The Hackney Story

‘I love the idea ‘that no one that has ever lived could have produced this writing’ and use that quote regularly in my class.’ South Hackney Teacher.

In February 2009, The Oracy Writing Process was successfully implemented in 22 Hackney schools for years 3/4. At the end of the twelve days Process 96% of the children assessed showed significant or major improvement in their writing levels, progressing from between 1 sub level to 3 sub levels. The significant success of the Process in substantially raising the levels of writing among Hackney children is due to children and teachers discovering that the seed of a story is the image, and the fundamental tool for writing is the voice.

(Data provided by the Hackney Learning Trust 2009)

‘Mahira now writes confidently and voluntarily shares her writing in class. Her enjoyment in her work has increased and she won a London wide poetry competition after completing the Process.’ South Hackney Teacher. [At the end of the twelve days Process Mahira’s writing level had risen from 3b to 4c]

The writing generated by this Process, displayed authorship. It showed knowledge and awareness of a readership. In some it revealed an emotional connection with the characters and developed them into rounded and complete people conditioned and affected by setting. The writing patterns reflected oral language patterns and revealed improved narrative structures. It was creative and original and owned by the writer.

For me it was the qualitative improvements that were most satisfying. Oracy is not an activity that can easily be stuck on to a traditional lesson structure and regular classroom practice. It demands space, both vocal and actual. It needs a gateway for the playground, outside and home based story-making experience to enter into the teaching and learning environment. It requires practitioners to cede dominance of their talk and children to be stimulated to create and perform in a secure, trusting environment.

For teachers a refreshed and revitalised practice subsists within the Process The Process is diminished unless everyone in the group feels joyfully compelled to celebrate the achievements with smiles and laughter, including the teacher.

‘I thoroughly enjoyed this new approach to storytelling and writing. After teaching for 7 years using the usual approach, I welcomed this new way. Oracy to Writing offers a wonderful way to explore ideas and develop the art of storytelling in a very special atmosphere developed through rituals and the use of space.’ North Hackney Teacher.

I was inspired by and learned from every teacher who undertook the training. They all approached and delivered the Process enthusiastically, and immediately began tailoring it to their own needs. Through this they found that in all areas their practice was refreshed and revitalised. They developed a keener understanding and appreciation of the child’s voice and began to recognise the different voices and the functions they fulfilled. They became aware of the fundamental value of Oracy and storytelling as a teaching and learning tool. With increased confidence throughout the Process all were able to cede vocal space to the children. They all expressed surprise at the speed and quality of some of the children’s Oracy, and it was not uncommon to see certain of them holding their sides whilst a young storyteller had the class on a roar. By the end of the Process every comparable lesson by all teachers was slightly different, reflecting the unique nature of every class of children. Through this they began to adapt the Process to other areas of the curriculum and practice. They all felt they would use the whole or parts of the Process again outside of the literacy hour.

The achievements of the children in Oracy were remarkable. The fundamental essence of the Process is that it gives the children permission and encouragement to access their spoken language. It goes on to give them form and structure for that language to develop. It presents them with an outcome and a reward for their achievements by linking them to writing. Throughout the 12 lessons and with the progressive nature of the exercises the children began to discover much about themselves.

They learnt that the images they produce when seeing a story have enormous value, as well as being a pleasurable undertaking. The use of the private voice for purpose became for them a sharp and discriminating tool. They revelled in the discovery and enrichment of the public voice while the lessons themselves gave encouragement and support to the assured voice. Their Oracy became self-assessing, tailoring itself to the demands and requirements of the audience. They practiced critical listening and through that, critical analysis, which they found was a further stimulus to speaking. They began to transfer the creative, shared environment that begets and encourages the living, breathing story-maker, into the solitary but beautiful world of the creative writer.

‘It has been beautiful to see kids become so switched on with regard to literacy. They have become more creative and flexible in their approach to literacy sessions. No longer seeing it as a rigid unchanging process.’South Hackney Teacher.

The educational benefits to children of increased oracy in the classroom is clear, this is evidenced from the increase in writing levels, but there is also the qualitative benefit of the increase in children’s confidence, communication and social skills.

The modernisation of classrooms and teaching and learning techniques reflecting our technologically advanced society should not displace the elemental belief understood and practiced by teachers in past times; that achievement in Oracy is the most powerful tool to engage in life-long learning. Personal and learning development in Oracy and the raising of children’s confidence is not just for the literacy lesson; it is a life skill.