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

Writing Video Clip 3

 Watch the video and think about these questions.

Deliberate acts of teaching, especially prompting
Consider the wait time and scaffolding. At one point, Amanda supplies what Eliesa needs. What is involved in making professional judgments such as this?  

From this interaction (and the two previous interactions), how would you describe this teacher's expectations of her students both as people and as literacy learners?

Engaging learners with texts
How might this interaction have contributed to Eliesa's understanding of the comprehension strategy of visualising? What links to the reading programme could be made?

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.

I scheduled conferences to explore each student's language choices as they created images of their special place.

Eliesa, the student in the following interaction, brings many strengths to his writing, having a good grasp of structure and a sense of audience. He uses descriptive language and has rich ideas and images. In fact, he was trying to fit too much descriptive language into his writing, which lessened its impact. Eliesa's home language is Tongan.

My purpose in this interaction was to build Eliesa's understanding of the need to be precise in language choices to convey images, and also to be selective in deciding what to include, keeping in mind the impact on the reader. I planned to focus on one idea in his writing, to encourage him to think about each word or phrase.

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), and Running 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 one-to-one conversations, it's important to help students feel comfortable to discuss their writing, as their writing is personal to them. This was in my mind as I sat down to work with Eliesa. In working with him, I've found that asking him to read his text aloud helps him hear the language and process the message. Also, he is the writer and this is a way of showing that I value his ownership. I can give immediate and specific feedback on his word choices as a reader, and can deliberately relate what he is doing to the learning intention.
I chose to focus on the interaction around the palace because I wanted Eliesa to see how, with careful selection of a few words, he could make an image stronger for the reader. I suggested that together we needed to work out where to add in the new text as I could see that he was finding it difficult to focus in on one detail. I was signalling, as I often do in such circumstances, that we would solve the problem together and he didn't have to do it alone. On reflection, I think that the difficulty that Eliesa exhibited was due to my asking him for a sentence and then suggesting that he add words 'the king' to an existing sentence. I think this confused him.
I used the language of our learning intention in our conversation. This was important because it helped to focus Eliesa on the purpose for the writing and the expected learning.
Peter Johnston's comments
Teacher: Can you remind me what you're writing about, Eliesa?
Amanda does not immediately ask to see or hear what has been written, which would be attending to the performance rather than to Eliesa and what he has to say. She inquires about what Eliesa is writing about. This opens a conversation that positions Eliesa as a respected person with interesting things to say. It also makes it possible for Eliesa to hear himself tell another draft of what he is writing. The contrast between what he now says and what he has written opens a space for him to revise without teacher direction - leaving him in control of the composition. 'Remind me' is different from 'Tell me' because it recognises that Amanda has encountered Eliesa's piece before and it is her frailty that makes her not fully remember it rather than her not attending to Eliesa's important composition.
Amanda consistently speaks to individual children using their first names. This does invite the feeling that they are someone, recognised and respected. It seems trivial but it shouldn't be taken for granted. Rereading the conversation without these names has a very different feel.
Eliesa: Um, my special place was, um, my Dad's van.
Teacher: OK, and what makes it special to you?
I wonder whether asking a more open question might get more detail and then this more focused question would be able to capitalise on the detail. Suppose the prompt were simply 'Tell me about it.'
Eliesa: Um, because, it's away from my brothers and my sister like arguing, like, singing songs that are out of tune, and my parents asking for, like, make them cup of teas and also cleaning up.
Teacher: OK, so it's a place you can go and escape to.
Offering a possible summarising statement. It is offered in a way that shows Amanda is attending closely to what Eliesa is saying. Eliesa shows that he takes it this way in his validating 'Yeah.'
Eliesa: Yeah.
Teacher: So, when you're in that place, does anybody know that you're there?
