Friday, October 28, 2016

Learning To Read Like Writers

Reading Like Writers

To think how a teacher of writing would read, we must start by thinking how a writer would read. We also need to teach our students to read in this way, but only after we have helped them become ‘someone who writes.’

I believe the following strategy I first saw used by Katie Wood Ray provides an excellent framework for identifying writing craft in a text:

1. Notice something about the craft of the text
2. Talk about it and make a theory about why a writer might use this craft
3. Give the craft a name
4. Think of other texts you know. Have you seen this craft before?
5. Try and envision using this crafting in your own writing

Source: Katie Wood Ray

General Observations About Texts

  • What’s the text about?
  • How does this help us think about topic selection?
  • What is the author’s approach to writing?
  • Is there more than one form operating within the text?
  • Who is narrating the piece?
  • Does the text teach us about character development?
  • What viewpoint is the text taking?    

Text Construction
  • How does it start?
  • How does it end?
  • How does the text move?
  • Is dialogue used?
  • Are there explanations?
  • How does the title relate to the text?

Making the Language Work
  • What punctuation choices has the writer made?
  • What work are the parts of speech doing?
  • What paragraph work do you see the writer doing?
  • Is print used in interesting ways?
  • What sounds good in the text?
  • What is the writer doing with sentences?

     Questions Related to Picture Books
  •  What illustrating approach is used?
  •  How do the illustrations relate to the text?
  •  Where are the words in relation to the illustrations?

Every one of these questions provide us with information we can know about writing -It is curriculum!

The things we notice about well constructed texts help us to understand what the text has to offer. We learn to trust, and with experience we begin to see possibilities everywhere. We read with renewed purpose. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Assisting Young Writers To Develop A Sense of Setting

A Sense of Place


The inexperienced writer often pays scant attention to this important element of their writing. As a consequence, their readers are provided with an incomplete vision of where the actual story is being played out. It is important to draw attention to the way experienced writers use words to create strong visual images to deliver a strong sense of setting.

The setting or place, creates the world in which the characters live and struggle. In this world, the plot unfolds. Something will happen!

Setting and Your SENSES
When you think of a setting, describing it using your senses provides the writer with so much fertile thought for building a backdrop.

•             Touch
•             Smell
•             Sight
•             Sound
•             Taste
The setting can be used in many ways in a piece of writing.
A brief description of a place is an excellent way to set the scene at the beginning of a piece of writing. It gives the reader time to feel at home before moving into the real action. Remember, a setting does NOT have to mean a large place! Place could be as small as a cupboard, a drawer, a branch of a tree.

Check these examples out:

‘During the protests for the homeless people, we were always rushing here and there so Mum got lots of parking tickets for parking in the wrong places. She’d just throw them onto the floor of the car and drive home. Whenever we got in and out of the car we’d step onto those parking tickets. After a while the tickets got trampled in with all the coffee cups and spilled coffee and napkins and wrappers and newspapers on the floor of the car. A little while longer and the tickets got mouldy and you’d smell them whenever you got in the car…’
Rebecca, Grade 4 writer

Jedda was utterly embarrassing and I had to share a bedroom with her. She made stables out of furniture on her side of the room and slept in them instead of her proper bed. She ate in there too, which I didn’t think was very hygienic. There was always a long line of ants parading across the bedroom floor after Jedda’s left over jam sandwiches and soggy cornflakes.’
Hating Alison Ashley, Robin Klein

'Amber lived in a city so big it took hours to drive through traffic snarled avenues from one side to the other. Skyscrapers loomed like granite mountains against a hazy blue sky –and the air made you sick. It was thick and soured with pollutants. Still, for all that man-made ugliness, Amber was content. For city people had parks, museums, theatres and libraries where she could be transported to other worlds.'
Amber on the Mountain, by Tony Johnston

In the following piece, I am  modelling my own writing about a setting that loomed large during my childhood. It is important that as teachers we model how we write about various aspects of writing:

The forest had a magical feel to it. It began directly where our fence line ended. - A magical place to run, hide or explore. We found snakes and lizards. We heard kookaburras. Bright orange fungi sprouted out of fallen logs. Some distance into the forest, there was a clearing that sloped away down the valley. At the base, spring water trickled out of the side of the hill. Just a little beyond that, a creek snaked slowly through the forest. In some places it flowed in a thin ribbon. You could leap over it easily.

