Sunday, 1 February 2015

Success with Reluctant Writers


As I'm sitting here finishing up my reports cards and marking narratives/retells that took us forever to write, I'm quite pleased with everyone's progress. This is a class who in general, when I had them write their first OWA in September, sat for 20 minutes staring at their paper, not knowing what to write. After 40 minutes, I was lucky to get a paragraph from the majority. Their EQAO results from last year were even more dismal, what was I to do?

Luckily, I work with some wonderful teaching colleagues in my division. Mrs. C. was inspired over the summer while listening to The Vinyl Cafe , wouldn't it be fun if we listened to some podcasts, then the students would write their own stories, and create their own podcast? So began my journey of turning paragraphs into full out podcast quality stories.

We listened to one story a week for six weeks. Our week is divided into four hour long language periods. One was for a writing mini lesson, the other for reading, and two story listening days consisted of a listening then a discussion period where we took up the questions. They also had vocabulary that they had to look up before the listening session. The students were loving the stories, it was going very well!

Then it came time to write our stories...

We began by using the Writer's Notebook for ideas. We created lists upon lists of ideas that would be interesting for listeners. We ended with a list of "Funny things that happened to me that I could write about." Here's where I decided to let them write recounts if they chose. I began writing my own recount, they even chose the topic for me: my daughters.

I wanted to show them that writing a good story takes time. I started with the first paragraph of my story and posted it on a D2L discussion forum. I then asked for feedback, at this point my story was only a descriptive paragraph of the setting. After their feedback, I posted a rough draft of my story and shared it with them using Google Docs. The title was a work in progress, everything was. Instantly, my confident writer's began to give me feedback. My story continued to grow, just as they were planning the writing for their own stories.

Eventually, they started submitting rough drafts to our D2L dropbox. I didn't focus on conventions at all, just organization, and form. They would read my feedback, and resubmit a new copy, received more feedback and the cycle continued. Most students submitted at least two drafts, and every single one of them used the feedback to make their story better.

Now around Christmas time (you know that time of year where interruptions seem endless and preparations for the concert take over instructional time), Mrs. C and Mrs. G. had their students submit good copies of their narratives for marking. I knew my class was not ready. So we printed out our final draft and I brought in all the mini lessons on anchor charts we had covered over the last few months. They were to  self-assess and improve on their writing. Mark it all up! I would be assessing how well they are able to apply good writing traits to their own writing. Then we went off for Christmas vacation.

When we came back in January, they took these drafts and perfected their final copy. They also made sure they used the feed back (dated and posted) I had given them on D2L. They submitted it to the drop box. Here I decided to print them off and post my feedback directly on this final copy. I created a check list with our learning around writing, and the feedback became my check list as well.

This was the only piece of writing I marked all term - or really, the one that I assigned a grade to. I can honestly say 100% of my students improved at least one whole level. Their drafts drove my mini lessons throughout the term and I knew they had applied that knowledge.

If I had rushed them, or given them marks instead of feedback I'm sure it wouldn't have made them better writers. Now I have a roomful of grade 7s who are excited to be writing their speeches. Every single one.