The pressure of only seeing my writing students once a week resulted in me trying to achieve too much in one lesson and in the end I felt I was only achieving bits and pieces of certain goals. Now, I achieve so much more.
Now I run my writing classes with one target at a time.
I realised that the ultimate goal for children experiencing some kind of writing difficulty was to create many writing opportunities for them rather than teaching opportunities. So, seek the odds are that if you walk into my writing class that is what you will see…children with their heads bowed, writing away furiously like little engines. One day I am going to film them and if you look closely you might even see little clouds of smoke emanating from their pens.
My writing classes usually run in the following way:
- Students will open their books and look back to the week before to read my comments and enthusiasm about their writing(always meaningful of course, but always honest) and also to check if they have earned bonus points for shooting the writing arrow right through their target.
- Students then turn the page to where their new target for the week is pasted in. I love to write targets that start with, “I can…” as in I can put a full stop at the end of every sentence.
- I spend a few minutes introducing an exciting, stimulating, unusual, inspiring writing stimulus for the day.* Everyone writes on the same topic. Everyone works on individualised writing goals.
- Background music goes on, timer goes on (to build up writing stamina) silence goes on.
- I may stop in the middle to remind children to cast their eyes on their writing target to make sure they are heading in the right direction. I rarely interrupt them as I want their writing and their ideas to flow. Sometimes I even write with them to model the behaviour of a good writer.
- I created a leveled writing rubric/checklist to help me work out the targets. It starts out with a simple – I can write between the blue lines and I can press softly when I write or I can spell all my bossy e words correctly. It builds up to targets like, I can use paragraphs in my writing, and I can add people talking into my writing. I have written up my own rubrics by combining resources from the internet and teaching guides with some of my own ideas to suit my teaching style.
- One of the most important targets on Level 1 is I can write on my own. Generally, students with writing difficulties interrupt their own writing flow by asking questions to delay the process and complain that they don’t know what to write. Helplessness is not an option in my lessons, so students learn quickly that they should just focus on their target and get on with it and write. I will not help until they have attempted it themselves.
- When I mark their writing, I comment on the target and great aspects of their content. I never use red pen. I never underline or mark or cross all the other mistakes. Those are targets for later. I honestly believe that lots of incorrect marks all over your page destroys your work and your confidence.
When I started out using writing rubrics and targets, I got students to analyze their own writing using the writing rubric and then to select their own targets and write them at the top of the page. I know that self-assessment is an important part of the learning process, but I found that we were taking so long to tick the rubrics and write out targets that we were left with very little writing time. I still glue in the rubrics so that children can see what level they are on and where they are heading, but I check if they have reached their target and I write up the new target for each week.
I have also observed that once a student reaches that target, they rarely need to be reminded about it again. Rather, they just seem to progress onto the next step without being reminded about previous targets.
How do I know that they are proud of what they have written? Well, they beg to share what they have written with their classmates…but that will have to come at another time. This is writing class after all!
*In my next post, I will share some of my favourite writing topics. Also, watch this space for the success I have had with adapting the traditional Hamburger Writing approach.