After much thought, I have decided to bite the bullet and blog. It was actually a joke made by @grahamandre in the middle of a recent #geekteachersquad Twitter conversation which sparked the flurry of activity. And now that means @bethben92, tag you’re it!
ALL THINGS NEW
I recently moved schools from a large junior school on the east coast of Essex to a small-ish village primary school, taking on the Senior Teacher role as part of the school’s SLT. My first move since qualifying, has meant things have changed. I am now the only male member of staff (apart from the site manager of course), the only teacher in Year 5 and the only American Footbal fan! Or at least the only one foolish enough to admit it in public. Being surrounded by new children, new staff, new parents and new buildings has, it seems, primed my brain for ‘newness’. Changing schools has enabled me to adopt an ‘out with the old and in with the new’ approach. Refreshingly, I’ve been able to look at my teaching practise, dust of things I’ve not used for years and start using some new things which I’ve been wanting to try for a little while. Using Twitter coupled with moving schools, has been an absolute breathe of fresh air and invigorated me more than I ever expected it would. In a Austin Powers-esque fashion, I have my mojo back!
In the spirit of ‘All Things New’ I decided to share two tools which I have added to my teacher toolbox this academic year. They are not ground-breakinging new but they are at least new to me! Slow Writing and Big Maths Beat That. Thanks again has to go to @grahamandre for the Big Maths Beat That resource which he shared on his Numeracy Shed website (mathematicshed.com).
Soon after arriving in my new class, it was evident that some work was needed on the basics. Addition, subtraction, multiplication and division were not as strong as they could or should be at the beginning of year 5. Using these resouces once a week has rapidly improved the childrens’ knowledge and accuracy. A standard lesson starts with a quick revisit of the previous test in pairs. This tells us which question was the area of weakness across the class. This is tricky at times as some of the children are on level 3, some on 4 and a few on level 5 but it can be done if we split into two or three groups. If we can borrow an LSA for half an hour, then three staff members means three smaller groups! The children complete the next test in their level after practising one of the ten questions and then we mark them together at the end of the lesson. We celebrate those who have beaten their scores. In the six weeks we have been working on this area the average scores have increased from slightly over 4 marks out of 10 at the beginning to just over 9 out 10. Pleasing progress!
The second newby the to Mr G toolkit is Slow Writing. An absolutely amazing idea! Sadly not my own though. @LearningSpy is the brains behind this beauty. Fitting this writing strategy into a three week rotation has been a revelation. Below is my summary of how writing is organised in my class. It isn’t perfect but it is a great structure to build upon.
Overall Writing Rotation
Over a three week period, the aim is to complete an independent, a Slow Writing and Shared/Guided writing piece. This rotation gives us a good balance. Through a half term the aim is to complete each form of writing twice and, across the year, aim to cover many different genres of writing. The style of writing will be linked to the text being covered in class (e.g. Midnight Fox). All parts of the writing rotation incorporate lots of discussion and sharing of ideas.
The main aim for these writing sessions is to promote ‘Tailored Writing’. Tailored Writing means writing which is carefully thought through, edited and improved before copying up. Emphasis is placed on drafting writing and not ‘finishing’. Each sentence must be carefully crafted on a white board before writing them up. The whiteboards enable the children to read out loud, edit, and improve. Children can ask for feedback from their neighbour once they have written the sentence on their whiteboard.
The slow writing prompts include a variety of different sentence instructions. They also have Alan Peat Exciting Sentence examples in them, which have been chosen using the Alan Peat App. Prompts can include a word to use (because), a sentence starter (Unbelievably, … Along its back, there are …)or a technique to use (alliteration). Challenges and support prompts are also included. Challenges are there to extend the more confident writers and supports are there for those who are less confident. Challenges are often included at the end of the numbered prompts for children to complete once they have written every sentence prompt.
The emphasis for this part of the writing rotation is on sharing and modelling the writing process. This stage is often used in conjunction with Pie Corbett’s Talk 4 Writing approach. In the lead up to the writing two or three problem areas are covered identified from the independent writing. These may be introducing a sentence type, working on a grammar error or an area which needs improving (e.g. figurative language – simile, metaphor and personification).
The day before the independent writing session, a WAGOLL (what a good one looks like) is shared and discussed with the class. The WAGOLL is an example of the type of writing with a different subject or context. These are often written by myself to ensure they include the sort of things the class need exposure to. This is then used to create a toolkit for children to use when writing. The toolkits include specific sentences to use and challenges to have a go at. A talk homework is sent home after school the day before the independent writing session, along with the WAGOLL, to aid the conversation.
The following day, a plan is created as a class and the class teacher models how to write a new version of the text. It is important that the teacher talks about their decisions out loud and models their thought process. Stopping and asking for input from the class is also important. How could I finish this sentence? What sentence could go next? What verb could I use here? Why? Could we reorder or edit? Constant re-reading is needed for this.
Once the children have written their own independent versions, they must then check of the tools which have been used from the toolkits. They then purple pen check, looking for missing words, mistakes in tense and verb agreement, and basic punctuation errors. They then swap books and repeat the process. The writing is then marked looking for the toolkit sentences. Next steps are then given based upon these.
The main aim of the independent writing is to assess each child’s writing; establishing targets for the individual children and whole class strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes the independent writing is placed at the start of the overall writing process (assessment for learning) and occasionally at the end to see how the writing practise has gone (assessment of learning).
Discussing the writing style and generating ideas initially is important and then time is spent on planning the writing, ensuring the children are structuring and organising their thoughts and ideas. Often, an intervention group will be organised at this point. Prior to writing, extra support is given to those children who struggle to generate ideas and organise these into a plan prior.
I have a file of various Slow Writing prompts which I have used so far this year. If you would like me to send you the zipped file, then please just ask. I haven’t worked out how to set up a Dropbox to store all the files but I am working on it.
If you have taken the time, out of an already busy teacher schedule, to read my blog, then I thank you. With some of the bickering in the Twittersphere at the moment, the least I could do is share a little bit of success which hascome my way by embracing ‘All Things New’.
Thanks and get groovy baby!