Student empowerment, dedicated practice times and a collaborative classroom layout will help students become effective users of writing.
In Episode 70 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, Principal Fellow at the University of Wollongong in NSW Dr. Brian Cambourne joined literacy expert Sharon Callen to talk about how teachers can make more powerful connections in the classroom and teach writing more effectively.
What is an effective user of writing?
Educators need to understand what an effective user of writing is in order to establish supportive classroom practices. While many will have their own definition, Brian said it’s about being able to apply writing effectively in all aspects of life.
“If you’re an effective user of writing, you can use it to achieve a whole lot of purposes in your life. You don’t necessarily become a journalist or write a book, but you do know how to use writing effectively to achieve what it is you want to achieve. We have to do a lot of writing and we have to be able to use writing effectively to really live the good life. And I think that’s a much more useful way of thinking about teaching writing,” Brian said.
How to give young writers confidence
Helping students gain confidence to write effectively comes from designing various aspects of the classroom in a way that creates opportunities.
“One thing that emerged from all of the classrooms I observed was that the kids who were really effective users of writing were also very confident that they could use writing to achieve what it was they wanted to do. And I had to ask the question, who gave them this confidence? And it became obvious that it was the classroom language, the metaphors, the bond between classroom and classroom pupils and their teacher, and all these very important factors that had to be in place for this confidence to emerge,” Brian explained.
“We learn language, we learn through language and we learn to use language simultaneously as we use it. And that’s really what good classrooms are about – you create learning opportunities which enable the kids to use language, to study language, to share language and to talk about language. So you’re not necessarily teaching writing per se, but you are creating opportunities for kids to read, write, talk, listen, and share.”
Setting aside dedicated writing time
One of the best way students can regularly practice their writing is to have dedicated time slots each day.
“You must put aside the time for students to engage in reading and writing every day. You have to make that commitment, so when you draw up your timetable and design your classroom activities, there are multiple opportunities for the students to engage in reading and writing in some way,” Brian said.
“One way you can do this is by teachers reading aloud to students at least once a day, more often if you can. Being read to is a practice that really enables you to do quite a lot of drawing attention to words, word shapes, pictures and grammar. As you read aloud to kids and you comment every now and then and draw their attention to certain things, you are teaching them a lot about the way language works and the way texts are written.”
Giving students choice with texts
Brian said allowing students a level of freedom with their reading and writing resources will further empower and motivate them in their writing.
“Teachers with better success always used real books, not basics or decodable texts. They also offered students some choice about what they wanted to read or write. If you own your writing, you take care of it a bit like a person who owns a house or rents a house – renters don’t look after your house as you, the owner, would. So we’re always advocating that teachers give kids choice about what they want to read or write so that they feel they own it,” he said.
The importance of the classroom layout
The physical layout of a classroom is just as important as the teaching strategies and resources used.
“Teachers need to provide multiple opportunities for students to share and discuss the meanings that they created from the reading and writing opportunities that were provided to them. And that can come from the physical ecology and by having the furniture arranged in ways that support collaborative writing, reading, and discussion,” Brian said.
“For example, having desks set up in islands of three, four or five, where kids just had to interact with each other while they were doing their different tasks. So using the furniture in these ways, and creating a climate which promotes collaborative learning and sharing, is really important in creating opportunities and a real community.”
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