Te Kete Ipurangi Navigation:

Te Kete Ipurangi

Te Kete Ipurangi user options:

Literacy Online. Every child literate - a shared responsibility.
Ministry of Education.

Writing Video Clip 1

 Watch the video and think about these questions.

Deliberate acts of teaching
Identify and discuss examples of where the teacher's use of deliberate acts of teaching enables Eric to articulate and extend his thinking.

Engaging learners with texts

  1. Taking this kind of time for detailed thinking is a challenge. How might it be, in fact, a worthwhile investment?
  2. The teacher values Eric's initial response (that he was feeling happy) but challenges him to develop his ideas further. What is the value of this kind of challenge, especially for target students?

Instructional focus
Analysis of asTTle data revealed that the students needed to develop in a number of areas, especially structure and awareness of audience. Surface features also needed attention, but at this time I wanted to focus on ideas.

Using this information, I decided to focus on reporting, the topic being reporting on the school day for their parents. I chose parents as a familiar audience and the topic of reporting on the school day to enable us to explore the features of a well-structured report.
From the students' writing it became apparent that, while they attended to structure and writing for an audience, the language used in their writing was mundane.

I shared with the class my evaluation of their writing and that as a result our goal over the next two or three weeks would be: to make language choices in descriptive writing to create a vivid image for the reader.

I chose the topic 'My Special Place' (within the syndicate-wide topic of 'New Zealand: A unique place', to help students understand how to make language choices to write descriptively in a meaningful and personal context. I used published authors' work as models, and made links in our reading programme to explore how a writer makes language choices to have an impact on the audience. I also used the shared writing approach for whole-class modelling during which we jointly discussed and selected language to make a piece of my own writing have more impact.

Students wrote their descriptions of their special place, and now the focus (reflected in these interactions) was on effective language to describe their feelings about their place.

Focus students
I reinforced the whole-class work during intensive sessions with a group of focus students. The above data, and subsequent focus on structure and audience in writing a report showed that, while these students had lots of ideas, they were experiencing difficulty in expressing these in a meaningful written form. On the previous day we'd begun jointly constructing the ideas of one student, Eric, from his description of his special place (his Grandmother's house) and the sounds he hears there. The shared learning intention for the lesson from which the following interaction is taken was:

  • to develop spoken ideas into written language

I planned to meet our learning intention in two steps in order to make the learning manageable and to model the process of making language choices and composing written text.

Expert comments and transcript

Read teacher Amanda Frater's thoughts on what she achieved in the session and an analysis of the teacher-student interaction by literacy expert Peter Johnston. Peter (Ph.D. University of Illinois) is Professor of Education and Chair of the Reading Department at State University of New York at Albany. His position as an advocate for teachers and students developed from his early career teaching primary school in New Zealand. His many publications include Choice Words: How Our Language Affects Children's Learning (Stenhouse 2004), Knowing Literacy: Constructive Literacy Assessment (Stenhouse 1997), andRunning Records: A Self-Tutoring Guide (Stenhouse 2000).
Amanda Frater's reflections
I think modelling and thinking aloud in the whole-class shared writing sessions was powerful for the students as I was the one doing the thinking and revealing how I was making language choices. Students participated in this process helped them to make the links between oral and written language and extended their vocabulary.
My recent shift in thinking was the realisation that I needed to break the learning into manageable chunks: quality versus quantity. It is important for the learning to be manageable so that the students keep control of the task and the learning and don't feel that they must write, say, a whole page. This was particularly important for the target students. Therefore I worked with these students in phases,identifying descriptive vocabulary and then composing a sentence. It helped Eric to maintain control of his writing, and I was pleased about this.
I also realised the importance of helping students to clarify their thinking before focusing on the selection of important language choices. The broad focus for their learning was to understand how writers construct text. That 'grey bit in the middle' is the hardest for teachers. You can identify next steps, but knowing how to get there is the major challenge. I had assumed that, once they got their ideas, they could write them down. But I saw that while the discussion had been good, it wasn't reflected in their subsequent writing. I realized that they needed a bridge first, to express their ideas and record them, then to construct the ideas into sentence form.
Eric required lots of prompting and careful, directed questions to help him focus his thinking. I was trying to help him identify the best choices and uncover his reasons behind those language choices.
At the beginning we were probably going around in circles a bit so I was reminding him of the word choices he made in the previous lesson, where he had described the sounds and stated that being at his Grandmother's place made him feel safe. However, he was continuing to feed in a whole string of new ideas and he would have kept going. I knew he needed to refocus as he still hadn't really established why his Grandmother's place was special to him. In the previous lesson, he had highlighted the sound of the hail on the roof. I felt it would be helpful for him to imagine himself there, so he could really think about what it was like being inside and hearing the hail on the roof, and be able to express his feelings. That's why I helped him make the connection.
He still wasn't able to express exactly why he felt safe there, nor was he able to articulate the significance of the hail, so I modelled how I thought I would feel inside when it was hailing. He picked up quickly on my thinking aloud and linked the idea of feeling safe to what we had previously constructed as a group and recorded on the chart. Without my realising it, he was trying all the time to link what I was asking him to visualise to what was already described in his writing on the chart. He then described what it could be like if he was outside as a way of providing a reason for his choice of words 'safe and comfortable'.
At the end I asked the whole group to respond as readers to Eric's writing, as making language choices that would give the reader a strong image was our learning intention. In retrospect, it may have been better to focus the question on language choices rather than on generating new ideas, which took Eric onto yet another new idea. However, Thomas' question and the way he picked up on the visual support - adding in 'and comfortable' on the chart would have triggered his thinking -was probably of value too.
Peter Johnson's comments
Teacher:What I want you to do now, Eric, is think about why is this place special to you? How do you feel when you are sitting in the lounge listening to these sounds?
I find that articulating why something is special to me can be a difficult task. I wonder how much access Eric has to why his grandma's house feels special. I wonder whether 'what makes being at your grandma's special to you' might turn Eric's attention to the events and experiences rather than the logic. Once he has assembled these he might be able to show rather than tell why it is special to him.
Turning attention to Eric's feelings and putting him in the situation is a good way to explore the specifics. Amanda says 'these sounds' which indicates there has been more conversation before this about details of his grandma's house.
Eric: I feel, like, happy.
Teacher: Why do you feel happy?
Eric: Um, because, there Im just, like, by myself, with my Grandma. Its like. I get to, like, think what to do, what I can do, like, the next day or something?
I wonder what would happen here if Amanda asked Eric to say more about that.
Teacher: Yesterday, or the day before I remember you saying to me that you felt quite safe. Why do you feel safe?
This positions Eric as an important person. His teacher actually listens to him and remembers what he has to say.
Normally I think 'Why?' is a useful prompt because it helps kids think through the logic of events. I am less sure of its value here because it might be asking the child to unpack something he has no access to, like asking why someone likes chocolate.
Eric: Um, because I go there a lot. I feel better there. I feel comfortable there.
