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Published in Literacy

Pinker on Drafting

We can all agree that many students find drafting torturous. So how can you persuade them that it really is a necessary step in writing? Steven Pinker has written numerous books on psychology and language and knows a thing or two about drafting. Here’s what he has to say on the topic.

The Writing

I’m sure many students think teachers invented the curse of drafting simply to torture them with boredom. It might be enlightening, therefore, for them to know the degree to which professional writers draft and check their own work. 

Steven Pinker is meticulous in this. Unbelievably so in fact. Let me quote him on his practice: 

I rework every sentence a few times before going to the next, and revise the whole chapter two or three times before I show it to anyone. Then, with feedback in hand, I revise each chapter twice more before circling back and giving the entire book at least two complete passes of polishing. Only then does it go to the copy editor, who starts another couple of rounds of tweaking.”

The Reading of the Writing

Showing your work to others, as well as re-visiting your writing after a period of time, are two highly effective ways of preparing your writing. Another is to read it aloud. 

Pinker warns that prose that’s hard to pronounce will almost certainly be hard for someone else to comprehend”. Reading your sentences aloud, even in a mumble, forces you to anticipate the difficulties your readers will experience. Stilted writing will be difficult to read aloud with any sort of meaning. 

The Little Voice

Reading your work out loud may seem incongruous if you believe speed reading companies, and others, who claim that fluent readers move from print to thought with no movement of their lips. Not so, according to research Pinker points to. Skilled readers do, indeed, have the presence of their little voice in their head throughout their reading experience. 

Graphic Organiser HOW2s

The graphic organiser HOW2s were designed with the reading phase built in. At the end of the sequence of collecting, culling, chunking, connecting and chaining ideas, there is the final process: communicating. Students need to read out their graphic organiser, turning the key words into sentences. 

While the visual links between the key words are meaningful, they lack the necessary syntax of sentences. The gap between the two — map and writing — is best bridged by students reading out their work, adding the syntax in a natural way. 

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As he looked over his class, Matt Smith, an NQT at Nine Mile Ride primary school in Berkshire, noticed there were too many pupils just coasting during his plenary. This had become a bit of a pattern recently. So he decided to do something about it before his next observation.

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