In the relatively short time I have been
blogging and using Twitter, I have been fascinated, helped and enraged by the manifold posts I have read on writing; I have even been moved to write two of my own.
Although I am not an English specialist, I am a linguist by background (first degree in Scandinavian Studies since you’re asking), with a particular interest in the teaching of writing in primary schools. To that end, I am intrigued that relatively little (unless I am missing posts, which is entirely possible) is written about those aspects of children’s learning and development which success in writing is dependent: speaking, listening and reading. This post is an attempt to loosely articulate my thoughts on a teaching method I have employed for some time: the horribly pretentious sounding ‘triple salvo’.
Perhaps this is me, but isn’t an incredible part of teaching hearing children employ language in ways that surprise you, in ways that make you laugh at the audacity of their use, in ways that make you hunt down colleagues just to share what X has said or written?
When I started teaching, I resolved to enhance the vocabulary of every child I taught. To tell the truth, I didn’t know if I was capable of doing any more than that; I still don’t think there is anything more important we can do.
And so on to the so-called ‘triple salvo’ (a name which to see in writing is making me wince). As a product of nothing more than my own desire to play with words, I began to develop a theory of using ‘hierarchies’ of three words and / or phrases as I spoke to my classes: to borrow a much-derided term, a ‘must, could and should’ of vocabulary. This is much simpler than I may have made it sound. For (a not-very-high-quality) example, if I needed a show of hands I would ask the children to ‘hold your hands aloft; raise your hands; put your hands up if…’ and found that whilst at the first attempt ‘hold your hands aloft’ led to confusion, the clarification provided by
the following two instructions of ‘raise your hands’ and ‘put your hands up’ meant that in a very short period of time I was able to remove the scaffold they provided and use the ‘higher order’ language as a matter of course.
In my teaching now, I use this strategy daily; it offers almost unlimited opportunities to teach new vocabulary and phrases in every area of the curriculum: huge gains for very little input. Of course, as oral language patterns and structures becomes embedded so they reveal themselves in writing and the impact of working on a ‘triple salvo’ of verbs, adjectives, adverbs is often immediate and sustained.
So, please endeavour, attempt, try to use the triple salvo or, at the very least, let me know of a less ridiculous name for it.