Teacher: Oh, I like that word 'comfortable'. So, Eric, you've told me that when you go to your grandmother's you feel safe and comfortable. I'm going to circle those words. Can you tell the group why you feel safe and comfortable at your grandmother's?
This comment turns the children's attention to words and the idea of savouring them and choosing interesting ones. I am intrigued by the fact that the word 'comfortable' turns up a couple of other times in the transcripts, perhaps because the kids' attention is turned toward that word rather than to words more generally. I wonder how to expand to that larger view of words. Perhaps showing why we like a particular word (images, mouth feel, etc.) and by pointing to words like this often?
The question is useful in that it leaves open the possibility that he says that he can't.
Again, saying why can be difficult to articulate.
Eric: Because I go there a lot and, um, I feel safe there, like, I feel good.
Teacher: OK, can you imagine yourself sitting in your grandmother's house on a day where it's hailing. Does the hail somehow make you feel safe and comfortable?
This directs his attention to imagine himself into the situation. It should be good for getting to specifics.
Just being in his grandma's house makes him feel safe and comfortable. The hail changes the course of this conversation away from Eric's grandma's house and his experience and moves it towards danger and so forth for the next 16 turns.
Eric: Yeah.
Teacher: Why?
Again, 'why do you feel this way?' is often a hard question.
Eric: 'Cause, um, I don't know'.
Teacher: When I'm inside and I can hear the rain or the hail on the roof, it does feel safe because you'll know - you know that you're inside, and you're not outside where you can get really wet, and you're in quite a warm environment.
I think this is a useful way of bringing Amanda's experience alongside Eric's. (I, personally, love this feeling of comfort too -especially the hail or rain on the tin roof.) I think the usefulness is in showing that you have the same sort of feelings but with other situations.
The language shifts from I to you. This should still be an 'I' story so that it doesn't impose it on Eric but simply offers a connection.
Eric: Because if I was outside I might get hurt, because if it drops, like, really hard like, um, as it gets heavier.
Eric has taken on explaining the hail experience rather than his grandmother's place experience.
Teacher: OK.
Eric:It, like, cause it's like ice cubes are kind of big, and they could hit you if they fall from a far, from a high distance, maybe it could hurt you.
Teacher: So you're introducing this idea of danger.
This language keeps the authority with Eric -even though it is not Eric who introduced this idea of danger. Notice how readily he picks up ownership of it in these next lines. The other kids, like Thomas, have bought into it too.
Eric: Yeah!
Teacher: So when you're in your grandmother's house you have that?
Eric: Yeah, so it's safer inside, that's how.
Thomas: And it's not so dangerous.
Teacher: OK.
Eric: Yeah.
Teacher: So, could we say you're away from danger?
Asking permission to use particular words to represent the experience and including it not as Eric's choice but as a group activity -which it is -encourages the group to be included in this decision (though the transcript doesn't show whether this happens). It also keeps the writing choice conditional. It would be good here to offer a choice of words so that they have to make a decision regarding the value of a specific choice.
The choice of 'we' offers support to Eric in making the decision, but also takes some of his authority away. But this may be appropriate in this case since, with the addition of the hail, it is no longer exactly his story.
Eric: Yeah.
Teacher: If I was reading your piece of writing, I'd be wondering, if you said that you were safe and comfortable at your grandmother's house, I'd want to find out why and you just gave me the reason. You said the reason you feel that way is that you're escaping from danger.
The conditional at the beginning is a way to introduce an imaginary reader. It allows overriding the fact that Amanda now knows this stuff and no longer needs it as a reader. However, when possible, I think the personal response  - when I read this, I think - is more powerful because it draws on and builds a relationship of authority.
I'd want to find out- builds the connection between readers - expectations and needs, and writers' choices.
Repeating and attributing ('you said') again builds authority. I suspect, though, that this won't ring fully true for Eric.
Teacher:So, as a group looking at this piece of writing, what other questions do you have for Eric about being at his grandmother's house? Have you got a question, Thomas?
This opening phrase establishes as given that the group has a collective identity and that the group is attending to the piece of writing. It is given and therefore not really able to be contested.
The question invites the group to explore Eric's experience of being at his grandmother's house which is the real topic.
Thomas:Yeah, um, you know how he says that he feels comfortable, and that it's familiar to him? Um, does he often go there cause he wants to be with his Nana, or does he just go there cause he finds it real special?
What an interesting question. Thomas is asking him whether the specialness is about the place or about his grandmother. Notice how he is directing the question not to Eric, but to the teacher who must then give permission to Eric to answer the question. He then responds to Amanda, not Thomas.
Teacher: OK, do you have an answer to that?
Eric: Um, yes, I feel it's to visit my Nana and give her some company, because she lives by herself.
Teacher: OK.
Eric: So, yeah, and it feels - it's special to me going there.
Teacher:OK, so we're starting to find out some more ideas. I might put down that you're giving your grandmother company, because I think that's an important idea. Good question, Thomas.
This does open the possibility of bad questions which will deter some kids from asking them in case they offer a bad one. An alternative would be to explain how the question helped Eric with his writing.

Published on: 22 Mar 2016