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!

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