Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The 'Writing Plan' for our Junior school.

In November, our juniors will be sitting their second round of the asttle writing tests for this year, a test that will gage where our students are at with their writing.  I really wanted to make sure our kids knew it was coming and for them to understand how important it is.  My thinking was that if we are consistently talking to our senior students about the importance of achieving credits and NCEA, we need to be delivering the same message to our junior school with regards to their writing.  I met with Marc Milford, our literacy expert and we devised a plan to meet with all of the year 9's and year 10's during the last week of term 3.  I knew it would be a huge undertaking but it was a necessary one.

Preparing for the meetings
I created a 'Writing Plan' and Marc and I set about preparing the following resources for each student:
  • A copy of their February Asttle test paper 
  • A print out their Individual learning pathways from the Asttle website
  • A goal setting template called 'The Big Picture'
  • Exemplars of what a level 5/6 writing example looked like
  • A simplified breakdown of each of the elements that the test is marked on
Individual learning pathways
I then created a spreadsheet for each tutor class and we grouped them according to their writing results.  Below is a graph that shows where the majority of our year 9's were at according to their curriculum levels.

Results for the year 9's from their February asttle writing test.
Meeting with our students 
We met with 71 year 9 students over the week (10 or so had low attendance issues).  For the students at level 2, we met with them individually and for the others, we met with them in groups of no more then 3.  The meetings took longer then we anticipated, on average between 25 - 30 minutes each.  For the year 10's, I took my social studies class through the writing plans as a class, which I found was effective for them.  Unfortunately, we couldn't get to all the 10's, so will focus on them week one of term four.

We started by meeting with the students whose score was at levels 2 individually because we thought it best to spend some time discussing with them where they were at and to encourage them to think about ways they could improve their writing.  We wanted to hear what they had to say.

I began the discussion by talking about the 'Big Picture' .  For the 'Where am I AT?' box, we discussed their February asttle result and we talked through what each element meant on the asttle test.  They then wrote down their strengths and work on's from their individual learning pathway.

I also wanted to hear their thoughts on how they felt about writing and then we talked through the different ways in all their subject areas that has helped them improve their writing during the year.

As I led the discussions with each student, Marc read over their February test paper.  He addressed specifically what students had written.  He then discussed with them the things that they did well on and helped them identity their work ons specific to their paper.
I discuss with students their plans whilst Marc looks over their February test.
 Marc shared some of the tips below with our kids during the meetings:
  • Make sure to write an explanation not a narrative or story.
  • When explaining, try to convince your audience that what you are were saying is a fact
  • Keep it formal, no slang
  • Write a plan then use the plan - a third is planning, a third is writing and a third is editing.
  • Always write what you will talk about in the intro 
  • Use a topic sentence to start off each paragraph
  • Keep referring back to the topic of the essay
  • Don't write in first person, try to write in third
  • Imagine the person who is reading your explanation knows nothing about your topic
  • Use a variety of perspectives
Marc shares a highlighted exemplar
After sharing these tips, Marc then showed students what a level 6 exemplar looked like, highlighting the 7 elements that the markers will be looking for.  We then asked the students if there are any questions and I reminded them that there would be an opportunity for them to blog over the holidays as a way to keep their writing 'going'.  The last part of the meeting looked at setting some future goals in their writing that they could focus on.  I took a photo of their big picture pages as a way to keep track of who we'd talk to and to remind them of the goals at the end of the year.

We knew these meetings were important but actually having them one on one with the kids was really positive.  Initially, most of the students asked if they were in trouble, but once we started, they were quite receptive to hearing about their writing.

Here are some of the responses from the students we'd met with:

"Ms, I was really dumb back then.  Can I sit the test now?"

"Can we do this with our maths?"

"If we fail this, does it mean we stay back a year?"

"I can see why it's good to plan before you write"

Our Level 2A student wrote his 'Big Picture' plan.
One particular student who was a level 2A, admitted that when it came to writing, he found it hard to start and gave up.  When Marc asked him to think of a special place in the community, he said he didn't know one because he just stayed home.  A number of other students said the same thing.  Marc and I discussed this later and found that the task of asking kids to write about a special place in the community assumed that they actually got out in the community and found somewhere 'special' that they could talk about when the reality was, they couldn't answer the question because they lacked the life experiences needed to help them.

Overall, we found sitting down with the students really beneficial, not just for the students but for us in understanding ways to support our kids more.  The kids were engaged and receptive to the thought of focusing on their writing and understood the importance of looking at where they were in February.  They seemed to understand that across all of their subject areas explanation writing is a key component of their learning and that with a few simple consistent tools and strategies, they can take an active role in improving their writing.

