I can’t remember the last time I asked a pupil to do a PEE paragraph, I’m sure in the right hands it can effective. However, in my hands it becomes a mind forged mangling mechanism. In goes an excellent idea, outcomes a blanding. I’m not sure if that is because I don’t really understand the procedure, or if the structure itself is flawed. Perhaps structures themselves are THE problem, but more on that later.

I’ve never really been clear on what the P is and it seems too quick to jump the final E after one piece of dropped evidence. P stands for point, of course, but what does that mean? Surely every part of the paragraph should contain, or advance the ‘point.’ To my mind, P only ever ends up as a pointless sentence- “I think the writer build tension by using metaphors, ‘(INSERT SIMILE) This makes us imagine things which are tense more clearly, which makes them more tense.” Of course, I’m sure this is not what most people find being produced but it is what I received, and I’m also sure I wasn’t alone.

In writing to a structure, we do limit ourselves: that is inevitable. The issue is how to take someone from understanding a text, to manipulating their understanding into a structured paragraph without limiting them to a structure. I’m not sure this is possible, in learning anything new the beginning has to be rigid and structured.

Structure it.

I think the first thing to do is to teach them a structure…. one that has been thought about deeply. As counter intuitive as that sounds, given what I’ve just said, the start point has to be a process else students are simply left to flounder.

  • Topic sentence – State, label evidence, explain.
  • Narrow- Word class, clause or phrase- Quote- Explore.
  • Only Connect- Remind, hint, link.
  • Intention/impact- Audience/reader impact, authorial purpose: message, structure, characterization.

I’ve aimed to hit the criteria for successful English analysis, the fact that this is a general approach means that there are settings where a specific adjustment needs to be made. For example, when comparing poems students need to remember to order their ideas in a fluent way and use connectives in their topic sentences.

Commit it.

Remembering things changes our brains permanently. Once the language is committed it can be played with- but never before!

I recently explained this with an analogy that I think holds water- it is somewhat like a Jazz musician learning the chords, before attempting to be productively discordant. It is the product element that cannot be achieved with a good grounding in the conventions of the thing itself.

In committing it to memory they also get to rehearse verbally, and mentally before recording. I always think this is the best form of proof-reading.

Manipulate it.

I think it is important to spend time actively teaching them how to manipulate the structure. Some of this time will need to be devoted to language learning. What does suggest actually mean? Is it different to connotes or implies? Before instructing the pupils on how to toy with key phrases, to give the illusion of free flowing improvised structure.

Forget it (forward)

The processing is then to slowly strip the structure back, almost inviting the students to forget it and remember their own ideas.

I invest heavily in what I refer to as the ‘Yoda technique’- muddle the words but keep the meaning. The students are given a ‘base form’ of each step (as shown below) and then they re-word it.

“The use of the verb ‘sprinted’ by Almond positions the reader to…..” becomes “In using the verb ‘sprinted’ Almond positions us to feel….”

There will be occasions whereby they need to be reminded that certain things need to be included, or of particular phrases but for the most part this is a pretty straightforward process.

Developing flair.

The next stage in development is to model how to display flair and shortcut certain elements of the process. For instance, Kate Ashford recently blogged about ‘show sentences’and while certain parts of this process concern me, this is undoubtedly an excellent way of developing flair. The use of adjectives attached to the characters shortcuts a lot of analytical waffle. Similarly Doug Lemov’s golden sentences, explained here, offers a scaffold for deeper, more analytical thinking- but more importantly forces students to use the language of analysis to explain the thoughts they already have.

Marking it.

The fantastic thing about sharing a structure is, you’ve just planned your marking or peer assessment. You share a language with your pupils. They know what your DIRT targets mean, and frankly they are annoyed at themselves for not having remembered it in the first place!

Recently I taught my year 9’s, who’ve used this system extensively- I’d planned for what I thought would’ve been a ‘lively’ lesson. They came in, read the poem, wrote the paragraphs, and gallery critiqued each other in silence. The only energy we had was when one boy disagreed with a girl about the intention of the description “black snow.” It was a lesson where I could easily have gone to the shops for ice-creams. The simple reason for this autonomy was a series of shared process, both in analysing the poem and in writing the paragraphs. All that remained for me to do was check for misunderstandings and hand out different coloured pens.

I create the targets based on the sequence (Topic sentence , narrow, Only Connect, intention/impact.) So far, there has not been a mistake that these targets couldn’t point to. If they fall short, I’ll adapt them or create banks of specific questions.My colleague Marie Maloney recently introduced me to Dialogue Marking Questions (DMQs)  these would provide the perfect solution. You simply write 5/6 questions of the sort you would normally ask in lessons related to a specific quotation, assign each question a number, and push the students thinking back toward the right process.

Take away

This is not the finished product for me. There is a way of blending this with what I do to teach students vocabulary and terminology- this third way will probably utilise Katie Ashford and Doug Lemov’s ideas. I know that I need to work on helping students to forget forward- but I also need to think carefully about what being discordant/creative/divergent means in analytical writing. Perhaps the writing itself is actually formulaic and the idea is the divergent part, but I feel flair is a vital part of analysis. It is, almost, a creative art in itself.