Wednesday 7 September 2016

Better than pictures!

Today I took my target students for writing into the staff room and worked with them as a group.

These students really struggle to write in detail, using powerful words to aid their descriptions to create visualisations in their writing. They have done a lot of writing stories using a picture prompt throughout the past two terms, but unlike their peers they don't usually produce the detail they need to have at this level.

Reflecting on this, I thought to myself maybe they just don't engage with pictures? So how can I, as their teacher, change my own pedagogy to reflect this... videos!

My goal was not to produce great writers in half an hour. My goal was to give the kids something they could write about, that they could check against to see if they had written in the most detail possible. It's hard to do that with a picture, when you have to make up the story yourself - there's nothing to compare to because you have to make the story up.

To introduce the lesson, I played the first bit of this video (note: only up to 1:10).

We talked about our aim - to write in detail about the setting and what happened.

The kids LOVED watching a clip - we were able to pause, discuss, play, replay, go back, start from the beginning, discuss while it played, watch it in silence, etc. Literally, a rewindable learning tool. 

Our discussion was incredible! Yes, a little too noisy, but I didn't care about that because it meant the kids were engaged in their learning. We wrote in detail about each scene in turn, 0:33-0:38, 0:38-0:43, 0:44-1:00, 1:00-1:10.
It helped the students focus to only write about one bit at a time. We were really able to break down the scene and what we could see before moving on. The students really, honestly surprised me with their insight. In one particular part, I was trying to get them to realise that the leaves were orange, not green like they normally would be (without explicitly telling them that of course). Two of the kids came out with 'the leaves are actually orange which means its autumn'. I didn't even know they knew what autumn was! I've never heard them use that word before.. Amazing. We were then able to include the word autumn in our story and the ideas it represented (i.e. a bit cold, leaves falling to the ground, maybe its windy). They were able to make connections with previous learning as well. As Geri sets up his chess pieces, the kids were naming the pieces with the correct terminology (e.g. rook, bishop, king, queen, pawn) and we were able to use these high-interest words in our writing. 

My job was not leading them to what I wanted them to say, but encouraging them to push their descriptions further. At first, when I would say "what did you see?", they gave ideas like 'its green', and I would play devils advocate, and probe them more - dark green? light green? neon green? green like what? Of course they could straight away tell me what kind of green it was, but they didn't initially go into detail automatically. As we went along, they got more comfortable and a lot faster at adding this kind of detail automatically.
We were able to have such rich discussions, supported by the video. One student would say something that we could write about, so we would go back to the video and watch it again, and check if that was a detailed description of what happened and what we could see. They would agree with each other, add on to what another person had said, offer more powerful synonyms etc. It was awesome!

Here is what they came up with..
(Make sure you watch up till 1:10 on the clip before reading this, to really grasp whats happening..)

It was a sunny, windy Autumn day. The wind gently blew the leaves off the dark green table onto the dusty ground. 
Boom. He slammed the chessboard onto the table. The sunlight shone down and made the pieces glisten as the man set them up. Pawn, pawn, knight, rook, queen, king. Each piece in the right place.
The wind blew colourful leaves from the gigantic oak trees. The old man in a dark brown suit gently rubbed his hands together. "Hmmm... which piece should I move first.. pawn? knight? rook?" He thought to himself. He reached a wrinkly hand behind himself, grabbing the top of the green wooden chair as he softly sat down.

Are you as impressed as I am? That, from kids who typically forget to even tell you where it was, let alone what season it was in. So stoked with what they came up with in a half hour session!

To finish up, I asked them to watch the clip again as I read our writing aloud. Their task was to judge wether we had written in detail about what had happened, and had given detail about the setting. Each scene was great! They all agreed they had given lots of detail to the story about what the man did and where this happened. They wanted to keep going but alas...lunchtime!

Next, I want to video the kids in the next lesson to show how excited they really were while doing this activity - it was intense! I also want to get the kids to write for themselves, as I was the one dictating the story today. That will help them get in their head it is their writing (not mine), and see their contributions in a physical way.

1 comment:

  1. This is a great idea Ashley! It definitely worked for our kids. I have been looking for some short films too and have found some good ones. Today we shall try doing this with the whole class.


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