Taking back the true agenda for ‘Writing’ – the story of a PETAA learning ‘intensive’

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Why do many of our students dislike writing? How many adults actually write for pleasure? How do successful writers engage their readers? Why do people write? These were some of the questions that were investigated for the purpose of reinvigorating the teaching of writing in schools at the PETAA Professional Learning Intensive and Showcase – ‘Writing the Future’

Morris Gleitzman, the final speaker and current Australian Children’s Laureate, emphasised the importance of written stories saying that ‘writing gives us time to think about what we want to say.’ He came to understand early in life, the power of words to overcome problems. He sees stories as our weapons to face the problems of the future.

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An example of magic offered up by Dr Misty Adoniou

 THE CONTEXT

Writing — where has the magic gone?

Dr Misty Adoniou

Dr Misty Andoniou asked, ‘Where has all the magic gone?’ ‘Why are our kids so over writing? Is it our fault, as teachers, with the overuse of the same tired themes – holidays, school rules, screen time? She showed us, using NAPLAN data, that many students who were achieving well in writing during their early years were not doing so by the time they reached Year 9? Why not? Have we taught the magic out of writing? Misty asked, ‘What if we stopped teaching writing as small isolated skills and remembered the purpose of writing – to engage the hearts and minds of readers?’ She passionately argued the case for reading ‘real books’, loving the text, responding to it and then working out how the writer achieved the complex whole. Misty pleaded that we fill our children’s reservoir of language with rich vocabulary, written literary structures, catch phrases and to make sure that all writing we asked our students to undertake had a real purpose. She wants us to stop handing out recipes on how to write and to fill our student’s lives with life experiences and beautiful books so that they can achieve greater complexity in their writing and bring the magic back.

Showcase School 1 

Concordia College, St Johns Campus, South Australia
Writer: Louise Park

To build their teachers’ capacity to be teachers of writers, Concordia College in South Australia successfully applied for the ‘Writers in Residence’ Program. They completed a whole school language review and developed shared beliefs about teaching writing. Their aim was to achieve their core belief that – ‘Our teachers are teachers who write and are writers who teach.’ Their case study, which they showcased to our PETAA learning intensive, showed how they built both students’ and teachers’ capacity as writers with the help of their writer in residence, Louise Park.

Louise mainly worked with the Year 2 teachers. Here are some of the strategies that she used with them and shared with us:

  • Read like a writer. Follow the emotional journey. What do the characters feel and why?
  • Analyse like a writer. How can we take this writing to the next level?
  • Put in the small bits. They are the building blocks.  Show what the characters are doing in detail.
  • Use guided writing meditation. Think about each specific scene, write them in, visualise each of them and then join them together.
  • You get better at writing by writing. Dump what you are thinking, as you are visualising, on the page.
  • Know what you are writing well enough to feel it in your stomach.
  • Realise how important it is for a character to have a back story. It helps to understand the emotional journey.
  • Give your characters a flaw and use it. Imperfections make the character more interesting. For example the character may be claustrophobic or unable to swim.
  • Show a character’s age by their voice, how they speak, their phrases and expressions that they use.
  • Don’t let a character get what they want straight away.
  • For those who are stuck on what to write, create a wall in the classroom with ideas for characters, tricky situations, settings and minor characters.img_4241.jpg

The students interviewed enjoyed the fact that they could write whatever they wanted; that if they made a problem, they could always add on to it and they were proud that in just 12 weeks, they had gone from writing a few sentences to writing so much more.

CORE KNOWLEDGE 1 The Foundations

The essentials for meaning making

Dr Pauline Jones

Dr Pauline Jones made the point that most literacy lessons in classrooms are based on print based literacy even though we are in an era when we need to aspire to create digitally literate students and our work as teachers needs to be more future oriented. In order for our students to become digitally literate both students and teachers need to become proficient at using the software available to create digital texts.

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Dr Jones showed us some digital scientific texts made by pre service teachers and used these to make some suggestions for producing these multimodal texts.

She said that the first course of action before composing a text is to decide upon the appropriate genre. The writer must ask- ‘What is my purpose? How will I organise my information? What are the key features of this genre? What will I represent in words and what will I show in images?’