The forest surrounding the creek created shadows and dappled light where the sunlight squeezed through the canopy of trees. Ancient timbers towered high into the heavens. It was a damp cool place most of the year with a distinctive odour of rotting leaves and bark. Moss covered logs, frogs and leeches were forest features. The creek was the natural home of native blackfish, rainbow trout and yabbies. On occasions wallabies visited this tranquil place, grazing on the grasses covering the hillside above the creek line. At various times, sightings of echidnas and wombats were greeted with a sense of wonder. Standing in this place delivered a sense of calm.

Have students talk about settings they are familiar with in their own life, or settings they clearly recall from books they have read. Encourage them to jot down ideas for settings in their notebooks. It might be useful to investigate examples of writing where a strong sense of setting comes through to the reader. Collect and display exemplary extracts of text where setting is prominently featured.

Consider This:
Rewrite an existing piece of writing that deals with a setting.
Place yourself in a different setting.
Write about a setting in which an animal or insect may live.

Consider This:
'Meaningful Place' Strategy
Think of a meaningful place.
It could be anything from the kitchen table in your home to your favorite place in the world.

List small moments related to that place, then choose one of those moments to focus your writing upon.

Assisting Young Writers To Compose Effective Narratives

The Full Story About Narratives

Before young writers can begin to develop a more distinctive storyteller’s voice, we must assist them to understand that writing becomes more personal when the topic or focus of their writing is limited to a specific moment in time. The closer they can get to a small moment, the more the writing comes to life for the reader. Then, if they can link more than one of these special moments along a timeline, a sense of storytelling emerges for the reader. 

Writers are essentially story tellers. They frequently tell their stories many times over before they are transformed into words. We must allow the inexperienced writers in our care to practice the art of telling their stories to different audiences. Doing this establish the story more fully in the mind of the writer. This is particularly important with our youngest writers.

            If your students are writing focused and clear narratives but you are not gaining a sense of the storyteller’s voice in the words, this is where the teaching focus needs to be. 

The challenge is to raise the young writer’s sense of story. It is important for the developing writer to understand the role of the narrator. Are they aware of the narrator’s viewpoint in telling the story?  This is the story within the story. What mood is created by the words?  How is the plot unfolding? What is the author doing to draw in the reader? How is the author using the power of words to evoke a response from the reader?

All writers seek to influence or persuade their readers. Whether they are writing fiction or non-fiction. Think about the way Roald Dahl, master story teller that he was influenced our opinions of the characters in his stories. We felt a strong sense of empathy for Matilda and we despised the horrendous behaviour of The Trunchbull. Similarly readers were revolted by Mr and Mrs Twit. Dahl influenced our thinking through his clever word choice and crystal clear description.

When students are able to envision the telling of their stories in this way, they can begin to write in a way that draws the reader closer. When we approach the teaching of writing this way it assists the developing writer to include a sense of dramatic tension.

There are many craft strategies that can be used to develop the storytelling skills of young writers. Show, don’t tell assists the reader to visualize events in a story. The inside/outside strategy allows the readers to gain a sense of a character’s internal thought processes. This takes the writing beyond descriptions of the physical world and external actions.

Developing a stronger sense of setting and characters are both vital to the storytelling craft. Dialogue can be used to reveal characters and move the story forward. It is also important to teach young writers about the role of paragraphing to highlight specific details.

I often discuss with young writers the need to tease and tantalize the reader. ‘Don’t tell them everything at once,’ I remind them. ‘Don’t blurt out everything too quickly. It’s not a race, you are telling a story and the writer controls time and events. What power you have at your fingertips. You decide how much information is given and how quickly it is revealed.’

 We often investigate how our favourite authors teach us about pacing our stories at different speeds.  They vary the pace. They expand moments. They move through time quickly on occasions. Not all events in a story are given equal attention.

