One good thing COVID-19 did for me was to give me the space to reflect and evaluate. For several years, I had felt there needed to be new thinking on my messages about the cruciality of talk in improving children’s writing and the absolute need for expanding their vocabulary. This had been my mission for a quarter of a century and so many schools and children had benefited from that work. But now there was surely new research to be studied, new trials to be conducted and new messages to be developed? And repeated lockdowns and incarceration gave me the incentive to start.

And what rewards there were to be reaped. Not just in the main explicit messages about my particular area of interest – now a high priority for the government but still not, in the main, well researched – but also in associated aspects of English. I became so motivated by some gems that I included them in the opening chapter of the new publication, a behaviour I have not previously shown as I have always insisted that I want my education books to be easily accessed and easily understood by the many overworked teachers with little time for personal professional development in their home lives.

Now, however, I was suddenly having new thoughts and ideas both in the areas my work had covered in the past and in associated aspects I had not previously addressed – such as national messages on early approaches to spelling with young children. Knowing that many subscribers to the Talk:Write approach might be familiar with my messages, it was clearly right and proper to acknowledge some of the sources of adaptations.

Writing was slow to get started. It was crucial to reflect and to trial adaptations and new ideas, but it was also crucial to allow time to develop not just a series of new messages, but a complete programme that reflects the high priorities not only in oracy in literacy, but also current and future curriculum design and the many other pressures on schools and teachers.

Talk:Write is a programme that embraces the need to meet new learning and vocabulary in around 12 exposures across a range of contexts and activities in order to guarantee retention in long-term memory. The research underpinning this need was confirming for me and enabled me to strengthen my assertions as to its importance in extending and enhancing the quality of children’s spoken and written language. Further research reinforced the cruciality of turn-taking in conversation with and amongst children, for this is the motivator for new learning and the embedding of language… and seeing new interpretations of the excellent research by my guru – Dr Todd Risley – on the importance of the involvement of babies from birth in this process as they begin to respond vocally to the interactions of their parents and carers.

Similarly, my new investigations into the codes of speech in the English language also led to increased emphasis on the whole issue of how to enable all children in English speaking schools to become confident and articulate in Standard English, whilst protecting their love for and pride in their communities and respect for their cultures. This programme emphasises repeatedly the need for communities to understand that the accents and dialects they exhibit are not a detriment and must not be denigrated, while at the same time understanding that their children need to be bilingual in English – speaking in their community tongue when at home and in Standard English in lessons and in more formal situations. Exploring issues in this section of the programme reinforced the need to retain my maxim of the last 21 years – that if a child can’t say it, a child can’t write it – and to further extend the thinking to a new maxim:

If a child can say it in Standard English, a child can write it in Standard English.

As the programme grew and developed, its possibilities became more and more exciting to me. Here was an approach that could be addressed from the start as a whole-school initiative that embraced all elements from the start, or that could be tackled element by element in priority order until total immersion was achieved. This led to a total restructure of the supporting publication to enable that potential for immersion or separation.

The whole programme became clearly sub-divided into sections on The 5 Codes of Speech, The 5 Features of Suave Language, The 5 ‘S’ System for Spelling, The Suave Writing Session and thorough guidance on planning for integration of the programme with minimal disruption to the timetable and current or future curriculum. We were surprised at how frequently aspects of the programme proved to be addressed in clusters of 5 elements. This was not planned – it just repeatedly proved to be a reality. I do not know why this is and it would take different research to identify the cause, but if anyone already has the answer, we would love to hear from them.

In addition, there is a whole section on the teaching of children who are new to English – an aspect of teaching that many teachers are unfamiliar with, and that is increasingly becoming much needed. This chapter should be of interest to all as the same techniques can be effective when working with very young children and with all children who are struggling with their learning or elements of the curriculum. Every section of the programme is rigorously supported by teaching advice and strategies, accompanied by interesting and fun ideas and activities to embed learning. For, as the research tells us, if the is joy there is learning, but if there is no joy there is little learning.

Finally, we produced around 4 hours of video for whole-school professional development that enables a school to either prioritise a whole or half day of CPD to enjoy them all whilst embedding the system, to tackle each issue individually through staff meetings or for individuals to watch as time allows. Unlimited, whole-school access to the programme ensures that staff can dip in and out, rewatching and reinforcing their learning, whilst newly appointed staff can be given the same quality professional development as the school experienced initially.

Win, win, win!


A fun and flexible approach to improving children’s vocabulary, speech, and writing.

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