As well as genre, the digital author has to decide upon which digital medium best suits the presentation. When choosing the software used to create the multimodal texts the digital author needs to play with several types of programs to see what they allow them to do.

Once the genre and the software have been decided upon the creator must look closely at the field. In any informative text, the writer needs to have a deep understanding and strong grasp of the facts in order to present them clearly, simply and accurately.

A digital author must think about the tenor of their presentation; how they will interact with the viewer. When presenting informative texts, they are generally taking on the role of the expert. Using multimodal texts there is the possibility for message abundance, with the inclusion of films, diagrams, labels, animations, voice and words. The challenge is to make sure that the images and text work together. The author has to be careful that there is not too much text.

Another consideration is the mode; how to organise the text so that the information flows logically and clearly, how to make it a cohesive whole and how to create salience so that the important parts stand out.

My ‘take aways’ from Dr Jones’ explanation on how to create multi modal texts were:

  • Practise using the available software as much as possible whenever possible to familiarise myself and the students with its use and possibilities.
  • Find a critical friend who will look at the production in terms of genre, medium, field, tenor and mode.
  • Use labels for images and diagrams to improve clarity and message abundance.
  • Make sure that the text and images match.
  • Use constraint with the number of images and transitions.
  • Be careful of colour and font choices.

Showcase School 2

St Peters Lutheran College, Queensland
Writer: Deb Abela

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The goal of this collaborative Year 6 history writing program, Where We Are in Place and Time with the central idea –  ‘The migration of humankind has impacted on and changed societies’, was to develop the students’ ability to write a historical narrative using a digital platform while at the same time developing the soft skills for High School. They worked with the children’s author Deb Abela to learn how to write ‘engaging retellings of migrant stories’.

The students could interview people or use primary and secondary sources to find individual stories of migration and the contribution of the migration group, to produce their engaging exhibits for the authentic end task, ‘The Museum of Migration’.

To do this the teachers saturated the children with literature, taught them research skills, made sure that the learning fitted in with the syllabus and importantly, that the students were taught web design.  St Peters Lutheran College ‘Museum of Migration’ featured two separate galleries:
• The ‘Stories of Migration’ Gallery (Part A – Individual Task)
• The ‘Contribution of Migrant Groups’ Gallery (Part B – Collaborative Task)

To make best use of their time with their author, Deb Abela, the staff at St Peters ensured that the students had already begun their research and had been working in IT workshops to discover the best way to bring their stories to life digitally. They allowed the students to play with software such as Thinglink, Canva and iMovie in what they called the ‘Sandpit’. This was a place for them to play and experiment where others could not see. Then they ran a ‘snapshot lesson’ where the IT tools were demonstrated and the students could promote their IT skills.

Deb Abela’s role was to help the students to learn how to step into the characters shoes and feel what they were feeling and then to find the words and ways to express these emotions in writing. She was able to share the processes that she had used when researching for her book ‘Teresa’ and how she had made the novel engaging for the reader by adding the details that make the writing meaningful.

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Apart from developing the students’  IT abilities, the task also developed  the skills of collaboration, time management, writing independence and risk taking – skills of the future.

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CORE KNOWLEDGE 2 Talk

Handing over the power through classroom dialogue

Dr Bronwyn Parkin and Dr Helen Harper

This session presented the results of recent research carried out by Drs Harper and Parkin through their PETAA Research Grant into scaffolding academic language with educationally marginalised students. It demonstrated their model of nuanced, dynamic teaching and learning negotiation to support all students in the class into independent writing at a year-level appropriate level. The learning area of Science was used as the context of this session. 

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Dr Parkin pointed out that scientific language is not like the language of poetry with its metaphors, personification and imagery. Nor is it the language of narratives and creation stories. Scientific language contains expanded noun groups which are specific and exact. Why? Because the task of a scientist is to observe, explain and describe phenomenon.

When writing a scientific text we need to have science learning goals to explain how and language and literacy goals to comprehend (written and visual explanations) , compose (oral and written explanations) and represent ( understandings in multimodal form)

Before planning we, as teachers, need to write our own focus text that we want our students to appropriate and use. This focus text becomes our planning tool.