Storytelling is a craft. The best writing makes you think. The writing causes you to question and wonder. As teachers we need to reveal to our students, the whole story about the craft of storytelling.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Teaching Young Writers To Unpack Heavy Sentences

Unpacking a heavy sentence!

Have you ever noticed how sometimes when you read, you come to a sentence that makes you keen to know more?

Some sentences have a lot of ideas packed inside them. They prompt the asking of questions. You just know that if you were able to open them up like a suitcase there would be more interesting things to discover.

If we can identify those sentences heavy with hidden ideas, we provide ourselves with opportunities to unpack them and share such magic with our readers.

Student writers frequently write sentences begging to be unpacked. All too often, their readers are left hanging because the writer fails to unpack the loaded words. The curious reader is left unfulfilled. 

Experienced writers undertake such craft moves regularly. Here are some heavy sentences written by Morris Gleitzmann. Notice the way Morris follows up and unpacks them in the sentences that follow.

‘I wake up. My neck is stiff and my eyes hurt in the sunlight and I’ve got breadcrumbs stuck to my face.’

Boy Overboard, Morris Gleitzmann

‘She looks totally exhausted. Even in this faint light I can see how pale she is, hair plastered round her face, scooping with her eyes closed. Her lips are blue.’

Boy Overboard, Morris Gleitzmann

Here are some more examples I easily uncovered while undetaking some reading as a text detective.

Mc Nabb was a giant. He stood five feet eight and said to weight over and seventy pounds. He had to bring his birth certificate in to the League Director to prove he was only twelve. And still most people didn’t believe it.
Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

Edward started training twice as hard.  Instead if eight kilometres, he swam sixteen. Instead of twenty minutes of exercises, he did forty.’

The Twenty Seventh Annual African Hippopotamus Race, Morris Lurie

‘It was always bedlam at our house. Valjoy was forever slamming out the front door hollering that she was going, this time for good, and not to expect her home ever again. And mum would yell after her that it was the best news she’d heard since she won the fridge in the football club raffle and good riddance- only she didn’t mean it. And in the background Jedda would be whinnying or watching the TV racing results with the sound turned up full blast.’

Hating Alison Ashley, Robin Klein

As you read, look for examples of how other writers unpack their heavy sentences. Copy some examples into your writer’s notebook.
Share them with other writers.

Following this, read some of your own writing and see if you can identify where you might need to unpack a heavy sentence or two.

An example of unpacking a heavy sentence.

‘My uncle took me to the park. 


My uncle took me to the park, where we had the best time climbing and playing inside. He chased me around and around the slides and platforms. After all of that running I needed a break, so we stopped for lunch. What a great time we had!’

Friday, October 21, 2016

Influencing The Development of Student Writing

One of the great challenges we face as teachers of writing is learning to observe student writing with a view that encompasses instruction. The trick is to look closely at the writing of an individual to notice what that writer needs and at the same time consider other students who may be faced with the same direct need in the development of their writing. 

Patterns of need frequently emerge as you confer with your students. When this happens you may find that you need to develop a teaching focus for the whole class, or a small group. It will not surprise you to learn that this is the perpetual challenge of the Writer’s workshop.

Once your students are writing regularly and displaying increased stamina and engagement, you may find yourself asking questions –

What happens now?
What should I do to most effectively move their writing forward?
What do I say to them when I join them for a writing conference?

It is easy to look at a student’s writing and immediately jump on the secretarial aspects and teach into that. The surface features of the writing are so obvious, but they remain just a part of the teaching whole.  

It is important for your initial response to any student’s writing to be directed towards what they have done well in the piece under consideration.

You may find that many of your writers will develop writing pieces that contain multiple ideas within the one piece of writing. The writing may lack a clear focus.