Next steps
For the future, I have a few ideas to support what we've started.
  • Over these holidays, our department has discussed the need to prepare our juniors through a current events context, focussed on developing their written responses.  I will design a unit to support this for our juniors.
  • Next term, I want to speak to tutor classes and a year level assembly about preparing mentally for testing.  After reading their thoughts about writing, I can see some patterns as to how they feel about it. 
  • Once the asttle results for November are available,  I want to identify the kids who are still well below their level or who may have made the least shift and develop an appropriate programme to meet their learning needs.  This will be shared with their jumpstart teachers for 2019.
  • Meet with the HOD's of core subjects and discuss a writing plan that addresses explanation writing across our subject areas.  
  • Early next year, a few days after students have their marks recorded on the asttle website (most likely in March), me and Marc will sit down with each student and set some writing goals.  I will share these with subject teachers who can support their students with their writing. 
I hope that we could continue this writing journey alongside our kids and with better planning, I am thinking about how to involve our parents and their families further in the future.  Small steps but definitely worth it!

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Encouraging the 'Talanoa': Using Cue Cards for reflections

My level 3 Sos kids have just completed their externals and to get my level 3 students back on track and completing reflections on their Social Actions, I wanted to use a different method to get them to remember what did they and how they did it.  Usually, I would expect students to reflect individually but in the past, students get bored and loss motivation.  Because I know the year 13's like to talk I got them into their groups, shared with them the lesson plan and gave them reflection cue cards to help them discuss their actions.  The main rule I gave was that everyone had to have a question and that every member had to respond with an answer (one at a time of course)

There were 4 groups in total and it was interesting to see how each group responded.  The boys in the front of the class found using them good to hear from the quieter less overt members of the group.  A small group of 3 used them to ensure that they could write in more detail because they were lacking this in their written reflections.  The biggest group of girls who had issues with their suppers (ie they ran out of food) were able to talk in honesty about how they felt when this happened.  The last group, who were my most able students, didn't find them as useful as I'd hoped, instead choosing to rush through the questions, so they could get to their writing.

The supper group discuss their social action.
A smaller group 'talanoa' about their action.
On reflection, a thing I would change next time is to ensure that these discussions are done with the groups separated in a different space/room because it was a bit noisy in the one classroom where some really good discussions were going on.  I also think that I would have students voice record their conversations and create a transcript that they could use in their assessment.  From this, I hope to look at more focus group types of discussion, where I could model to them how to 'link' their answers to each other and learn how to respond to each other.  Overall, I think the lesson went well and I hope to develop this strategy better.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Concept Maps with my ESOL students

Lately I have been thinking about how to support my ESOL learners better in my level 3 Sos class.  In my last post, I wanted them to focus on understanding the deeper relevance of concepts that we were studying, rather then brush the surface.  I used a concept map with the word 'Reflection' in Samoan in the middle ('Mafaufauga') and with the support of a translator, they were encouraged to explore the concept more deeply.  (As an aside, although I am Samoan, I sadly can not speak it and this has been a challenge when trying to help my ESOL students fully). 

They were pretty enthusiastic about doing the task which didn't surprise me.  I knew that they would see a connection between the English and Samoan version of the words and it allowed them to see the concept as more then just a foreign word on the page. 

A completed concept map from Student 1
A completed concept map from Student 2
Once they had completed their concept maps, the next step was to use the concept to identify positives and negatives of their social actions.  I shared with them a document that asked them to apply 'mafaufauga' to the their actions.  I attempted to use Samoan words to emphasise the key ideas and I was encouraged by how well the students responded to this.  Although positive, I think they wanted to get the task completed rather then focus on detail. 

My next steps are to think of ways to develop more comprehensive deeper thinking on the issue and I'm thinking that they need to be exposed to this more often.  As Dr Van Hees has said, one of the ways that students can have better understanding of words is to expose them to 'language in abundance' and I think by getting them to see it in their world first could help them to be more receptive to new words and concepts.
Student 1's answers

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Reading Reflections: Supporting my ESOL students

My level 3 class has such a wide spread of learning needs and learning abilities, sometimes I find it difficult to ensure that each student and their groups have equitable share of my time.  I have students working at level 8 of the curriculum and achieving Excellences in NCEA, sitting next to students who had only recently migrated to New Zealand and are struggling to grasp basic English words and concepts. 

Although I have attempted to scaffold and break-down key elements of our learning and language, I know my ESOL students are not getting enough of my attention and support to ensure their success in my subject. 