  • It helps us to work our what background knowledge will be needed to understand the text.
  • We can scrutinise it for the concepts that will be confusing unless pre-taught.
  • It helps us to decide what genre and language to teach.
  • An appropriation of it will become the assessment task to show understanding.
  • We can use it to scope and sequence the topic.
  • We can deconstruct the focus text before we teach the students to analyse it for its text structure and language features in order to model these to our students.
  • We need to isolate its academic language (content) and pedagogic language (process) and teach these explicitly.
  • From what we pull from the focus text we can make decisions about which orienting activities to use as well as how to sequence our literacy activities and bridge these two with note taking which acts as scaffolding which can be referred to when writing a joint construction or independently.
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  • The focus text

The teachers from Cowandilla Primary School in Adelaide effectively demonstrated using contingent questioning to engage the student in thinking and speaking. They used purposeful orienting activities as they built the field using muted videos to which they spoke using the targeted language, examined diagrams and modelled the lunar eclipse using people. Their Scientific explanation was How a lunar eclipse occurs. 

As the teachers questioned they empowered the students with language and knowledge. They respectfully accepted the responses and rephrased the grammar in their responses. By re-emphasising the language that had been chosen from the focus text to be the target technical language e.g blocking the sun’s rays, they reinforced the concepts being taught and encouraged the students when answering, to recast the language in their explanations. e.g the repeated use of in direct alignment. 

The teachers created notes on a whiteboard from the contingent questions being asked and the answers being given,  thinking aloud as they went along. These notes were to be used in later lessons.

The students were well scaffolded by the questioning and use of diagrams. They were not being set up for ‘failure’. Students who with greater confidence were being asked initially and then as the teachers became confident that the students could contribute it was more of a ‘hot seat’ approach. The answers were expected to be given in the scientific language that the students had been practising all along. The teacher had the written text in mind as they asked the questions with the aim of the students using the language in their own writing.

The note taking was not in full sentences but it did annotate the text structure and language features e.g.  which words were talking about the conditions and which were talking about the effects. The knowledge and structure for producing the written text were there in the note taking which could then be kept on display as an artefact to be used to create a text similar to the focus text.

Even though the joint reconstructed text looked like the focus text, the students had helped to create it and had ownership over it. It was a stable meaningful text that could be used to teach the language features required – verbs, conjunctions, structure.

The constructed text was then taken away but the structure and notes were left as a scaffold. The students were then required to write for themselves.

The conclusions were:

  • Language is central to learning and has to be systematically planned for.
  • The focus text is an important pedagogic tool – a planning tool.
  • Pedagogic language is dynamic. Teacher talk doesn’t stay the same from beginning to end. The teacher gradually hands over control to the students. The contingent questioning changes from when the learning is new, when the learning is under way and finally when the students are more confident and have good control over the language and vocabulary.
  • Classroom dialogue is the foundation for writing.
  • Writing supports academic talk.

CORE KNOWLEDGE 3 Creativity

Creativity — writing as an art form

Professor Robyn Ewing

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Robyn describes creative writing as an art form – ‘word working’ . “We are artists but we forget.” She asked if we thought of ourselves as writers and if so, what kind? Are we reflective, are we engaging? Do we write with more pathos than logos? How versatile are we? Do we want to be creative or imaginative?

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“Writing is a way of knowing” This is a healing act, it’s constructive. Mem Fox says ‘A writer must ache with caring’. We can write to examine something more closely.

For most people ‘creativity’ connotes originality – as well as imagination, expressiveness and risk taking. Writing can include these traits as well as curiosity, persistence, collaboration, discipline, knowledge and skills.

The Arts have a special connection with imagination and creativity but do not have the sole ownership. Research has shown that children who engage in quality arts processes are more emotionally and socially balanced than those who don’t. The Arts have been consistently devalued over the years but they are constantly invoked when there are mental health issues. Robyn suggested that if we engage in creative arts programs from birth we won’t have to come in with rescue packages ten to twelve years later.

‘Children really want to write – if we let them’ – Donald Graves. Robyn reminded us that many children come to school already knowing that the purpose of writing is to communicate meaning. They draw pictures and symbols in little love notes to their parents. At school we can over test and become formulaic in our teaching to stay within certain frameworks and text types – things that can be measured easily or cheaply. We can kill the creativity and joy of writing.

