students who are verbally working at quite high levels in History and Geography, Level 5 say, but are a Level 3 in their written work. Unfortunately they can’t just talk; they have to learn how to express themselves in their written work too, and WriteOnline has really helped them to start demonstrating their true knowledge and understanding in this way.

The chief way I use WriteOnline is as a way of modelling writing. Often we will start off as a class and work together to build a word bank for a particular topic, discussing which words and phrases are important to include.  The students can then use this as a support tool as they write.

One of the really positive outcomes I have noticed since we started using WriteOnline is the students’ increased focus and concentration in their lessons.

I also create specific word banks and writing frames for them, which is really easy to do. I often look at the free word banks Crick provides via their LearningGrids site for a bit of inspiration and to get ideas about the types of things I can create. We were recently working on the topic of slavery, for which the students had to write a diary about being captured. As a rule, their sentence starters tend to be quite weak, so I created a word bank of more effective sentence starters for them to use, helping them move from creating a Level 3 piece of writing to something at a Level 4. The word banks are also a really great way to just get them going with a new piece of work, which can often be the hardest part!

When the children are working on their own, WriteOnline’s speech feedback comes into its own. They all have access to their own computer and headphones, so they are able to listen back to their work privately, as many times as they need to. This has really helped with their punctuation skills in particular; by listening, they realise when something doesn’t sound quite right and add in the necessary commas, full stops etc. to fix it. We tell students all the time that they need to re-read and check their work, which on the whole they don’t like to do. However, they are quite happy to listen to it, so WriteOnline really encourages this active review process, which is such an important part of writing.

One of the really positive outcomes I have noticed since we started using WriteOnline is the students’ increased focus and concentration in their lessons. Around half of the group I teach have social and behavioural difficulties, which often impact on what they are able to achieve in a class environment. If they’re using WriteOnline, they will sit for 20-25 minutes at a time, independently creating a piece of text. If they were attempting the same kind of task without WriteOnline, they would need a lot more support and teacher time to try and keep them engaged!

We intend to roll it out across the school so that even more students can use it, including all of our other Progress Groups in Years 7, 8 and 9.

I’ve also noticed that the students don’t rush their work like they used to, they really seem to take their time with it and take ownership of it. They definitely take more risks with their writing too - because it’s on screen, it’s easy to make changes without having permanent ‘crossings out’, and they have access to all the tailored support WriteOnline provides, so they are so much more adventurous with their language and writing structures.

We’ve had a lot of success with WriteOnline so far, but I think we still have a long way to go to harness its full potential. Next, we intend to roll it out across the school so that even more students can use it, including all of our other Progress Groups in Years 7, 8 and 9, those with specific language difficulties and students struggling with dyslexia. It’s a great resource.