Monday, 18 September 2017

Speed Writing

I have been wondering how to get students managing their time better, to get the most out of writing lessons. I tend to break a writing lesson up into segments so students come and go from the mat throughout the session. However, there are some students who do not appear to write much in these times. By the end of the week, some students may have only written 3-4 sentences, when I know they are capable of writing a lot more than this. Other students are a lot more motivated to be writing for enjoyment and to inform an audience.

As a result of the needs of the first group of students, I trialled something new. After talking to students about the topic for writing, I gave them two minutes to write down as much as they could remember from what had been talked about on the topic. Interestingly, I had at least two sentences from every student who took part! In some cases, this was more then I would get in a whole writing session. Some students saw the activity as a competition to write as much as they could down. Others found it useful to be given a personal goal within a smaller time frame. Several students were quite amazed when they came to the realisation that they had written so much in such a short time frame. They were even more amazed when they compared this to the amount they had previously been writing during a whole lesson. Taking part in this speed reading activity helped them to realise just how capable they were at writing. As a result of this, I will give some students tighter time limits and goals in writing and clearer expectations of what I expect in each of these smaller time frames. I will see how this goes!

On another occasion, to motivate students in writing, several students created a screencast while they shared their ideas for a writing task with themselves or a friend. These students then went away with headphones to listen to what they said, and change their spoken words into sentences. This meant that when the students came back to work with me, they had ideas written down, which we could then work with to create a quality piece of writing. We were also able to work with these sentences to discuss important parts of speech/ grammar which were missed.

I plan to continue both of these ideas for writing into term 4.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

The value of finishing things off

When it came to planning for writing this week, I came across a bit of a dilemma! Being towards the end of a very busy term, I felt I was lacking in inspiration for new and engaging ideas. In my long-term plan, I had thoughtfully left a gap for writing in week 8, thinking that this would become clear to future 'me' as the term advanced.

In the days leading up to the still non-existent lesson, I stopped and thought about where the children in my class were at in their writing. To help me with this, I began exploring the Blog log, a spreadsheet where the students provide links to their shared learning tasks. I was shocked to see the lack of completed tasks! I knew very well that many of the students had been working very hard this term, so why did it look like nothing had been done?! It could mean one of several things:

1. Students had completed the learning, but the link had just not been added to blog log. 
2. Students had partially completed many tasks, but none were completed enough to have been shared on their blogs. 
3. Tasks had not been completed.

I noticed a common theme with these three possibilities. They all required students to be given time to stop and reflect on their learning. At this reflection, I realised there was no point in creating a new task for students. I put myself in my students shoes, and imagined the following things going through their heads as the term continued, and new tasks kept getting added onto their 'to do' list:

* "What is the point in finishing anything? I'm just going to be given something new tomorrow."
* "I never get anything finished, anyway."
* "I really want to get this task finished, but I just don't have the time. And then we just get something new to work on! How am I supposed to get anything finished?!"

By doing this, I realised that I was the one who needed to change. I needed to be giving these students more time to complete their learning tasks, while spending additional time with those students who were needing more support. 

So the next day, I created a simple writing task, which was to focus on the editing and publishing (sharing) of learning. The lesson began by focusing students back onto the blog log. Students were then given an initial 15 minutes to add any links to the Blog Log which they had not yet done. After this, they were to go to any tasks they had partially completed to aim to get them completed and onto their blogs. Meanwhile, I was working with individual students who needed additional support. 

What a success!! Students who I had seen slowly getting less and less motivated to complete learning tasks, were suddenly much more positive and were showing more engagement in the tasks. Every time they posted to their blog, they seemed to get a new burst of energy to get another task completed.

On this day alone, before morning tea, I received around 35 notifications for new blog posts from my literacy class. This demonstrates that there was a lot of learning which had been sitting in drives, unshared. Judging from the fact that students were given about an hour to work on this, these students had completed a lot of work, however I just hadn't given them enough opportunities to finish them off to a published standard.

Reflecting on this scenario, I realised that the students in my class are definitely intrinsically motivated. As soon as they were given more opportunities to complete their learning, they did it, with no other incentive than the satisfaction of completing a task and being able to share it on their blog. As explained above, this intrinsic motivation appeared to add to a positive cycle, where every time some learning was completed, students became more motivated to complete something else.