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Robyn suggests that we slow down the writing process and wonders how any writer can write in a given time of 40 minutes. She says we need to give children time to write and to embed drama in whatever we are doing. When we do the students are able to connect to the character, feel what they are feeling and literally step into their shoes.

Drama is fun and pleasurable and yet simultaneously rigorous and challenging. It involves the use of imagination. We are story telling creatures – we live our lives telling stories. It involves play – dramatic play and playing with language. Through drama processes we can develop different perspectives. Through imaginative literature we can find the gaps, spaces, places to play.

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Robyn ended with a quote from Ursula Le Guin, ‘Words are my matter – my stuff. Words are my skein of yarn, my wet lump of clay, my block of uncarved wood. Words are my magic anti-proverbial cake.’ In other words, creative writing is ‘wordworking‘.

Showcase School 3

Corpus Christi Primary School Glenroy, Victoria

Writer: Sue Whiting

This writing project was envisioned by a teacher at Corpus Christi, Emma Hinns. The focus was on the students becoming literate, active, engaged, empowered citizens in our society. Emma is driven by the belief that she can walk into school every day and make a difference. She had a mission to engage disengaged students in writing and to capture their hearts and minds.

Emma recognised that the students spent quite a bit of time on digital media which displaced play. They spent little time with traditional media such as books, magazines or television. This prompted the decision to employ digital media to create texts so that she could meet the students on their horizon, tap into their world and unlock their potential.

‘Choose your own adventure’ texts were the chosen genre because of their length, ‘open-endedness’ , and the fact that the students would have control. They also lent themselves to being presented as digital texts. Emma wanted to empower the students so that they could reconnect with their learning and see themselves as learners and writers.

Taking the leap to make a change, Emma successfully applied for the ‘Writers in Residence’ Program. Their school’s author in residence was Sue Whiting whose latest book, ‘Missing’, is a middle grade mystery, suspense novel for readers in Upper Primary and older.

Sue Whiting was a bit daunted by the brief. There were three things that scared her: digital media, group work and the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ format.

The ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories are complex and challenging. They are written in the second person, which is unusual as a narrative is usually written in the first or third person. Character development is made difficult because the character is actually the reader and the tone of the writing is necessarily very directive.

Sue and Emma negotiated to find their collective vision. Sue had to trust and respect Emma’s teacher judgement and Emma had to respect and trust Sue’s writer’s knowledge.

The students were given individual writing journals to give them freedom to ‘play’. They were to be used for writing like no one was watching and to do with whatever they liked. Together they solved the problem of writing in the second person by changing the plan to ‘pick a path’ rather than ‘choose your own adventure’

Emma ‘prepared the realm’ for Sue’s arrival. The students were familiarised with the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ stories.  She built anticipation by telling them that someone special was coming to their school and made them feel special explaining that they were only one of a few schools to be chosen in the whole of Australia.  The kids were ‘pumped’!

Sue encouraged the students to think like writers and used her book, ‘Missing’ as a modelled text. Their Writing Books had no lines on the pages so the students could experiment. They wrote each morning in a nonthreatening environment in their books jotting down what they could hear smell and hear. Their stories had to contain a natural disaster.

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For the group work the more able students were put with the less able to help them. The students were taught how to work in groups and they allowed time for reflection. Screen Shot 2018-10-25 at 9.49.26 pm

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The teachers set up a ‘multimedia sandpit’ where the they and the students were free to ‘play’ in a digital sense. Emma made sure that the teachers felt safe and supported in a digital world and once the students had learnt to use the digital media they could step back and let the students run it.

It was the job of Emma to asses the success of the project. The student reflections were important and so she designed a google form for them to respond.

Emma found that:

  • there was transferral of learning bleeding out of the learning.
  • the students were happy to be in the challenge pit and happy to work their way out.
  • the EAL/D students were able to articulate their learning.
  • the students had improved digital skills.
  • the students enjoyed this more than the usual writing.
  • the teachers enjoyed working collaboratively.
  • all the aims were achieved.

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CORE KNOWLEDGE 4 Whole School Application

Reflect and Apply

Dr Beverly Derewianka

How can schools build up an effective sustainable writing program and what is the importance of this? The following paragraph clearly explains the value of teaching writing well.

‘Writing helps students analyze and clarify their thinking, synthesize their ideas, and communicate them with others. It accompanies and records the thinking that occurs when students are engaged in the practices that take place during an investigation, such as asking questions, planning and carrying out investigations, analyzing and interpreting data, and constructing explanations. It creates a record that can be returned to, responded to, and revised. In revisiting a piece of writing, the written piece itself becomes a platform for further reading, talking, and writing. A piece of writing can be a repository for emerging ideas (a “silent partner” in an investigation) or result in a final product for sharing knowledge. … Writing supports the construction of new understanding because it gives students the opportunity to articulate their thinking as they engage in the practices during an investigation. The fact that the writing takes place in the context of hands-on activities means that students can draw from direct experiences that are interesting, meaningful, and shared.’ https://www.exploratorium.edu/education/ifi/inquiry-and-eld/educators-guide/science-writing

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In this session Bev Derewianka, pulled the two days ‘learning intensive’ together and shared her ideas for building an effective writing program across the whole school or learning community. They included:

  • A process of building in sustainability. This meant that there needs to be high quality SUSTAINED professional learning over time. Not just a one-off day. Across the school there should be common pedagogies and practices.
  • A school literacy policy supported by an invested and visible literacy team who attend all workshops and are constantly engaged in the learning with staff through professional learning teams.
  • Whole staff engagement created through shared understandings and expectations where common terminology is being used by all. Without all staff on board the  cumulative learning across the grades where there are no gaps or overlaps will not happen. Literacy should not be limited to the literacy block as it is an integral part of all learning. Time must be made for collaborative planning.
  • Review of the language resources required by students to achieve the learning. By the teachers writing a modelled text and bringing it along to planning meetings to share, they are able to analyse the language and learning requirements necessary to complete the task. This allows for the task to be modified and improved to suit the students and the context.
  • Belonging to a network or cluster of schools where the teachers can develop a unit of work to be used by all. (Bev worked with the Circular Head cluster of schools in north east Tasmania. These schools belong to a community of schools, a professional learning community who have been working together on an action research project collecting evidence of change as Bev assists them to build their writing programs.)
  • Assessing, recording and reporting achievement. Learning is documented as teachers keep reflective journals, work samples and videos. Student voice is listened to. The students themselves are  involved in surveys and interviews and belong to their own committees where they reflect and give feedback.
  • Celebrating a community of writers. The school develops in students a ‘writing culture’ where students are encouraged to value writing.

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Bev took us through the ‘Teaching Learning Cycle for Writing’. The sequence is not always sequential. It spirals back on itself as constant formative assessments happen and revision is constant. It is a process that builds up knowledge and skills in literacy to equip the students with understandings that can be transferred and used independently.

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The Teaching and Learning Cycle © 2018 B. Derewianka, PETAA Writing The Future Intensive

Building Knowledge of the Field

Building the field is so important and continues all the way through the cycle. In EAL/D teaching we call this ‘message abundance’ (Pauline Gibbons). It is how we expose our students to the content of what is being taught in many and various ways; hands-on learning, excursions, videos, rich texts, interactive learning through digital media, discussions and visiting experts.

During this process we can encourage students to record what they are learning, take notes, be involved in vocabulary learning activities and use drama to assist understanding of the concepts as well as to use the language in context.

Supported Reading

Many texts that are the source of information for our students’ research are complex and difficult for them to understand. Front loading (building the field) is needed to help the students to comprehend what they are reading. Sometimes we rewrite the ‘information texts’ in simpler language to help our EAL/D students to gather the information and ideas that they need.

Teachers can model how they read, sharing texts and reading texts that may be too complex for students to read independently. While reading together with the students, the teacher can use strategies such as ‘think-alouds’ to draw the students’ attention to aspects like the types of verbs, language choices, vocabulary and text structures required and give them the metalanguage to talk about and understand these. Students can be encouraged to read independently or in pairs during activities that require them to use the reading skills and techniques taught to them during guided reading.

Learning about the Genre

Together the students and teachers usually deconstruct a modelled text of the genre that is appropriate for the purpose of the writing. Discussion can be had around what the purpose for writing is and how this genre fulfils that purpose. The text structures and language features are integral to the purpose and these are taught explicitly e.g. cohesive devices, sentence structures, descriptive language, audience needs and interests, persuasive language, types of verbs, references and multimodal features.

