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

Writing Video Clip 2

 Watch the video and think about these questions:

Deliberate acts of teaching
How does the teacher's use of questioning, prompting and giving feedback
(a) support the students towards meeting the shared learning intention?
(b) provide a language for them to think and talk about their writing?

Knowledge of the learner
What evidence is there of planning based on data? Consider the alignment of learning needs identified by data, the shared learning intention and the task. Why is this alignment so important?

Engaging learners with texts

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.

The first step, in the previous clip, was to help Eric to express and develop his ideas about how he felt at his special place. This clip shows the second step, namely, the joint composing of a sentence to reflect Eric's ideas.

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.
In previous lessons we'd practised composing sentences. However, I noticed that it was still difficult for the students to orally construct a complete sentence when feeding back from their think, pair, share. I then provided support by modelling a way of starting the sentence which was quickly transferred by Jamie into a complete sentence. The sentence built on Eric's vocabulary choices and also reflected the conversation of Eric and Thomas. It was important for all in the group to recognise this.
I wanted Eric to have ownership of the writing. This can be difficult when a group is developing the writing of one student together. That is why I pulled the focus back to Eric as the writer and he did take the ownership back.
Peter Johnson's comments
Teacher: What I want you to do now is, you're going to turn to a partner and you're going to come up with a sentence that will describe how Eric feels at his grandmother's house. OK. You're going to say it out loud and give it back to me and we'll write it as a sentence together. Off you go.
Student discussion
Teacher: What was your sentence, Danica?
Danica: That he feels safe, cause, oh.
Teacher: As a sentence? 'I feel safe' could be one way of starting it.
'Could be' is a way to contribute to a conversation while keeping the topic open. It recognises a possibility as one option rather than as the solution. Of course this depends on the tone of voice and the expected relationships between teacher and students.'Could be' can imply this is an option but not the option I had in mind. This does not seem to be the case here.
Jamie:I feel safe because I'm inside away from danger.
Teacher: What was it? "I feel safe?'
The teacher here is writing down what Jamie is saying, conferring substantial authority.
Jamie: 'because I'm inside away from danger.
Teacher: Let' read that. 'The sound gets louder as the hail gets heavier.' So, already in that first sentence Eric's building up this picture of it getting very, very heavy. 'I feel safe because I'm inside away from danger.' Could we add something else, what other feeling did he have with the word 'safe'?
Eric is established as the author and Amanda is attributing agency to him.
Eric: Um, comfortable?
Eric remembers the specific word, partly, I guess, because the teacher pointed to it at the outset.
Teacher: OK. So where could we put the word 'comfortable' in?
This focuses the choice to be made on one decision in the writing process. The word 'could' invites multiple possibilities - very different from 'should' or 'Where does it go?'
Child: Maybe after -where the other sentence stopped, maybe you could have something similar? So the reader can, like, know what it's, like, what's happening?
Tentativeness markers like 'maybe' mark the suggestion as a draft to be picked up by others. This can be picked up from teacher's language. But note also the uncertainty in the child's voice -the questioning inflection, as if, 'Is that right?'
Eric has made the connection between writers' choices and their consequences for readers.
Teacher: OK, so Eric has decided, and he's the writer, that he wants to add in 'I feel safe and comfortable because I am inside and away from danger'. As readers, what has Eric just done? What do you think, Thomas?
Eric is asserted to be the author, the one making composition decisions. (In his mind, Eric might or might not go along with this.) This is an identity invitation.
Saying 'as readers' provides an invitation to take up the stance of readers responding to the author's choices.
Asking Thomas what he thinks softens the previous sentence a bit, making it not so much a matter of Thomas getting the right answer.
Thomas: Um, cause by putting 'I feel safe and comfortable' like, if, without that, like, if you were reading it and you didn't know that he felt comfortable, it could be, like, he just feels, like, that he's just getting away from the danger and he - you don't really know if he feels comfortable inside. But adding 'comfortable' you know that he actually feels comfortable being inside.
'By putting [X]' he  [accomplishes Y] This is a statement conferring agency upon Eric and the process of authoring.
Teacher: OK, I like your thinking. That was really good. By adding in 'comfortable', not only is he safe in this place, he's really relaxed and he likes to be inside and there is this real feeling of 'I'm at ease being in this place'.
'I like your thinking' focuses attention on the thinking rather than a correct answer.
The response 'that was really good' is unnecessary and runs the risk of undoing the previous sentence with unfocused public praise. It opens the possibility of someone saying something 'really bad.'
Amanda's concluding words offer another potential phrasing and word choice by extending what Thomas says.

Published on: 22 Mar 2016