To assist students, consider the following strategies:
Using a published piece or a student exemplar, where the writer has remained focused on the one topic, 
have students identify how the writer remained focused. What strategies did the writer use?
Encourage students to rework their  own writing using the same strategies as seen in the mentor text. An alternative could be to write a new piece that is focused on the one topic or idea. The idea being to zoom in on a particular idea and expand that.
Share a piece of writing you have completed and talk through your thinking, highlighting how you kept yourself focused on the topic and developed your idea.
If one of your students needs help with this issue of focus, you could enlist the participation of the class or a small group who could ask questions and offer suggestions. The assisted writer could make notes with your help and then use these ideas to further develop the writing piece.

Helping Writers Find the Emotional Self
Some young writers will produce writing pieces that tell only the external story –what happened, what they saw. They write about the physical world, without linking it to the emotional world of the character.  – how they feel or what they thought. You may show before and after samples of writing in which this inside/outside strategy is used. You may choose to model this for them in a personal narrative of your own.

What’s Important Here?
Sometimes student writing fails to demonstrate or recognize what’s important. All the events are given equal attention or emphasis. To assist your student writers to develop a sense of what’s important, choose a short text your students are familiar with and have them identify the parts where the writing clearly demonstrates the importance of certain events.

Here are some other issues that may emerge as writing develops.

The Challenge of the Blank Page and the Blank Look

Remind students to use their lists/ topics as a writing ‘spark.’
Suggest they think about what is happening in their lives right now that is making them happy, sad, frustrated, worried etc
Remind them to think about others stories they have heard recently that might relate to their lives.
Encourage the rereading of earlier pieces to see if there is more that can be said. They may also look for ideas that connect to the earlier piece of writing.
Have them read a book to spark ideas they could write about.

‘I’m Finished” -Stamina/Endurance runs out after just a few lines

Encourage students to talk about their writing. Help them to notice they have more to note about the topic than they initially thought.. Have the writer talk to a writing partner who has endurance –someone who could help them to focus. Remind them of the expectations of their writing community and encourage them to persist

Same Topic, Different Day

Encourage the student to write about the topic in a different way. A different genre perhaps.
Encourage the student to discover different things to say about the topic
Encourage the student to add more ideas to their topic lists
Increase awareness of the range of ideas other writers in the class are exploring.

List- like Entries day after day

Talk to the student about what is really important about the ‘list of events’ and assist them to choose one to write about. Encourage working with a partner and compare entries to delve into events with greater detail.
Share notebook entries that approximate the kind of writing you want to see from the writer.
Use sticky notes to assist the student to ‘tease’ out important ideas to include in the writing piece.

Students Use Their Notebooks Ineffectually or Inappropriately

Continue to show students  effective examples of notebook use. 
Underline the notebook's importance as a writing resource.
Reinforce the notion of the notebook as a place to collect, experiment, and explore writing. 
Articulate and model the high expectations for notebook use.

Student Choose Topics to which they have little knowledge or connectedness

Engage students in a conversation about the items on their topic/ideas lists in an effort to identify the most important ideas. The ideas to which they have a stronger connection or deeper knowledge base.
Encourage students to talk to other students about the kinds of things that are providing a ‘spark’ for their writing.


The No Nonsense Guide To Teaching Writing Judy Davis and Sharon Hill, Heinemann, 2003

What a Writer Needs. Ralph Fletcher, Heinemann 1993

Mentor Texts -Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6
Lynne Dorfman & Rose Capelli, Stenhouse, 2007

Monday, October 17, 2016

When Student Writers Become Fully Engaged.

When young writers are fully engaged in the writing they are doing, it carries with it the same habits of mind and heart one associates with the engaged reader.

They display sustained attention to a particular writing project in the same manner a reader invests time in making meaning from a text.

They remain focused. They accept that sometimes writing is quite challenging. It is this meaning making challenge these writers increasingly enjoy.

The engaged writer seeks real purposes for the writing they do. They develop a growing awareness of the need to attend to the needs of their readers (audience).

The engaged writer exudes a quiet confidence as they as they participate in the writing life.

The engaged writer willingly engages with language. They see potential in words.

They engaged writer is more likely to develop an appetite for reading. They appreciate the role reading plays in being a writer.

The engaged writer handles confusion with perspective. They view its occurrence as a natural outcome of writing. They understand that writing is essentially a problem solving exercise.