This is a question of genuine interest, which extends their relationship of respect.
Eliesa: Um, no, only my cat.
Teacher: So you're only there with your cat.
And again.
Eliesa: Yeah.
Teacher: OK. Did you start writing about how it felt to be in this place?
Turning attention now to where Eliesa is in the process of recording his experience so he can talk about the writing itself.
Eliesa: Yeah.
Teacher: Do you want to read that to me? I think it was down here somewhere, wasn't it?
This indirect request is intended to soften the direction. This doesn't work for all cultural groups. Some hear this literally.
The second question shows familiarity with his piece and shows that she pays attention to what he does, so he has to, too.
Eliesa: (reads) 'I like it because it's comfortable, peaceful, and nobody can know me. It just feels like I'm in a small palace.'
Teacher: OK. Why did you choose to say that it was like being in a small palace? What did you want the reader to know from that?
'Choose to,' emphasises the authorial agency.
The next question further emphasises the agency by focusing on the expected consequences of the author's action.
Eliesa: Oh, like, like it's just me and, like, it feels like that I just want, like a small kingdom, and,  when you're, like, king, you have your palace and it's just you living in there.
Teacher: Oh, so you're this king inside the van!
This is a reflective restatement that extends Eliesa's palace metaphor, at once offering new language possibilities and building respect by showing close attention to what Eliesa has to say.
Eliesa: Yeah.
Teacher: So, as a reader I want to hear about you being this king, OK, because that's such a great image for me and I can start to understand why that place would be very special to you. So, together we need to work out a way of being able to add that, um, image into your writing. Where do you think that would fit?
The first sentence turns attention back to the writing by identifying herself as a reader. Amanda shows interest in Eliesa's pursuing her extension of his metaphor and shows a connection between her interest as a reader and Eliesa's choice of words. This sentence also brings the connection back to the topic -the purpose of the piece.
The words 'together we' insist on a collaborative view of the writing. They offer support -'you're not alone in this' - but at the cost of individual agency. Adding the image to Eliesa's writing takes for granted that Eliesa does want to add this to his writing. It does not offer him a choice.
The last sentence offers him a choice, but not to leave it out.
Eliesa: Um, after the palace and just tell them why I feel like being in a palace?
Teacher: OK. Can you think of a sentence now that would back that idea up?
This keeps the momentum going, not allowing the opportunity to not include it.
Eliesa: Like, um because...
Teacher: I think down here, 'It just feels like I'm in a small palace'.'It just -you could add something in here about being the king. What do you think?... Could I give you a suggestion? It just feels like I'm a king. Have a go at adding that in.
This section is very forceful. Following the invitations to think of a sentence and where to put it Eliesa has no time to do so, no opportunity to reject the idea. Although Amanda asks permission, to make a suggestion -both important politeness conventions to maintain Eliesa's authority- however, there is the insistence that he write the suggestion.
Eliesa: (writes, then reads) - ' a very small palace.'
Teacher: OK, so to your sentence we added, 'It just feels like I'm a king'. Why do you think it was important for the reader that you added in the words of 'the king?'
This divides up authorship. The first piece is Eliesa's, the second piece is composed by Amanda and Eliesa.
The question asserts that it was important for the reader to know that Eliesa feels like a king. It does not allow Eliesa to contest the presumed importance because it is given information. The only part in question is why it is important.
Eliesa: Because I feel like a king, and probably in palaces you mostly have a king in them.
The 'probably' and 'mostly' suggest some caution on Eliesa's part.
Teacher: OK, so you want your reader to know that you're the ruler of this van?
This is an assertion by Amanda of Eliesa's goals. He may not agree, in which case it would undermine his ownership of the writing.
Eliesa: Yeah!
Teacher: OK. And I can see that now as the reader. That's made the image a lot stronger for me.
Builds a strong connection between reader and writing strategy, emphasising what happens in readers' heads.
Eliesa: Yeah.
Teacher: That's a cool piece of writing.
This is a 'close the conversation' statement. It is unspecific praise, which can have a down-side. Since it doesn't show what is cool about the piece of writing, it doesn't allow the author to later view his work through specific qualities himself. He has to go back to the teacher to see if this new piece is cool, too.

Published on: 22 Mar 2016