Standards for Teachers of English Language and Literacy in Australia
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2.1 Teachers plan for effective learning

1.3 Teachers know how students learn to be powerfully literate

What range of learning opportunities does the teacher provide so that all students are able to achieve optimum success and recognition for their performance in language and literacy?

What range of curriculum materials, resources and technologies does the teacher draw on when planning for English/Literacy teaching and learning?

  Let's write
Year 4/5
Julie Gibbs

My grade 4/5 is a class of mixed abilities where the girls willingly write and the boys find it laborious to put pen to paper. Generally the girls are prepared to take risks with their writing, whereas the boys sit and stare for ages and finally produce a very short passage of writing.

Recounts, reports and expository genres had been studied this year and the next one was narrative. I wanted the children to write and publish their own book but wanted their work to be of good quality not just something they wrote without much thought. Good quality writing is not only using the conventions of the English language but writing that is interesting for the reader. Any mini story writing had been just that, very mini, especially from the boys! They found it difficult to think of ideas and couldn't sustain a story line beyond a paragraph or two. Generally the girls could write accurately and would write pages without any major problems but their writing had limited vocabulary and lacked flair and excitement. I wanted to improve their writing and proofreading skills and encourage them to add more to their work.

Another concern was that some children were not reading by choice and silent reading was more silent than actual reading! To tackle this problem we read and read and read. A variety of books were read including big books, picture storybooks and novels. They became particularly interested in novels I read them, especially Shatterbelt by Colin Thiele and I was encouraged when they insisted I read the sequel Aftershock to them. After all of this reading/listening to stories, activities included oral retelling parts of the story, writing to story characters, writing as a newspaper reporter about events in the book, choosing passages with dialogue and performing to the grade, drawing cartoon strips, story pyramids and mind mapping. They also read favourite parts to a friend. Talking was a major focus too. A lot of time was taken up with telling class members about personal anecdotes. Children always find it easy to talk about themselves!

As part of out writing session each day we concentrated on writing short passages describing story settings, telling about people's feelings and emotions, making character profiles of nice and nasty people, using action words and looking at speech in stories. Vocabulary was centred around all of these areas. These short passages seemed to increase in their desire to write and they began to enjoy experimenting with new vocabulary. They became eager to read their work to the grade.

From our reading we looked at the structure of a narrative, characters, orientation, complication, events and resolution. This was used as a structure for their writing. To coincide with book week our librarian booked author Andy Griffiths to speak to the children about how he gets his ideas for his books. Naturally we read his stories before he came and the children loved them because they were slapstick and had some toilet humour! Andy Griffiths was very entertaining and told the children that most of his writing came from everyday life experiences that he exaggerated to make his books humorous. With this fresh in their minds, the children were almost ready to write their own story. There was no topic given and the children were allowed to write on anything except violence, blood and gore which were discouraged! It was interesting to listen to what the children were interested in. They made a plan that included characters, setting, problem to the story, events, solutions and an ending. This was discussed with other class members and sometimes modifications were made due to the other's suggestions. If they wanted to, they could draw cartoon strips of their story before writing. Not everybody finished and there were still a few who needed help with their ideas but it was great to hear some of the reluctant writers say to their class members, "Hey look what I've written so far!"

Their stories were based on other stories, movies, real life and Andy Griffiths. Those who finished are putting their draft onto the computer to be proofread and published. This was time consuming and 'lessons' had to give way to writing, proofreading and final publication on the computer. The children now want to read their stories to the Prep and Grade 1 children.

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Australian Association for the Teaching of English A L E A ~ Australian Literacy Educators' Assoication
Department of Education & Training (Victoria) Education Department of Western Australia