3.3 Teachers are active members of the professional and wider community
1.2 Teachers know their subject
Setting up writing/reading workshops and the associated independent work habits can be a little daunting at the best of times, but even more so if you are new to a senior coordinating position and your new 5/6 class is a little on the large size at 32.
As well as the above set of circumstances being a reality for the class teacher, the school's literacy coordinator (Carol) and I added another layer (or two) to the agenda. Organisationally we wanted to provide additional teaching support to reduce teaching group numbers during literacy instruction time. Professionally we aimed to improve general literacy practices and student literacy learning and behaviours.
Carol focussed on reading workshops and helping the level 4 team of three teachers organise reading group activities and small teaching groups. In addition to 8 hours support teaching time, she joined the team weekly for one hour of their planning time to encourage literacy program discussions. We decided that in addition to my library and literature sessions with the Level 4 classes (one hour per week per class). I would focus on developing writing workshop routines (also one hour per week per class).
The most pressing issue at the beginning of Term 2 was to get students enthused about writing and to promote a sense of ownership though generating personal topic lists. I really wanted to move the students towards the notion that it was good to have more than one piece of writing on the go at any given time so that we could choose our "best" to publish. I used an adaptation of Don Murray's (1980) 'Five Card Game' to begin our writing workshop sessions and to fire up potential topic lists.
In the Five Card Game, writers are asked to take an A4 sheet of paper and tear/cut it into four smaller pieces. Each piece is numbered 1 - 4, then on paper No. 1 writers jot down 4 - 6 things they know about/care about/are interested in/and would be happy to talk about with a partner. The teacher does the same and then shares with the students what she has jotted down, chatting and elaborating a little on each item as she goes. The students are then asked to do the same - run through their list with a partner and talk a little more about each item as they go. After chatting, students circle the item that they think they have more to talk about or in which their partners seemed interested. On piece of paper 2, students are asked to brainstorm and list any words/phrases to do with the circled item. The brainstorm is quick (say 2-3 minutes) and the teacher does the same, stopping students after the specified time and sharing her brainstorm list, elaborating a little as she goes. Students do the same with their partner and again, after sharing, circle key words or ideas which created interest.
On piece of paper 3, students are asked to write silently, in sentences, about what they have been talking about. The teacher does the same again specifying a brief time frame - say five minutes or so - after which she stops the writers and shares what she has written. She again elaborates this time focussing on what she intends to continue writing about on piece of paper 4. Students model the teacher in action. On piece of paper 4 writers have some decisions to make:
Again, after a brief silent writing time (teacher too), writers stop, share writing with their partners and this time partners ask questions of the writer. Writers may choose to take note of questions asked and consider in further drafting or choose to ignore inclusion at all.
On the fifth piece of paper the teacher asks writers to jot down some writing structure or convention which they think might be improved upon. In this instance I asked writers to try an alternate lead sentence to that which they opened with on piece of paper 3.
This activity took two one-hour workshops to complete after which I continued work with classroom teachers and students on refining workshop routines and getting writing 'published'. We all commented about how the classrooms' dynamics changed. Students knew more about their own and each other's work and we believe performed 'better'. Each class seemed to be a little more cohesive as a group. In addition the teaching team dynamic changed. Team literacy planning was more effective and purposeful with workshop introduction either linked to integrated units or personal interest. Carol's role had become more collaborative rather than that of an imposer, teller or supervisor.
Carol and I have also just completed a three week P.D. taking staff through the 'Early Years Teaching Writers' program. We included the Five Card Game as the staff activity with equal success.