Using a writing strategy with my year 9 Sos class

After reading examples of writing (like blogs and summary paragraphs) from my year 9 social studies class during their first unit on 'sustainability', I felt many of them lacked structure and did not allow me to understand where the gaps were in their learning.

For my inquiry into how to improve the writing of our year 9 boys, I wanted to trial a writing strategy that I had learnt from Robyn Anderson at Panmure Bridge.  This strategy would hopefully allow students to formulate a more structured summary from their learning.

The context that we had been learning about was the impact and effects of globalisation in the small country of Tokelau.  Students had been looking at the push and pull theories of migration and needed to describe reasons why Tokelauans had moved to New Zealand and the issues they'd had with moving.  I found a reading which I felt students could cope with and asked the question:

What was life like for the Tokelauans?

From this reading, students had to choose the 20 most important words that they felt they learnt from the reading, then 6 of the most important words from that list of 20.  Then they needed to use the 6 words in a summary. I structured the template similar to one the that Robyn had used in her teaching.

Once I shared the document, a few interesting things happened.

I found a number of students struggled with the reading itself.  They complained that it was too much, that it was too hard and the black background was distracting.  I told them to break the reading up by chunking it, and reading one paragraph at a time.  I asked them to find 2 or 3 important words from each paragraph and to remember to stick to the questions.

One or two students found 10 words and struggled to find 20, another wanted to go straight to the 6 most important words, and another wanted to write the summary straight away.  I reminded the class that it was important for me to see how they found the words that they did and how it would help them write their summary.

All in all, students worked really well on developing their summaries using the key words that they'd found in the readings.  Rather then me just telling them which were the important words, they were able to show what they thought was important and could justify these words to me.   I could direct the students who'd missed the mark or missed answering the questions, because I could see the gap in their thinking.

Most of the students took their time to produce their summaries, which I found interesting.  When I asked them how they felt about the writing the summary this way, most said they enjoyed being able to take their time to complete the summary because they didn't have to write the summary straight away as they'd had in the past.  They were able to see the connections between what was important to write and how they wrote it and found the value in doing it this way.

Whilst the majority of students who completed the exercise wrote their summaries on a document, one or two students shared their learning on the blogs.  In the future, I am hoping to use this strategy more often particularly at the end of the unit and I would like to see students working in groups whereby they need to debate and deliberate over which words are important.  I would also like to see students who are capable of extending themselves, to write more comprehensive summaries to show their learning.

Leopote's blog summary

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