Recently, I sat down with my 2 ESOL kids and discussed a realistic plan moving forward.  One of my students had chosen to return to year 13 having completed part of her course last year, so this is her second year in my class and she had returned to gain her level 3 over 2 years.  Last year, she managed to achieve one of the 4 credit internal standards in Senior Social Studies and also gained an achieved in one of her NCEA level 3 History exam papers which was awesome.  Her goal this year was to gain at least 10 more credits in my subject area as part of her career pathway.

My other student migrated to New Zealand at the beginning of last year and according to our English support teacher, was 'very low in her language comprehension and acquisition'.  Both students have a teacher aide sit with them for one of our double periods in class which has helped enormously with relaying ideas and learnings to them but the struggle has been the lack of opportunity to apply these learnings to a context that they could relate to.

I have been reading about how do this better and have found the TKI site 'Language enhancing the achievement of Pasifika' site useful.  Under 'Language and school', there are tools and strategies shared that I want to try out.

At the moment, my year 13's are being asked to write a 'Reflection' on the social actions that they'd completed earlier in the term.  I have provided different opportunities to reflect and now students are writing them.  I have realised that I have assumed that my students knew what the concept of reflection was and instead of allowing my ESOL students the time to process it, I have been trying to rush them to the next stage without them being ready.  One of the strategies that I want to use will be to extend their vocab by paying special attention to it.  Instead of trying to get them to write the reflection, I will get them to 'know the word' better so that they can apply it practically when necessary.  I will start with a checklist that can support them in their vocab learning.

A tool to support my ESOL learners
A common tool we use in Social Studies is a concept map that allows different ways to use a concept and allows student to become familiar with a concept at the start of a unit.  This will take a bit of time but it will be worth it for my ESOL learners to ensure that they come away with key vocab which will enrich their learning.

A concept map for 'Reflection'

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Reflecting on my year 12's exams

This term, my seniors have been busy preparing for practice exams.  We have looked at a complicated topic like Israel and Palestine and picked it apart in a hope that it makes sense to them and although I feel they know the context quite well now, the writing of it is something that I feel definitely needs more work.

Of the 17 students entered for the exam, 3 of them didn't sit it, and of the 14 who did, although they attempted it only 7 of them passed.  I was disappointed with the result and talked to my co-teacher CC, who helped teach and mark the exam, about it.  I could see in their writing that they still needed to structure their ideas better and that they lacked depth and insight.  CC said the students wrote like it was a 'brain dump', they just tried to get everything out on the page without double triple checking the questions or the exam paper. 

I talked to the kids and they generally felt like they were a bit lost and weren't sure what to do.  I also sent out a survey to follow this up and to help me understand what was needed to be done to support the kids better.

Here are some of the questions I asked my kids:

My next steps are to sit down with each student and talk about what they need to do to improve in their writing and to look at more effective strategies around essay structures to help them to feel more confident in their writing.

Friday, 14 September 2018

Professional Development with Dr Cynthia Greenleaf

Today we had the privilege of listening to  Dr Cynthia Greenleaf a well known researcher who work has conducted research into children and adolescent literacy and translated it into teacher professional development.  We were given a number of challenges that were interesting and enjoyable and helped us to see different perspectives of the same issue.

Some of my key take outs were:

  • What supports me in discussion and what gets in the way?
  • Thinking about how to build knowledge through reasoning and thinking about evidence
  • Evidence based argumentation which is different to persuasion.

If kids have abundant opportunities to collaborate together, they can rehearse having multiple perspectives in their head they can use it when they see fit - in-head reasoning skills - Dr Greenleaf calls it 'hedging'.   

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Sharing literacy strategies at our Department meeting

One of our Social Science department goals is to raise the reading and writing levels in asttle for the students in our junior school and at each of our department meetings, we have looked at how to address this.  Marc Milford, our literacy expert, has shared some strategies that we have gone away to try in our classrooms.

At our last department meeting, I asked staff to share a strategy that they have tried in their classrooms (for either their juniors and/or seniors) and we put together a google presentation to which each team member talked to.  Each slide has links to the resources they'd used and a brief description of what they did to implement the strategy.

It was good to hear from each team member and it was reassuring to know that cool things were happening in their classrooms.  We decided that at least once a term, we will reflect and try out more strategies to ensure we have a bank of resources that we can use to support each other and our students to help raise their literacy levels.  We would also look at strategies that we will utilise more purposefully in our planning if they are proven to be effective.

The 'Writing Plan' for our Junior school.

In November, our juniors will be sitting their second round of the asttle writing tests for this year, a test that will gage where our stude...