Updated: Dec 16, 2020
A few years ago I attended a course by Louise Dempsey on writing with a colleague. The next day, we made changes to our writing programme in our Year 5 and 6 classes and saw immediate results.
Some years later, I completed a Postgraduate Certificate with the Mind Lab. Apart of the study involved leading a change initiative. I had an amazing opportunity to create a writing programme structure to suit all levels of the school.
All knowledge from professional development and experience in motivating reluctant readers, especially boys was combined to create the writing lesson structure. By working alongside classroom teachers and students in decile one and ten schools, the programme was put into practice and regularly critiqued to fit each primary school learning level.
Writing programme Structure
Students are organised into talk buddies that are of similar ability. Talk buddies sit together during the motivation and discuss their thoughts and ideas. They also meet again at the end of the lesson to read their writing to each other and give feedback. The benefit of talk buddies is students will share their writing ever day. The buddy hears the ideas before the writing and hears the end product. They may identify errors alongside their buddy as the story is read. Having talk buddies of a similar ability is important so they do not feel overwhelmed by someone at an advanced level. Talk buddies need to be comfortable with each other for this bond to be beneficial.
No Hands Up
Do you always have the same children putting their hands up to answer questions? Some students have ideas but do not often get to share their great ideas. A way to tap into those thoughts is a no hands up approach. Organise a jar of popsicle sticks with one for each student named.
This is how it works:
1. Ask the students the open question and give them a few seconds to think
2. Students to briefly chat to their talk buddy about their thoughts and ideas
3. Teacher picks a popsicle stick and asks that person to share what they discussed.
Giving students to option to share what their buddy also said makes it less scary for students. When starting out with this approach, it can be helpful to give students the choice to pass until they get use to the no hands up. It can also ensure they listen to what their buddy said.
As a teacher, it can take a while to get use to the no hands up approach. However, once it has become second nature with writing, it often is integrated into all areas of the classroom.
Learning intention and success criteria The WALT (We Are Learning To) and SC (Success Criteria) need to be unpacked with students. What does WALT mean? What does it mean to be successful? When my sports team was successful in the weekend, what does that mean? What does the word criteria mean? The things I need to do to be successful in my writing. It is very beneficial to recap on this every lesson.
A challenge is included in the success criteria. Originally this was to push students who were more advanced in their writing, but it had morphed into a motivation for all students. It always amazes me who take on the challenge - celebrate this!
Word of the Week
A great way to enhance vocabulary. This could be the challenge in the success criteria. The word of the week could be printed off each week to create a word wall. This word could link the motivations together. For example, 'dangerous' could be my word of the week and the motivations could be about dangerous situations, dangerous animals etc.
Having goal sheets so that students can clearly see where they are at with their learning in writing is very beneficial. The school may have their own learning progressions that can be used for this.
1. Set up writing books
Setting up writing books before the motivations means that students can get straight into it when they are excited up and motivated to write with their ideas fresh and flowing from their minds. If I had to stop and look for my book and find its not in my toye tray, then go to my bag to check its not there, then remember I was in another class yesterday and I might have left it there, then come back and open my book, write the date... now, what are we doing? As an adult I would be in the same frame of mind. All that excitement to get writing is lost. Sorting all this out before hand is so beneficial and sets students up for success. Books are found, opened and dated with goal sheets out and visible and students return to the mat next to their talk buddy.
2. Motivation The WALT (We Are Learning To) and SC (Success Criteria) are introduced before and after the motivation. A brief teaching moment on the WALT is presented by the teacher or by a video or combination of both. The word week is introduced. A few questions before they see the image or video could be asked to encourage thinking, like a warm up.
Watch the video or view the images.
Students discuss it and teacher may ask open questions.
Students could act out what happened in the video. A chance to be a little bit silly can help the ideas flow and students feel like they have experienced it too (even older students love this!) The video could be watched a second time and students take notes (this could be the WALT). The WALT, SC, challenge and Word of the Week are quickly revisited.
It is important that the motivation part is no longer than 15 minutes. Any time after that, you can see students starting to glaze over and loose interest. It can be difficult to keep to this to begin with. To keep it fun, you could explain this to your class and put on the timer. Remember when talk buddies discuss things, it needs to be brief.
3. Students write
Students who know what they are doing go to their books and start writing. Any students who are not sure are welcome to stay on the mat for further explanation. Students are expected to write independently for 10 minutes. If this is unattainable, start with a few minutes and work your way up.
In new entrant and junior classes students draw for the first part.
During this time, the teacher roams and identifies anyone who needs help with the learning intention without talking to the student. In the next 10 minutes of writing, the teacher has the opportunity to address this.
Putting a timer on is an effective way to keep to the 10 minutes.