They display an increased willingness to be risk takers. They begin to think in more alternative ways about their writing and are more open to trying different approaches. They begin to open to the style influences of other writers.

The engaged writer will persevere. They begin to understand the recursive nature of writing. They will try a range of strategies in order to shape the writing into a form that is reader friendly. They are more likely to embrace the idea of revision.

The engaged writer develops increased metacognitive awareness. They are more reflective about the writing they produce. They are willing to articulate their writing intentions. They begin to identify what works for them as writers.

The engaged writers begins to look forward to the next writing challenge just as an engaged reader looks forward to opening the next book.

When a teacher becomes an engaged writer, it increases the likelihood students will follow that critical lead. Enthusiasm is infectious. When a teacher demonstrates how they find ideas for writing, how they respond to life events, when they record their questions and wonderings, when they share their own notebook gatherings, they shine a valuable light on the magic writing holds.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Slice of Life Story- Wise Words of Winton

Enjoyed the privilege of hearing iconic Australian author, Tim Winton talk about his writing life on Friday. He also discussed the writing of his latest memoir instalment, ‘The Boy Behind The Mirror,’ chronicling aspects of his earlier life in Western Australian and the influences on his writing life.

My library has many of Winton’s books from the iconic fictional saga of ‘Cloudstreet’ to ‘Dirt Music’ and 'Blueback' to one of my personal favourites, ‘Land’s Edge,’ a coastal memoir, in which the author writes about his obsession with what occurs where the water meets the shoreline. It is a homage to the ocean and his childhood and the thread that links the two. It is for me, a book to which I regularly return, to experience the joy of discovering literary treasures.

I hold two copies of this book in my library. The first copy came complete with a catalogue of colour photographs. It was reminiscent of a coffee table book. It was later republished in a trimmed back version paying all due attention to the memoir. There was no ambiguity the second time. It was this version I wanted signed, for it is this book, I frequently pull from the shelves. The words wash over me; swirl around me, each time I open it. He smiled as he graciously signed my much loved, time worn copy.

During his presentation, Tim recounted stories and reflected on life, informing and entertaining his audience over the course of an hour. His most telling comment related to the very act of writing:

‘Anyone who has been a child has enough to write about for the rest of their lives.’

This reminded me of something another Australian author, Paul Jennings once said. ‘There are a million stories inside each of us just waiting to be told.’
Tim was asked, from where did the inspiration for writing emerge and his response underscored the importance of being a reader.

‘I started writing because I loved reading. I wanted to be in it.’

It underscored the critical importance of ensuring young learners are supported in developing a love of reading. As writers, they need to understand the infinite power reading possesses to influence the writing they produce. You cannot hope to be successful in your attempts at writing unless you allow reading into your life. It generates the fuel which energises writing. It influences word choice and delivery. I am reminded again by a famous quote attributed to Walt Disney, ‘There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island.’

 ‘I find it hard to read as a civilian. I tend to read as a writer.’

When Tim mentioned how he read, I nearly leapt from my seat shouting, Hooray! How wonderful it was to hear these words. Those who write read words differently. They celebrate the craft of writing, they hear the unique magic of certain combinations of words. They allow themselves to be informed by the writing of others. When you read like a writer it allows one to delve below the surface of page. It is a passport to deeper understanding of how the text has been constructed and why the writer has made certain choices.

When asked the perennial question about where his ideas come from, the answer was quite revealing.

‘I start from a place, a background, a landscape and this create the characters.’

This comment reminded me of the line in the movie, Field of Dreams- ‘If you build it, they will come.’

 In this instance Tim Winton creates a setting in which certain characters can operate, live out their lives, perform actions. The writer is challenged to create an emotional response within a landscape.

Writers share. They willingly share unique aspects and learned truths about their writing lives. I hung on every word. I was as ever, a curious learner in the presence of a master story teller. I soaked up those affirming words of wisdom from Winton.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Slice of Life Story - A Small, Yet Awesome Moment

From the safety of the shore I recently watched as a small boy maybe eight years old paddled his surfboard towards a wall of surf on Bali’s Legian Beach. 

