Much of 2012 was spent supporting teachers looking for ideas and resources to assist students develop their writing skills. Much of the discussion started in response to analyzing and reflecting on HSC and NAPLAN results but it soon moved on from there.
A great stimulus for the discussion came out of the arrival of the K -10 Literacy Continuum. This excellent DEC document identifies the 8 key areas of literacy (reading texts, comprehension, writing, vocabulary, speaking, phonics, phonemics and concepts of print) as well as the 16 clusters/levels of development over time. The Continuum explicitly highlights what the typical student should be able do at a given point of time in each aspect and, as a result, is an incredibly valuable tool for teachers and their students.
What was assumed students should be able to do by the end of Stage 2, for example, challenged many teacher assumptions re when to introduce certain aspects of writing such as when to start teaching complex sentences, introduce figurative language or paragraphing. The Continuum got us talking about what we do to support students’ literacy development, when we teach different markers/elements and how does that look in our classrooms.
One of the key results of exploring and using the Continuum has been putting the focus was back on what has been getting lost amongst all the other demands placed on teachers – the explicit and systematic teaching of writing at all stages of school.
Armed with a greater understanding of grammar and the Literacy Continuum K-10 we can better support our students on their road to being capable and confident writers. If we spend time every week explicitly teaching students sentence structures, complex grammar and punctuation as well as sophisticated vocabulary we will see students writing improve out of sight. This every day celebration of the Craft of Writing will set up our students for success (even in NAPLAN) far more than a term of swatting up on persuasive techniques or a language revision unit at the start of a year – look at the NAPLAN marking criteria if you want further proof. If we want our students to achieve Band 6 in the HSC (and be set up for success at university) then we need to hone their writing skills as an integral part of every unit rather than an aside just before an assessment task.
Just as importantly, we need to stress that the Craft of Writing is as essential to students as the content. The ability to effectively communicate their ideas in a written format to an audience is an essential skill that they can and must work at achieving. Paragraphs do matter, a capital I is important, and sophistication is not writing a long and convoluted sentence. One way to stress that is making it part of every assessment task marking rubric – but only if you have taught what you are looking for. Students need to realise that people will judge them on the way they write and that judgement, rightly or wrongly, will impact on their HSC results in ALL subjects as well as potentially impact on their ability to get a job or even impress someone important to them.
So this year as I head back to school I am going to make everyday a day to celebrate and teach the Craft of Writing. I will get them to write every day and I will read and mark everything they write (a point effectively emphasized to me by the amazing Phil Beadle when he was in Coffs). I will also close mark at least one paragraph so I can identify their strengths as well as their weaknesses and then incorporate teaching these into my future lessons so they continue to grow as writers. I will clearly and regularly show them what good writing looks like and why that such writing skills are valuable to them.
So what will you be doing this year to help develop your students’ writing skills? Some questions to get you thinking:
- When you mark a student’s work do you take the time to see if they have used a variety of sentence types, simple, compound and complex, and that they are varying the organization of their sentences to reflect decisions about what is the key message of that sentence?
- Do you identify sentence fragments and explain how they could be made into complete ideas?
- Do you look for the cohesive elements that help their ideas flow between sentences and paragraphs – collocation, synonyms, referring pronouns etc?
- Do you check to see if they are using simple, everyday words rather than more complex vocabulary to express their ideas including nominalisations?
- Are they using a well-chosen adverb to emphasize a point?
- Do you check to see if they are using punctuation correctly?
- Can your students use more complex punctuation such as semi colons and hyphens?
- Do you identify common weaknesses in the students’ writing for teaching points in coming days and weeks?
- Do you include explicit teaching of writing elements in your units or are your programs more content focused or “whole text” focused rather than including literacy development from word level up?
- Do you have explicit language criteria in your marking rubrics and by that I mean more explicit than “sophisticated” or “sound” use of language appropriate to the task?
Grammar Girl – a great place to learn all things grammar.
Some other valuable sites for you and your students: