Embracing diversity, using different technologies and constantly reviewing are key elements for teachers to create an impactful unit of work.
On Episode 79 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, host Sharon Callen was joined by Bridgewater Primary School teachers Liam Bucco and Liz Sanderson.
The group talked about the process of developing units of work by reflecting on their own experiences with autobiographies and poetry.
Analysing the structure of texts
Liam explained that Mini Lessons shouldn’t just delve into the writing itself, but also the page layouts of texts such as autobiographies.
“One Mini Lesson we had was looking at the layout and the structure of how an author had designed her book. So the colour themes, patterns, and just looking at how do you organise that layout of your book or page,” he said.
“And quite often we don’t even think of that. So that engages the students and they really then take ownership of, this is how I want my page to look. This is my page about an interesting story when I was a kid lost at the museum, and I want to make sure I’ve got in the background a museum landscape.”
Embracing all planning methods
When going through the planning process of writing a text, teachers need to accept the different planning methods students use to suit their learning and writing style.
“I rove and talk one-on-one, but then I’ll stop them and get them to share some of the ways that they’ve planned, because that really helps those students that are still stuck there going I don’t know what to do. I’ve found that’s been really valuable, and most of them are more than willing to put their hands up,” Liz said.
“Now I’m not a big one for planning on a set pro forma. They can work for some people and that’s fine, but they don’t have to. I’ve got a friend who’s a writer and I asked if she wanted to come in and talk about the planning process, and she went, ‘oh my planning process is I just write and then I go back and rewrite’ and that’s how she does it. So this highlights how different everyone is in terms of how we plan. And it opens possibilities and it gives children different entry points.”
Using assisted technologies
Incorporating newer technologies into the classroom also broadens the entry points for all students, regardless of their skill level or learning difficulties.
“When it comes to getting started, for some of us it’s quite easy, but for others it can be a real challenge. So I’ve got some students that have dyslexia and are very reluctant to even begin writing, and I have some that just struggle in general with writing, and we’ve also got some that have dysgraphia as well. So for a lot of them, they’ve got the ideas, but the struggle is actually getting those ideas on paper and writing,” Liam explained.
“So using an iPad and using text-to-speech functions have absolutely been lifesaving for a lot of these kids, because they can talk to an iPad and they get their ideas down. It records them, and then they can start sort of backwards planning from there. And so that there is an entry point.
“And then they can actually go back and edit it themselves. You can even say out loud ‘full stop’, and it puts a full stop in, or when they say space or back space or new paragraph it does the action. So we can hear them talk about and listening to that vocabulary and the language building around that too.
“Then we’d even have other students that had finished or were a little bit further along go back and support some of these students, as well as our wonderful SSOs. And just seeing the confidence for those kids to go, I can write, I can produce, I can do this, is amazing.”
Connecting different units for greater impact
Liz explained how different units can be effectively connected through a common topic, which she experienced herself with information texts, poetry and the overarching theme of animals.
“Before poetry, they’d been doing a lot of work around information texts, and they’d investigated an animal and written reports. So when Sharon brought up Michael Morpurgo’s Carnival of the Animals, where the poems were from the perspective of an animal, we thought that’ll be fantastic. They know a lot about their animal that they’ve researched, now let’s get more creative and have them do mask poetry,” she said.
“And with this you’re putting yourself in the animal shoes. Or it could even be an innate object. So we explored and they had a bit of a play with writing about being a shoe lace or a shoe or a sock, or even from a dad’s perspective when we reached Father’s Day. So we looked at all of that, and we used Michael Morpurgo as a Mentor Text.
“We used it to unpick so many things, like the language and voice, to answer things like, how do we know that the lion thinks himself king of the jungle in this particular poem. And we unpicked all that structure and all that sort of thing. And then they had to go and talk about their own animals.”
Noticing and reviewing
Students may at first structure their writing incorrectly, especially with text types like poetry. However, Liz said teachers need to welcome this as part of the noticing and reviewing process.
“I’d notice that someone was writing it like a story, rather than a poem. So then we did some Mini Lessons around that and looked at the structures in the books. And others would literally write it like they were writing an information point and say, ‘I am a lion and I roar’. But it was a start, and it was something to work with,” she said.
“We did so much reviewing and editing and going back and saying, ‘okay let’s today look at how we might be able to add a simile or a metaphor into our writing. So let’s just go back to that particular part’. And so then we’d have their pages covered in yellow, green and red where they’ve edited and reworked. And some of them said, ‘I just want to write that out again’. So they’d write it out again.
“So it took quite a long time because of the whole process with all the editing and the mini lessons we did around the editing. But if you break it down into small achievable bits, then we’re literally just looking at what can you change in your writing today? Just one thing, and then we share with the class and suddenly we’ve got examples.”
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