A good three metre swell presented itself to all who were game to chance it. Many older, more experienced surfers had accepted the challenge. The boy was not dissuaded. The small framed one stood out like a fly in a bowl of rice.

The small boy worked his skinny arms tirelessly propelling his board to a place beyond the breakers, where the big boys go. A place from which to launch themselves upon a shore bound wave. It was a struggle, but he doggedly persisted, almost willing his board to go further out. It appeared to be a giant challenge just to get out there.

Waiting for the right moment to go, he watched the older surfers break from the huddle and tackle the waves. The boy’s first two efforts are unsuccessful. His light body and his small board make it easy for the wave to give him the slip and he slides off the back. He is not done yet though. He goes again.

This time the grabs the wave with exquisite timing and crouches low on his board. He begins to take control riding with both agility and great balance. He rides the wave with poise, cresting it to the shoreline. He tames the wild energy of the sea with his fearless ride.

His style is reminiscent of older, more experienced board riders, suggesting he is no stranger to this activity. He is quite obviously a precocious talent. He has heeded the teachings of the wave masters.

A small boy, fearless and self-assured in the sea. A small boy with advanced skills at such a young age. What an incredible sighting. I sit on the shore and marvel. I open my notebook and I know immediately what I want to write this day.

Everyday people achieve incredible feats. We who bear witness experience a sense of awe in the presence of such performances. Impossible is nothing, so they say. 

Growing The Young Writer's Awareness of Audience and Interest

We can help student writers discover the real purpose for their writing by discussing the matter of who we write for. Yes, it is important to establish a sense of audience. Yes, it is important to understand the needs of your readers.
However, as Jane Yolen reminds us in her book, ‘Take Joy,’ the only constant in your life is you. As teachers, we must alert student writers that the first audience for their words are themselves. They are the first reader. 

As teachers we must demonstrate our understanding of this important fact when sharing our own writing with students. 

Whether writing from the perspective of the child you were, or the adult we have become, we initially write to satisfy your own needs.  It is imperative to explain to the less experienced writer how we write about those matters that grab your interest. We write about things we find intriguing, things that make us think. 

Teachers sometimes tell students to write about what they know. It is more than writing about what we know, it is writing about what we find most interesting.

 I find myself constantly reminding young writers to only write about things they actually care about. Ideas and matters close to their heart. I tell them, ‘Never write to please a teacher, write because you need to say something. Write to capture a moment, or an idea you never want to forget.’

Write what you wish to read. Write to discover what happens. If you write what pleases the child inside you (or the adult), you give your writing a much better chance of finding other readers who will appreciate your words.

Obviously, these conversations need to be occurring within a classroom context where choice is central to the writing culture. Without choice, we will not witness the emergence of voice in the writing.

 If our young writers are indeed choosing to write about those matters they most care about, and writing in the genre of choice, then the writing is more likely to develop its own emphasis, tone and word choice. If these elements of writing begin to shine through, we have given our student writers a considerable gift.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Let's Stop Calling Them Reluctant Writers

I have never been a fan of the term, reluctant writer. I firmly believe all kids want to be able to write with ease. What the hesitant writer needs to build is, confidence and self-belief.

Every teacher at some time has to struggle to help a student overcome self-doubt about their abilities. To grow confident, self-directed readers and writers requires a lot of teacher investment. When teachers create a classroom climate that encourages risk taking, values mistakes as a learning opportunity and works consciously to build trust, students begin to engage with greater certainty. 

Children who experience positive learning experiences feel successful and supported. When a learner has such experiences a greater energy surrounds that person.

Blaming kids and labelling them reluctant does nothing to address the reasons for the student’s behaviour. Where the teacher controls most aspects of the writing from topic to genre, there is little incentive to buy in. Choice and ownership has been removed. Writing becomes an assignment given out by a teacher. The student writer has no real voice.

It is quite possible the earlier writing experiences the student has endured have negatively impacted on their perception of writing and given them a sense that there is little to inspire them in this activity. Writing may be associated with discomfort, - somewhat akin to kneeling on uncooked rice.