Students at this stage can begin to arrange their general note taking into the structure and adjust their language features to suit the particular genre.

Supported Writing

The level of support for writing depends on the language and learning needs of the students.  Writing can be modelled, shared (as in joint construction), guided, collaborative or independent.

Modelled writing follows on well from learning about genre as it is about pointing out the structure and features of the text being written. It can be done through a joint construction between teacher and students. With the knowledge they have gained from building the field, reading and genre study, the students can participate in constructing a text together as the teacher uses ‘think-alouds’ and questioning to assist the students in knowing why some language choices are better for fulfilling their purposes for writing this particular text.

Guided writing lessons with groups of students of similar ability are valuable for providing students with feedback as they write, reminding them of punctuation, cohesive devices, sentence structures, spelling rules and discussing vocabulary choices.

Collaborative writing is similar to guided writing except that the students work together to review their drafts. Students can be given checklists, or even design their own with teacher assistance, to use as a guide to discussions about how to improve sentence composition, design and layout, use of images and reader engagement.

Independent writing is the final revision. The students independently edit their text, looking at how it might come across to the reader and how well it fulfils its purpose. Using a checklist they proofread for spelling, punctuation and grammar and can publish their work using digital media.

The hope is that they will be able to transfer this learning to future tasks involving this same genre.

The students shown in the presentation kept their drafts in a display folder. In this way they could easily look back and compare their drafts as they talked about ways to improve and reflected on suggestions. Bev said that although redrafting multiple times may take longer it made a difference to the quality of their writing as they added in and elaborated.

The students spoke about the process saying that although the redrafting was a lot of work they were happier with the end product.

Sustainabilty

The schools have built up a resource bank so that the learning for staff and students can be kept and built upon despite staff changes. Their resource banks include collected work samples and videos. The literacy policy is there to be referred to and all that they have been putting into place and learning in this action research project with Bev has been well documented. The professional learning teams in the Circular Head Cluster of schools continue to drive the learning of literacy and in particular writing, forward.

Showcase School 4

Circular Head Cluster (six schools), Tasmania
Writer: Sue Whiting

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Day 2 of the Writing Intensive and post lunch. How to keep an audiences’ attention? By doing just what the creative teachers and students from the Circular Head Cluster of Schools in Tasmania did. They put their writing skills to work and successfully engaged us with a tale of their journey through a three year Middle Years Literacy Project. With guidance, modelling and feedback from their Writer in Residence, Sue Whiting, the students and teachers developed their own creative, imaginative texts. Their presentation included a creative, informative and amusing digital compilation of their work by older students ‘The Wordsmith – Adventures in Story – Circular Head”

Change does not come about by teachers and students trudging off to school and doing the same thing, day in and day out. This project which aimed to reach as many students as it could and enthuse them to write creatively and well could only happen through:

  • The passion of the teachers who wanted the best for their students.
  • A long view of sustainability. Looking for ways to engage students in all types of writing over a long period.
  • Commitment on the part of the teachers. Many of them came a long distance to meet together after school.
  • Developing the same core aim among the schools.
  • Desiring to equip the students for the world to come – their future

To reinvent what is to come we must take a broad overview of what currently exists and force overlap between subjects which aren’t typically complimentary. Collaboration and sharing of expertise are necessary to make the next quantum leap. At no point in human history have we possessed such a vast abundance of knowledge, what we require then is the sharing of ideas in order to expand of understanding of what we know. We need to breed what exists to birth what is to come. ‘Why Imagination is your superpower and how to change the world’ – Chris Herd

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Sue Whiting shared with us some of her techniques for helping the students to unleash their creativity and to ‘get wonderful stories on paper’.

The list included:

  • Lulling the students into a false sense of security. They didn’t think of the time with her as ‘work’ or ‘writing’.
  • Showing them how she works as a writer; how she uses a drawing board, playing with ideas and brainstorming.
  • Telling stories. Sue tells the students incredible stories about herself that they believe but aren’t true. She asks ‘Why did you believe me? How did I get you to believe?’ ‘How did I bring it to life?’ Sue takes away the restrictions of reality telling the students that in a story it’s alright to exaggerate and tell lies as long as you make them believable.
  • Involving the students in workshops where they brainstorm the key ingredients for starting their stories.
  • Using paper and pencil or pen. Jotting down ideas that can be used for stories. There are no worksheets – they just create.

