Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Update 6 August 2014 - Guest Blog Post by Louise Dempsey, Motivating Students for Writing

Hi all, I hope you are having a great week.  I had a full week at home last week and participated in professional learning, facilitation and conversations in twelve distinct ways which caused me to reflect on changing ways of being:
  • eTV live streaming of Future Learning Environments Stream (recordings should be available by the end of the week;
  • Skype;
  • Google Hangout;
  • Google Hangout on air;
  • Telephone;
  • Cellphone;
  • e-mail;
  • Face to face;
  • Youtube;
  • Twitter chat (inaugural #engchatnz and #scichatnz)
  • Facebook
  • webinar
As I reflect on the variety of literacies required, and how we are challenged to automatically switch between modes of communication, I am in awe of teachers teaching literacies to our learners!  

This week I am delighted to share a guest blog post by Louise Dempsey.  

Louise is an experienced teacher, consultant, trainer and writer in the area of primary education. Louise has 15 years experience as a trainer and has presented to a wide range of audiences, from whole school teams, to Principal groups and school management teams. She has developed specialised knowledge in the areas of literacy and effective ‘teaching and learning’.

In recent years Louise has completed a range of writing projects for New Zealand and English publishers, as well as the Department of Education in the UK. Louise and Sheena Cameron have just published their first book together: The Writing Book.
Motivating students for writing
By Louise Dempsey
In my travels around schools, I notice many students who struggle to engage with writing. They seem to lack motivation and often tell me that they ‘don’t know what to write’, or ‘that writing is boring’. This is reinforced by teachers who talk about the challenge of hooking some students into writing tasks.
If you are struggling to engage your students in writing tasks, I would encourage you to consider three questions:
1.    Do the students have a clear purpose for writing or are they practising ‘text type’ writing?
2.   Is there an audience for the writing? Will it be shared and celebrated with classmates and sometimes published and shared with a wider audience?
3.     Did you motivate the students for writing and generate ideas before shared writing?
1. Purpose for writing – writing purpose vs text type
Over the past 20 years, we have learnt a lot about different writing purposes, their language features and generic text structure. This has improved the organisation of students’ writing and their understanding and use of language features. However, it is important to remember that a ‘text type’ is a way to organise writing to meet our writing purpose; it is not a ‘purpose’ for writing.
I often hear teachers begin a writing session with a statement such as: ‘Today we are writing a report’.  A report is a ‘text type’, and I believe this approach turns students off writing. If we begin with a purpose for writing, we are much more likely to engage our students.  Once we have agreed our writing purpose, we can then talk about the text type and features.
For example, you may be at a very exciting part in your class novel. You could discuss the events of a specific day for the main character and then decide to write a diary entry. Once you have agreed the writing purpose, you can discuss the text type you will be using and the organisation and features. For example, first person, recount, informal language.
During topic, students may be learning about shadows. In writing time they could describe their shadows which were captured using photos or video. You could then talk about some of the features of descriptions, which are appropriate to the students’ writing level.
2. Audience
A teacher told me a story the other day that really hit home. She called a guided group over to review their editing, which they had been asked to complete independently. One of the girls had not edited her writing. When the teacher asked her why not, she replied, ‘I didn’t think anyone was going to read it.’
How true! Would we bother proof reading and re-crafting our writing if we felt no one was going to read it?
The ultimate way to share writing with an audience is to publish all or part of it in a range of formats. However, regular opportunities for students to read their writing to a partner, group, the teacher or the class, also provide an audience for the students. This feedback is also immediate and very achievable during a writing lesson. Many teachers I work with have set up ‘partner checking’ which students engage in most days. They read and enjoy each other’s writing, give positive feedback and review the criteria or their writing goals. Once students are skilled at this, they can improve their writing together, in relation to the criteria or their goals. I receive regular feedback from teachers about how much ‘partner checking’ has improved their students writing and motivation.
Example of a ‘partner check’ and the ‘feedback form’ that was completed by the students.  
For further support on partner-checking, refer to chapter 6 of The Writing Book (Cameron and Dempsey, 2013).
3. Motivation for writing
For me, the most significant action we can take to motivate writers is to generate ideas with the students before writing. Sometimes a simple image, or video, can result in all students engaging in independent writing for 20 minutes and producing some great results.
When thinking of ideas for writing, teachers often get stuck on the curriculum. It is important to make cross curricular links and to write about what students are learning; however, if this is the source of all our writing ideas, it can get a little tedious for the students and teacher. In addition to the curriculum we can consider:
·       Reading links – what texts are you reading your students? Could these motivate students for writing? (For example, a moment in time, a diary entry, persuade a character, describe a setting, retell or adapt the story etc.)
·       Could you have a shared experience before writing? (For example, an image, video clip, drama, observation.)
·       Could you generate a memory or experience for each child? (For example, a special place, a time you were nervous, a time you got lost etc.)
We have been sharing different ideas for writing on The Writing Book Facebook page:
Here are a few of the popular links: The Literacy Shed is a fantastic site to motivate writing. This link will take you to a series of amazing photos of by a 14 year old, Zev Hoover.  This video clip has been used by many teachers from Reception to Year 7. GoPro videos are excellent motivation for ‘moment in time’ recount writing.

Louise Dempsey

Anne’s Literacy Links and Look ups…

NZLA conference Surfing the Literacy Wave
Tauranga, 28 September – 1 October 2014

Ngā mihi nui
Anne Kenneally
Literacy Online Facilitator
CORE Education

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