Improving writing in our classrooms

Michelle and I led the twilight on Improving writing this afternoon. We began by asking the group what they felt were the greatest barriers to students engaging in extended writing within their own classrooms. Student apathy, often stemming from a lack of confidence around their writing, was felt to be the most significant barrier. The following strategies can be used to tackle this and help build increased engagement and self-esteem around writing:

  • Raise curiosity, wonder and interest around writing – we did this with the group by introducing our text through Plickers. A great little App that can be used to canvas student response. The group were shown two images and asked to vote for which text they wanted to respond to, based on the images alone. This sprinkling of democracy can serve to raise interest and engagement from a class at the outset.
  • Clear success criteria – our success criteria were shared from the start. The group were given very clear instructions on how to write their paragraphs and what to include. Based on David’s ground rules for slow writing we asked our groups to:  Write a shared paragraph on the desk, window or floor. Follow these rules…
    • Your first sentence must start with a present participle (that’s a verb ending in ‘ing’) e.g. Considering
    • Your second sentence must contain only four words.
    • Your third sentence must contain a complex term.
    • Your fourth sentence must be a rhetorical question
    • Your fifth sentence will be 11 words exactly
  • Collaborative writing opportunities – we asked our groups of four to work together to craft their paragraphs. Using the walls, the floor or the windows instead of the exercise book, can be nice way to engage those reluctant writers. Liquid chalk pens are worth giving a try.
  • Sentence scaffolds – providing a clear scaffold can be important for many of our students. Our scaffold included sentence starters, a bank of present participles, connectives and a model.
  • Provide models of excellence – to quote Berger, models are essential. Showing the group what they can achieve if they put their mind to it can be very powerful. It serves to raise both the clarity and the aspirations from the outset.
  • Proofreading using SPaG codes, redrafting and MAD time – giving adequate time for proofreading and expecting our students to use our literacy marking codes is essential if we are to improve the standard of writing that we receive. Providing enough time for redrafting and then improvements is also vitally important.
  • Atmosphere – we used music. But however you do it, establishing the right climate for learning is crucial. Edutopia have written about this here.