Sometimes we lose this ‘writing for fun’ aspect in our literacy cycle. It is definitely a big part of the ‘magic’ that has been lost.

CLOSING KEYNOTE

Writing Culture: The Future

2018 Australian Children’s Laureate, Morris Gleitzman

Morris has a mission. Morris wants the world to appreciate the assets and strengths of our young people and to equip them for the incredible challenges that face them in their futures. He sees ‘stories’ as the special place where children learn to face problems and deal with them.

A typical story for a young person involves a young protagonist  facing a bigger problem than any they have faced in their lives. The protagonist has to assess the nature of the problem and assess whether they can face it on their own or bring in allegiances or alliances. They need the social skills to enlist this help especially if the ‘help’ has been  an  ‘enemy’. These problem solving strategies require creative thinking and teamwork. Morris never lets his ‘character’ solve or survive a problem straight away. Their strategies never work first time and so they need to develop another and then another. We see the characters develop resilience as they give it another go.

Morris hopes that our young people will read  thousands of stories and and experience many of these journeys using different ways to solve their problems. He believes that as they do, some of these character building capacities will blossom in the young readers as well, which will help them to face the problems of today.

“Our young people are hungry for weapons. Our stories are our weapons’

They may be young in years, but thanks to their reading they are old hands at grappling with big and difficult problems, sometimes fearsomely big. They’ve learned from the stories they read that it often takes problems to bring out the best in us. Problems that demand bravery, honesty, creative thinking, empathy, resilience, research skills unblunted by fear, strategizing abilities undaunted by failure, and the hard work of true friendship. Through the stories they read, the lucky ones, the ones whose schools have teacher-librarians, the ones with bookshelves at home, and grandparents with e-book accounts at the local library, and parents happy for bedtime dreams to unfold before sleep, our young people are equipping themselves for the future.

– Part of SPEECH BY MORRIS GLEITZMAN Parliament House, Canberra 18/9/18

In Summary

The Three Key Messages for me:

a. Our school needs to build our teachers’ capacity to be teachers of writers.We need to complete a whole school language review and develop shared beliefs about teaching writing.

b. We need to find a process of building in sustainability. This means that there needs to be high quality sustained professional learning over time.  We need to be assessing, recording and reporting achievement and listening to student voice.

c. We need to give our students time to play with stories, to have time to write and to write for fun.

Two things from this Writing Intensive that  could immediately be adopted in the classroom

a. Greater thoroughness when using the literacy cycle. Not rushing through the steps.

b. Planning in more time for free writing and using drama as a way to explore feelings and ideas before writing.

 One “ah-ha” moment?

a. There were many, but this one sticks with me from Misty – ‘What if we stopped teaching writing as small isolated skills and remembered the purpose of writing – to engage the hearts and minds of readers?’

7 thoughts on “Taking back the true agenda for ‘Writing’ – the story of a PETAA learning ‘intensive’

  1. This is great, Anne. I feel like I was there with you. Thank you for sharing your learning. What a fantastic line up of speakers. I do love what Misty has to say – always, and couldn’t agree more than with Morris. Words, stories should be our weapons. It reminds me of a song by Van Morrison – ‘The Pen is Mightier than the Sword’. Let the words and stories bring us understanding, empathy and peace. Your A-Ha moment resonates with me as well. I think connections are important in all we do.
    It’s inspiring to read such a positive report that celebrates writing and the joy it can bring to students and teachers alike. I always loved teaching my students writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the above summary and comments.
    The Writing Intensive reinforced for me the meaning of ‘collaboration’, ‘drama’ and the effective use of ‘explicit scaffolding’ in the teaching and learning process.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you Anne. This is so valuable as a summary of this conference – sorry, ‘learning intenstve’ – and I will refer back to it often. Your one final comment (one ah ha moment) from Misty’s talk brings tears to my eyes…we HAVE to bring back the magic, and we will!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After a conversation or two, one of our Stage 3 teachers is so keen to ‘bring back the magic’ that together we are revamping the writing program this term and have called it ‘Writing Like a Writer. The Intensive has been truly inspirational and yes – we will bring back the magic!

      Like

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