The Never-Fail Method (that really works)

The Never-Fail Method (that really works)

Emily Robinson Leclair, Community Learning Network

0 0 21 May 2024

My granny had a "Never-Fail" pastry recipe that she passed on to my dad. He makes the very best pastry. This year he decided I needed to learn how to make the pastry myself. He’s been talking about this for several years now, so I decided it was time to give it a try. It’s never-fail, after all.

And yet, the "Never-Fail" pastry recipe failed. Miserably. It could not be rescued. My Dad took the flour, lard, egg, vinegar, and water that I had over incorporated and chucked the whole thing in the trash.

He remains the pastry chef in the family.

Thankfully, I’m not here to tell you how to make pie dough. Instead, I would like to share a never-fail method that works 100% of the time, for everyone who tries it, regardless of their experience level.

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Written by Kate Nonesuch, the Never-Fail Writing Method is the culmination of 35+ years of her experience as an adult literacy and adult basic education practitioner. Kate’s approach to instruction is learner-centred and inclusive. She explains:

When I began to teach adult literacy, I knew my learners already had experience with failing to make the grade — most likely, they were the people who had got C’s, D’s and F’s in elementary school. That experience had made them sure they couldn’t write, had filled their heads with a dozen half-remembered rules they weren’t sure how to practice in their writing, and left them with a fear of putting pen to paper.

They needed a never-fail method for improving their writing. 

So, Kate set out to explore a new way of supporting learners that focused on what they were doing right. In its simplest form the Never-Fail Writing Method supports writers by asking practitioners to choose a favourite sentence from the writing sample the learner has provided.

In every piece, no matter how short or full of mistakes, there will be something wonderful: a word, an image, a joke, an example that gets the point across, or something that makes the reader smile or cry or remember. That is good writing.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg! The genius of the Never-Fail Writing Method is that in addition to building confidence, there are many other benefits for learners:

  • Learners notice their skills growing. Their previous experience with writing has been hearing over and over again all the ways they are wrong, but here the value in their work is recognized and celebrated.
  • Learners’ success builds a generosity of spirit, which leads them to participate actively in the success of others.
  • The writing group builds a strong and positive community, because everyone has something to teach to, and learn from, others. Interacting in a positive way with each other's writing helps form a co-operative working group in the classroom.

And their writing? Learners model good writing for themselves and for other learners:

  • Learners write more often, and they write longer, clearer, and more interesting pieces. Grammar and sentence structure improve. Punctuation improves.
  • Learners hear and benefit from the feedback given to other learners, so that the effectiveness of the work the practitioner does in responding to one learner’s work is multiplied by the number of learners who hear it.
  • Learners take an active role in analyzing what makes writing good. They are asked to give feedback in accordance with their increasing ability to verbalize the qualities of good writing.
  • Learners learn to think of their audience. They develop a stronger interest in editing and proofreading their work when they see that it helps other learners to understand the writing, and to read it the way the writer intended.
  • Learners begin to edit more carefully. What will engage the reader? What will help them understand? What will persuade them? Learners begin to articulate an analysis of what makes one choice of words or one type of organization better than another. Thinking about the audience and careful editing are the foundations of skilled writing.

The Never-Fail Writing Method is not as simple as it looks. In fact, the brilliance of this method is captured in the nuance. The invisible part of the Never-Fail Writing Method is the most difficult thing for practitioners to embrace: Ignore bad writing. It will go away.

Now, if you, like me, are thinking "Excuse me? What? No way! I can’t do that."

I am here to reassure you. Yes, you can. Kate does. In the Never-Fail Writing Method Kate shares:

I do not comment on any errors in the writing group. Not one. Not ever. I am making a safer space for learners to take risks in trying something new. I am trying to get rid of learners’ feelings of terror at the blank page, and I want to encourage people to write more and write better. I do this by giving specific feedback about what is working in their writing. I do it by creating an atmosphere of positive feelings and co-operation and camaraderie.

To answer the question on everyone’s mind, “But do you never tell a learner something is wrong?” Kate provides her response below:

Unlike my granny’s "Never-Fail" pastry recipe, this method works.

The Never-Fail Writing Method content shows: 

  • how to respond positively to a piece of writing, no matter how many mistakes are in it; 
  • how learners can learn to pick out what is good about any piece of writing; 
  • how learners apply what they see in other learners’ writing to their own writing; 
  • how to use the Never-Fail Writing Method to teach specific aspects of writing style or grammar.   

You can find the Never-Fail Writing Method e-Learning here:



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