Friday, 21 September 2018

Supporting writing within Glendowie Kahui Ako

The Glendowie Kahui Ako Community of Learning has identified writing as one of its achievement challenges. Its aspiration is to have 92% of learners writing at or above expected levels for their age. To support this achievement challenge, Glendowie Kahui Ako has engaged Dr Alison Davis to provide professional development in writing to teachers across the community.

As a new teacher within the Glendowie Kahui Ako, I was able to attend Dr Davis’ final session for 2018 when she shared her research and expertise specifically for teachers of junior classes yesterday:
  • How do we move children from “at” to that next level?
  • What are we teaching?
  • What are they learning?
Dr Davis says that writing is all about automaticity, ie the ability to write automatically with enough knowledge to notice when things are going wrong through self-monitoring.

However, during a writing session, we may not get close to students because they find the task too hard, are not ready for challenge, or are not interested. Once we reach a student’s Zone of Proximal Development, we need to think about the ideas of metacognition: stickability. Some new learning may go into the brain a little way but then come out again. It is important for teachers to remember that new learning that does take root takes up lots of space because it is not automatic for the learner yet. Writing is also impacted by cognitive capacity: how much can a learner take in; how much space does a learner have? Where does this leave cognitive overload? This is different to tiredness: a learner is not able to take on any more new learning at any one time.

Dr Davis also commented on the benefits of having a positive attitude to writing - the link between writing and a growth mindset, based on the research of Carole Dweck. She implored us to consistently and continually teach, refer to, hammer those high frequency words and phonics because this knowledge gives children so much more confidence to become writers. For example:

I can see a …
I can see a leaf.
I can see a green leaf.
Can you see a green leaf?

When a student reads back their writing, we have a reader and a writer!

We can support good writing in the classroom by having a good writers’ board with annotated examples to show that we:
  • Write left to right
  • Leave spaces between words
  • Use High Frequency Words
  • Start our writing with a capital letter.
  • End a sentence with a full stop.

Of course, good writers share their writing. Everyone needs opportunities to share. This can be done in groups rather than as a whole class. The reader-writer could ask questions of the group: what was my story about?

Different teaching approaches:
  • Paired writing.
  • Book creator: We can support good writers by creating class books which share each child’s best pieces of writing and “how to be a good writer” created from student content.
  • Quick Word Write activity: learners write as many words as they know about a topic on small whiteboards with a given time limit.  They then share their words with a buddy.
  • Guided writing: being a guide is the key! According to Dr Davis, it is critical within guided writing that the teacher joins the group. There is a difference between roaming and guided writing. A teacher should spend about five minutes sitting at a table with each group. This guided writing time should be made explicit: I am coming to your group. It can be appropriate to sit and say nothing at the table, observing and noticing how students approach their writing.