A sense of dejection and failure may result. The willingness to take risks erodes with time. It therefore requires remedial action to change the picture the students holds in their heads regarding writing.

Attitude is everything. It is the quality of such interactions; the quality of subsequent instruction that determines success or failure. Setting kids up to feel some measure of success from their own attempts is critical to building resilience and ‘stickability.’

But buy in also relies on what a teacher actually does. So, if a teacher writes and shares the resultant struggles and achievements, this provides authentic support to the less experienced student writer. I share this exchange I saw posted on Twitter by educator and writer, Linda Rief:

Students writing on computers-one googles me-
'Mrs.R, you write books!'
Whole class jumps to see
'OMG, you actually write! 
You're not a fake teacher!'

It speaks strongly about the power of being a credible teacher of writing.

In the writing workshop it is important to remind students about what they know and what they bring with them to the classroom. Help them to realize all the reading and writing they have ever done can be harnessed to work in their favour when attempting a new writing project. Emotional support, encouragement and feedback for effort provide essential re-assurance.

Learning to listen is also critical to student participation. When teachers ask questions and listen to the thinking behind a student’s actions and words, we further encourage students to want to work with adults. Encouraging the metacognitive writer to emerge is essential to ultimate success in the classroom.

Self-esteem and participation rise when your efforts to overcome uncertainty and face challenges result in some measure of success.  As teachers, we are more powerful than we think. Consider this, we control the very climate of the classroom. We can be either, makers or breakers.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Planning For Writing, Let's Make It Count

When teachers look closely at the writing students produce; when they understand how writers operate, the forward planning they undertake endeavours to focus on the point of need for each writer. 

The instruction that grows from such planning occurs on several levels- whole group, small group and individual. The planning doesn’t limit the young writer’s choice, nor deny them opportunities to add to their growing repertoire of craft strategies.

John Hattie’s research has revealed that up to 70% of what teachers ‘present’ to learners, they already know. To avoid such a scenario, planning must aim to build upon prior learning and move the student forward. For this reason alone, examining writing samples and conference notes is critical to effective planning. This is planning that sets high expectation for teaching and learning.

Planning that disregards such important considerations often places arbitrary limits on the student writer. When teachers plan using arbitrary or rigid guidelines, it has the effect of limiting the growth of writing. Curriculum guidelines are just that. They are guidelines. They are open to interpretation. To translate them so rigidly, does the student no great service. A packaged view of curriculum does a disservice to teacher professionalism and restricts agency in the classroom.

Take for instance, the craft strategy, ‘show, don’t tell,’ -should it only be introduced or taught at a particular grade level?  Some schools have determined it should not be taught before Grade 3.

Would it make more sense to allow it to be introduced at the discretion of the teacher having taken into account the needs of the writer and their particular development? An individual student or students may indicate through their writing they would be further empowered by exposure to such a transforming craft strategy. The teacher determines to teach at this point of need.

In the past, I have introduced this strategy to some of our youngest writers. I watched in awe as they transformed their initial words into more powerful pieces. They used their writing to convey strong visual images to their readers. They set their characters in motion rather than telling their readers what had occurred. This strategy possesses a kind of magic. Kids will inform us through their writing when they are ready to receive this writing wisdom.

When teachers alert young writers to possibility, they embrace it. If teachers nudge themselves when planning and nudge students by consistently applying high expectations, so much more is achievable.

Planning must take teaching to the edge of possibility, rather than impose doubt and uncertainty. Uncertainty borne out of a lack of understanding about what writers need –and when they need it.

Some Considerations:
·   Have I used the formative and assessments identify the current needs of my writers?
Can I describe my vision, focus, objectives, and student needs?
Is my plan for teaching aligned with standards, objectives, and guidelines?
Is there a balance of teaching strategies, learning strategies, and authentic tasks that engage and meet the needs of diverse learners?
Have I developed plans, methods, and processes?
Have I sequenced the learning clearly?
Have I Identified resources I need to support my teaching?