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Shared writing involves the teacher and a group of students – often the whole class – in planning and constructing a text together. The teacher models and talks through the process of constructing a text (or part of one), giving explicit instruction in how to use writing strategies during the shared writing process. The students contribute their ideas and expertise to the process of constructing the text. (This is often followed by guided writing; when the teacher has constructed part of a text, the students continue writing their own texts, working with teacher support but as individual writers.) Through shared writing, students can take part in constructing a more complex text than they would be able to write on their own.
Modelling can be used as an instructional strategy to show students, step by step, the planning, shaping, and structuring of a text for a specific purpose. The teacher may model the use of a “mind map” or “web” to show how a writer assembles ideas and then sorts them to be ready for writing. Carefully planned questions can help the students to think about how a particular text might be organised. The teacher may prompt by showing them similar familiar material or by reviewing with them the features of a particular type of text.
This approach enables the teacher to expose students to new, rich language, adding to the range of vocabulary and language structures that they can use in their personal writing. Shared writing reinforces positive attitudes towards writing by making it an enjoyable and creative activity.
The shared writing approach is not just for beginners. In years 3 and 4 and beyond, teachers can help their students to develop more complex ideas and language and can foster their critical awareness as writers. Shared writing provides an excellent context for introducing or reinforcing information about the features of texts, including the features of the kinds of non-fiction texts that students will later encounter in science, mathematics, and other curriculum areas.
The teacher begins by sharing the purpose for the shared writing session with the students. During the session, the teacher acts as scribe, writing on a chart or whiteboard in front of the students and showing them how to construct a coherent and enjoyable text. Over a series of shared writing sessions, the whole process of writing a text may be modelled – forming intentions, composing, revising, and publishing for an audience (see pages 138–141). Generally, however, the product of shared writing is intended to meet an immediate purpose, so the group will focus on only one part of the process.
Topics for shared writing can arise from many sources, including:
Shared writing provides a supportive instructional setting in which (depending on their students’ learning needs) teachers can:
During shared writing, as the teacher prompts, gives feedback, explains, and questions, valuable conversations arise between the teacher and students and also among students. In order to encourage the ideas and contributions of all the students, the teacher may sometimes need to elicit a response from the shy or new child. Effective teachers build and maintain a momentum so that all students are motivated and engaged in the activity.
I reinforce reading and writing behaviours through shared and guided reading and writing sessions throughout the week. Each day, I tell my own story – just one sentence long. The students love hearing and reading about my dogs and other funny or sad incidents. They often suggest to me what I might write about. During the writing, I articulate my sentence, and the students repeat it and clap it, to help use the rhythm to retain the idea. I model where to begin and the spaces between the words, and I articulate words slowly, to identify the sounds we can hear.
The students say the word slowly together and may use their alphabet charts or resources around the room to help locate a sound-to-letter match or a known sight word. I select the students who I know have just mastered a concept to contribute. It might be to locate a high-frequency word, or to give me the first, middle, or last letter they can hear, or to tell me to put in a space or a full stop. This helps to reinforce and celebrate their new learning. We all reread after every word to check what we have written and establish what our next word will be. When the sentence is complete, we check: “Is this what I mean to say?” “Can I put in the full stop now?” When agreement is reached, we reread it, and the students clap to represent the full stop.
The students then discuss with a partner what they are going to write about, and they articulate their writing goal before they draw pictures as part of the process for clarifying their ideas. I focus the students on their personal goals before they begin their writing, using reminders like “Say your words slowly and write down the first and last letters that you hear” or “Use a full stop at the end of the sentence.”
The students are making quite rapid progress because they are very clear about what they are paying attention to and are getting appropriate feedback.
Teacher, new entrants to year 1
A great deal of implicit learning occurs in shared writing, just as it does in language experience activities. The students listen actively and also participate as the teacher makes links to what they have recently read, heard, or written.
Teachers can introduce students to many forms of text during shared writing – reports, recounts, instructions, explanations, descriptions, narratives, charts, labels, speech balloons, wall stories, captions for photographs, diaries, shopping lists, recipes, dialogue, poetry, and more. Familiar texts can also provide starting points for shared writing. The teacher and students can innovate on a story, a poem, or even a particular sentence that they enjoyed, patterning a new idea on its style and structure. This can lead to conversations that build the students’ awareness, especially when teachers model strategic questions like: “What makes this good writing?” “How can we make our writing like this?”
The teacher uses shared writing to develop the students’ understanding of how different kinds of writing meet different purposes. By making links with the students’ reading, teachers can elicit or explain the reasons why, for example, lists, reports, instructions, and letters are presented differently. The teacher helps the students to make the connections and to transfer the learning to their reading or future writing (see also chapter 5).
Shared writing is an effective way of supporting NESB students. They can see the text growing slowly and carefully as the teacher scribes, and they can be encouraged, in this supportive environment, to contribute ideas. Words and phrases are repeated and revised, enabling all the students to build on their existing vocabulary and language skills. This is also very valuable for students who are experiencing difficulties in writing, including those who lack confidence or motivation.
Shared writing enables teachers to build the learning of those whose home literacy practices differ from those of the school, to incorporate these students’ expertise, and to help them learn about classroom literacy activities. In shared writing, topics can be chosen to reflect the students’ diverse experiences and backgrounds.