Literacy expert Sharon Callen delves into the four foundational elements of being a writer, to underpin a teacher’s literacy strategy.
On Episode 80 of The Teacher’s Toolkit for Literacy, Sharon explained the four Ws of being a writer, which teachers need to consider and plan for before anything else.
Foundation element 1: Writing curriculum
This first foundational element is about considering the writing curriculum being brought to students, based on the teacher’s state and country. Sharon explained further using the Australian curriculum as an example.
“Our curriculum isn’t divided into reading, writing, spelling, oral, speaking, listening etc. Instead, it is divided into three strands – literacy, literature, and language – and those strands are totally interconnected. So we look at all the elements and what it is that we are enabling our students to understand about writing,” Sharon said.
“For example with the literature strand, it talks about our students engaging with and responding to literature, examining literature, and then creating literature. Now, I love that in our curriculum, in the literature part alone, where it says creating literature it talks about students experimenting and adapting texts. So this falls into this whole imaginative strand of literature. So our curriculum then also breaks it down into these aspects that students will engage with a variety of texts for enjoyment, and those texts will be imaginative, informative, persuasive. But these texts will be used not just for enjoyment, but also by students as models for constructing their own. So right there we have this whole reading writing connection and beautiful thread.”
Understanding this will then aid a teacher’s planning process.
“So when plotting out the year for any year level, we know that it’s imaginative, informative, and persuasive that we are reading and writing. But let’s break those down a little bit further. With imaginative texts, our curriculum talks about students engaging with poetry. So as an imaginative text type, poetry is a unit that I would want to slot into my year,” Sharon said.
“Now I’ve introduced this term ‘unit’ all of a sudden, and I’m using the word intentionally, because we can actually construct across a year about seven or eight text types that the Australian curriculum encourages us to bring to our students at each year level.”
Foundation element 2: Writing processes
Planning and rehearsing, drafting and revising
Writing processes refer to the different processes that students would get to do with every kind of text type they are working with. The first processes are planning and rehearsing, and drafting and revising.
“I should have the opportunity as a writer to go through all of these processes after I’ve thought about what I’m choosing and identifying as my purpose and my audience, and my meaning that I’m wanting to communicate,” Sharon said.
“So number one, I’m going to be planning and rehearsing. Now this is something that is least planned for by teachers. Then the second part is drafting and revising. Some of you may have thought of this as a bit more linear in that we would draft and then revise, but I put drafting and revising together because the process of revising isn’t only after I’ve done everything. Revising is a critical part of the drafting, and to do that in a dance with each other, they are getting to practice better things every time they’re drafting.
“If they are thinking about, ‘oh here’s what I’ve drafted, what out of that can now be revised?’ Because what will follow will be better. What I draft next will be better if I’ve already done some revision on that initial drafting piece. So this is about building repertoires, thinking about how do we make this work best for all our students? And one of the ways that I’ve discovered in my teaching is that getting students working in a drafting, revising dance actually creates really strong writers who understand that revising is part of their thinking process as they are being a writer.”
Proofreading and editing, finishing and publishing
The next two combinations to follow is proofreading and editing, and finishing and publishing.
“You’ll see how I’ve put all of these things into pairs. We would hope that with all text types we are working with in a year, our students are coming to an understanding that we are getting those as close to finished as possible. And finished may be that it is still in a very scrappy looking form, but I have been through the writing process. I’ve planned, I’ve rehearsed, I’ve drafted and revised, I’ve proofread and edited, and now I am finished with that process,” Sharon said.
“From there, publishing allows us to go into that full presentation stage and to make all of those decisions about layout, text features etc. So want our students to be able to also get into a publishing phase, but sometimes we will use that term finishing because we got it to this point where we have still gone through all of those processes.
“Finishing isn’t, ‘oh I did a draft and I’m done, there’s nothing I want to change, I can’t see any spelling mistakes or no punctuation that needs to be put in’. The writing process means that we, as writers, are going through all of the processes, from planning through to finishing. And finishing, in its full meaning, means that we have published it, and by publishing it, I have thought about my spacing, handwriting, font use, all of those things. And this all means that my writing for my audience, for its chosen purpose, can now communicate its meaning most effectively because I have been through that complete process.”
Foundation element 3: Writing traits
This draws in on the craft of being a writer and considers the behaviours and traits that good writers are thinking about as they write.
“It’s for students themselves to be entirely aware of what the traits or the habits or the tendencies are that good writers have, and therefore can transfer into their writing. So the seven traits are ideas, organisation, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions and presentation,” Sharon said.
“Firstly we want to take them through the process of being a writer who thinks about, how do they develop their ideas? How are they going to organise their writing? How do they be a writer who develops their voice? How do we get them to be a writer who thinks intentionally about word choice? Who thinks about sentence fluency, rhythm and the flow of the sentences they’re creating, and varying the sentence length? How do we get them being a writer who is mindful and intentional about the conventions that they use in their writing? How do we help our writers be writers who think intentionally about their presentation?
“So the writing traits are a powerful framework for us to have our students in the planning processes, and in the drafting and revising processes.”
Foundation element 4: Writing workshop
Finally, the writing workshop provides a vehicle for students to see writing being modelled, to practice writing independently, and to reflect on and share what they’ve done as a writer through that process.
“The writing workshop is really there as a framework for us to ensure that some important things are happening for our writers and for our students. Because we are planning all of these things and we want to be able to explicitly model for our students us being a writer,” Sharon said.
“So in my writing workshop, number one, I want to begin with that explicit modelling of writing. So I want to be doing the think aloud, I want to be thinking through and letting my students hear me think through the processes of what I am doing as a writer. So the writing process and what writing trait or what aspect of writing I am using here as I am physically doing the writing.
“Now I’ve got three really great ways to model writing – interactive writing, shared writing, and modelled writing. Modelled writing is all my thinking, all my ideas, and where I’m physically writing it. In shared writing, we are sharing the ideas and co-constructing this piece, but I, as teacher, am physically doing the writing.
“Then interactive writing is, particularly for punctuation, convention, spelling, spacing and things like that, I’m physically doing the writing, but there are times when I’m handing the pen or the marker to an intentionally selected child to come up and put onto the paper that thing that is the focus. So it might be the comma, or it might be the high frequency word that we’ve been working with.”
This explicit modelling then provides a gateway for students to complete their independent work.
“So the writing workshop gives students that 10 to 15 minute demonstration so that when they are going to their independent work and engaging in the same aspect of the writing process and in the same trait of writing, they’ve already had some practice of how this works. So in independent practice they’ll be writing, and that gives you that wonderful opportunity to rove or to confer with students. There could be some on the spot teaching with those who you are seeing as having trouble or not getting the hang of applying what you have modelled. So you may do another little model right there and then for them, or get them to notice what they’re doing so that they can link that to the writing rubric and go, where is this?” she said.
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