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Guided writing is an opportunity for the teacher to work intensively with a small group of students who share similar learning needs. Guided writing often follows shared writing. The guided writing group may be a longer term group, or it may be an occasional group formed for a specific instructional objective. The teacher knows what the students have already learned, what their needs and interests are, and what their next learning step will be. The next learning step is explicit in the learning goal for the writing activity. The writing activity generally involves working on a model developed during shared writing
The students, sitting with the teacher, construct their texts individually in their own draft books. The teacher supports them closely in finding the best way to meet their learning goal. For example, if the goal were “to use tense consistently in sentences”, the teacher and students might initially decide on the general thrust of some sentences that require manipulation of tense. All the students would write their sentences individually in their draft books and then share them with the teacher and with each other. Such sharing helps students to discover how well they are meeting the purpose. The students learn from one another as well as from the teacher, seeking, offering, and responding to feedback as they think, talk, and write their way through the task. The teacher is able to monitor the progress of every student.
Although this approach to writing is most often employed with students who need extra support, it is equally useful for extending high achievers and, indeed, all students. For example, if the purpose were “to use the passive voice effectively”, the students might work first as a group, with the teacher, and then individually to change instances of the active voice to the passive voice in an existing explanation text. The teacher might model the process and then direct the students to make further changes independently. The group might go on to talk about the changes they have made individually and the difference that their changes have made to the tone of the text.
Guided writing provides students with additional scaffolding so that they can achieve their writing purpose and learning goal more effectively. It should not simply repeat hat has been taught in a shared writing session.
In this session, the teacher combined shared, independent, and guided writing.
I had read Zoo by Anthony Browne to my students, and we had built up a word bank that related to the father’s character from all the written and visual clues that the author had given us. The students described the “Dad” character as “domineering”, “egocentric”, “an opportunist”, and “a bully”. We decided to write an anecdote about Dad that would suggest his personality through his actions, what he says, and what others say about him.
I provided the setting (“He is standing in the doorway of this classroom ...”) and asked questions to keep the story moving (“What does he do after that?”). I also prompted the students to think about language options (“Does he sit on the sofa or crash onto the sofa?”). Together, we reread each sentence to see how we could strengthen its character clues. I scaffolded and scribed, but the students contributed most of the key content. We wrote just five sentences in fifteen minutes, but they were quality sentences!
We then discussed whether we had achieved our purpose (yes) and identified what we had done to achieve it. What we identified became the students’ criteria for their independent writing – for example, we had carefully selected actions and used powerful, precise verbs to denote characterisation. Most students were now ready to write their own anecdote, and I got them to select their own setting for their independent writing. Suddenly, Dad was in a restaurant or at a rugby match or in an aeroplane.
But I knew, through my monitoring of their writing, that a small group of students needed extra support to develop language for characterisation, so I undertook a follow-up guided writing mini-lesson with them. This meant getting them to bring their draft books and a pencil into a small-group situation. I asked them each to choose a setting and to share it with the group before writing it down. The small-group context enabled me to discuss Dad’s first possible action in their chosen setting with each writer. We focused as a group on choosing language to convey the feeling of that action and the way Dad did it – “How does he come into the shop?” “He slams the door.” “That’s a good verb, but the sentence ends up being about the door, not Dad.” “Could I say he ‘slams his way’ into the shop?” As the students wrote in their draft books and checked their writing with each other and with me, we were able to keep the focus on verbs and actions and what these said about Dad.
Teacher, year 7 and 8 class