We had a wonderful discussion last year about what's important for students in learning to write and writing to learn. Fifteen months later what have we learnt about teaching writing?
Read through this great discussion and add your new ideas:
From Louise, Granville East PS
Our Term 4 Rounds at Granville East is based on students' skills in writing. We are grappling with both the technical skills of composing texts as well as the expressive, reflective and generative thinking developed in writing for genuine purposes. Our teachers have spent quite some time looking at the benefits of targeted and explicit modelling to students, so that learning is not left to chance or based on individual motivations. But - does this modelling go far enough? What are the opportunities provided for students to construct, choose, consider, reflect and monitor and write and write and write?
I am keen to hear others' thoughts on the notion of Learning to Write and Writing to Learn. What should we be aware of (and conscious of when designing experiences) regarding the skills, dispositions and capabilities that authors nee when composing in different disciplines and for difference purposes?
Is writing more complex than putting pen to paper?
From Barbara, Critical Friend
Thanks Louise. I agree that if our students are going to become proficient they need opportunities to write and write and write. So are teachers making those opportunities and also using the process of writing to develop thinking and understanding across the curriculum?
Yes, we need modelling and quality texts for students to learn from, and the teacher needs to be explicit. But are our teachers too narrow in this explicit teaching? Are our expectations for students generally too low (and I'm asking this question across schools of all ses levels)? Is our feedback and assessment too often focused on surface features (that a good word processing program will correct anyway)?
I love the sample lessons in the Rothbridge book that demonstrate the importance of quality & carefully selected texts, and how explicit teaching can be used to generate a deep understanding of the techniques that real writers use. Do our teachers have sufficient understanding of the writers' craft to enable them to develop such lessons independently? My big question is, “How do we get our students to think like a real writer?”
From Nicole, Granville East PS
Thanks Louise and Barbara. I agree with your thoughts...to me writing is definitely much more complex than putting pen to paper. The act of taking an abstract thought and translating it into a meaningful written text is an amazing human act, but one that needs to be consciously learnt. In order to think like a writer, children first need to recognise themselves as writers...not just kids who come to school to 'do writing'.
In researching this problem of practice, I am also wondering how effectively we are using writing to help children develop understanding across the curriculum. Freebody's idea of talking about 'literacies' rather than the often ambiguous and misunderstood 'literacy' resonates with me, as the language better reflects the concept that writing (both learning to write and writing to learn) is intertwined with context, field, audience and purpose. How well are we designing these broader, cross-curriculum writing experiences for students? Are they mostly incidental? How can we make them richer?
I am also wondering about the texts chosen for modelling...and the 'hidden agenda' that may be at play here. Do we value some texts over others? Which ones and why? What impact does this have?
From Sharna, Sefton Infants
All of your points are very valid and highlight the complexities of the teaching and learning of writing. I fear that the teaching of writing has become quite formulaic and treated at just a surface level as well. I believe the explicit introduction of genres/text types, as well as functional grammar certainly helped us as teachers to provide more structure for the teaching of writing but often I think we get stuck there at that level and don't develop our students as expressive writers. I think the rubric type assessment and scoring of writing as per NAPLAN has also influenced us somewhat to teach writing in a constrained and formulaic manner. ( I hope learning intentions and success criteria don't do the same!)
For those of us who have been teaching for a while - Do you remember 'Process Writing'? Our focus then was getting children to write, write and write supported by individual conferences with the teacher/peer to provide feedback and build the writer's skills as expressive communicators. I think we are now missing or shortcutting on the writing development that comes through drafting, redrafting (and redrafting) and publishing. How can we balance the best of the explicit teaching of writing with the best of process writing for children learning to express themselves as individuals through writing for a purpose? Writing exercises versus writing as an expression of thinking. And another challenge ... how do we do all of this in our technological age as our written communication is constantly evolving with digital modes of expression?
From Sharen, Old Guildford PS
Completely agree Sharna! Process writing certainly got children writing, thinking about writing & then more writing. Less emphasis around structure; students developed knowledge of this through looking at the effectiveness of their writing in meeting intended purpose and audience.
From Kay and Sharen, Old Guildford PS
We've put some of our ideas from the readings into a comic strip for your enjoyment. Teaching writing is not easy, and the readings certainly gave us some food for thought. We really liked the idea of focusing on writing as a tool for thinking and moving away from a formulaic approach to teaching to write.
Trying some of the ideas, we realised that our students would need plenty of scaffolding to develop the tools for deep thinking. Our students are lacking in background knowledge and experience that facilitate deeper reflections. For this reason, more time would have to dedicated to bridging this gap.
We created a cartoon with Charlie Brown and Lucy Van Pelt discuss some of the key ideas that got us thinking.....