Wednesday, 10 May 2017
Writing - moving forward!
I was asked in a meeting this week if I model writing for my students, and it made me realise... no... I don't. I used to, all the time last year, but this year I don't.. So why is that?
I realised it was because most of our writing is online (using computers).
That is not an excuse, but it changes the way writing is taught. For example, to model how to self-correct, it is not a matter of crossing out and rewriting sentences, and drawing all over the page, but right clicking and auto-fixing. Writing on computers is just different; spelling is not as relevant, because kids use spell-check, sentence structure and grammar goes out the window, because the computer tells them if its wrong or not. If they miss a full stop, the sentence appears with a red underline so they realise something is wrong. It's almost as if computers have taken away the metacognition from writing, at least for me anyway. They don't think about it, because the computer tells them.
After being asked if I model writing, and it dawning upon me that I don't, I wanted to make an immediate effort to do so in some way.
Today as my students wrote a practice E-asttle test, I pulled down my lowest writers and I worked with them on their writing. Yes, this is different to modelling, but at least I was getting involved and being alongside instead of trying to get them to do everything independently.
One student I knew would write 2 pages of his own words, but I wanted to guide him on his use of paragraphs and his sentence structure (i.e. not having and then and then and then and then and then for two pages - where are your full stops child!?!?). Another I knew would write maybe 1 page max, but needed a lot of help getting his ideas into sentences (and also remembering that magic thing called full stops). Yet another was Bob, who will tell you what he is going to write, then by the time he puts his pencil on his paper, he has forgotten what it was. And yet another was a very bright kid who gets distracted by literally everything and anything - and sometimes nothing. For him, my task was to try and keep him focused.
I sat with them, guiding them and trying to help them out when they needed it. All the words were their own, I just challenged them to write more, leave gaps for paragraphs, read it aloud - 'see where you took a breathe, put a full stop there', etc.
After the better part of an hour (the test is supposed to be 45 minutes), I sent two of the kids to Mrs Sharma (syndicate leader, my mentor and the teacher next door) for them to show her their writing. They came back with smiles, tokens and fabulous encouragement. The other two kids who worked with me went a little while later.
I was blown away how much of a difference it made to just sit with them. I wasn't modelling. I wasn't directly teaching. I was prompting, reminding, pointing at a page to jog a memory that a full stop was needed, repeating back sentences Bob had told me so he could write them down. The difference between what they did a couple days ago, to what they did today, was huge.
Here is one of those kids story -
I literally almost cried. This is a kid who last year could barely string 3 sentences together without support. WHAT HAPPENED? WHERE DID YOU COME FROM YOU BEAUTIFUL ANGEL?
This kid in particular has been working so hard this year and it shows.
All I could think to myself was - imagine how much better he will get with that little bit of writing support (reminding/pointing/questioning/etc).
I really want to try and include more 1:1 and small group time in writing. The whole year I have been doing whole class, and it just hasn't done anything for these low kids who need support.
Another highlight from this practice test, was seeing how the students marked each others work. I made a student rubric for recounts which the students use to mark each others work, in the same way teachers do (we literally use this rubric, but a more complex worded version). They have used it 2-3 times before today.
I again, almost cried, when I started marking some of their work - and they (in buddies) had given the piece of writing the same score I had. Like, exactly the same score.
This particular set of buddies were both year 5's, who I had last year as well. They began buddy marking with rubrics last year, so are pretty competent at it. I never thought they would be this accurate though! It made me laugh. They could almost do my job for me.
Although not all my students buddy marking was so accurate, it showed me that with practice they were really thinking about their writing, analysing it and discussing it. It also showed they can be critical of each other and mark honestly (while staying good friends!). Practice makes perfect.
I felt so encouraged by my kids and what they can do; I know I will put more effort into guiding their writing process from now on and push them even harder!