Teaching Sequence: Writing process

Teaching sequence for a 7th grade (excerpt of 4 lessons from a 16-lesson teaching plan)

Overall Learning Objective

For the students to improve their L2 (English) linguistic competencies (speaking, listening, writing and reading) through immersion in self-chosen subjects, presented as a story through a digital media.

Assessment Criteria

• AC1: Can the students use digital storytelling to convey their chosen subject in English?

• AC2: Can the student demonstrate its ability to use the gathered knowledge in their story?

• AC3: Can the student use an appropriate structure depending on their genre?

Plan and timetable for teaching sequence: 

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The goal for the week was to enable the students to begin their writing processes in a longer sequence concerning digital storytelling. On the Monday, the students were given scaffolding to prepare them of how to use the new digital tool StoryBird, additionally they were introduces to the core characteristics of nonfiction vs. fiction genres. Wednesday they were working with brainstorming to come up with a topic of their own interest, and when decided, they began working in StoryBird and had approximately 1,5 hour to make a 3-page story. Friday the different stories were presented, either two the whole class or individually with one of us (an intern) by their side to comment and give summative feedback on the product as well as the work process.

Didactic considerations and reflections about teaching sequence

Initially we wanted to work with differentiated content due to the fact that we knew that this particular 7th grade was part of a special education option offered by Brøndbyøster skole called Lunten. Furthermore, despite the students all being diagnosed with one or more autistic disorders, they were still required to be examined under the same FFM as students under general education.

In the same regard, based on some the ideas of associate professor at Metropol, Jesper boding about visible learning and differentiation;”Ydermere er det relevant at overveje om indholdet […] kan gøres til genstand for differentiering i undervisningen. Dels er det oplagt at overveje, om elever med forskellige interesser kan vælge forskelligt indhold.” (Boding 2014: 8) Here Boding is proposing that teachers should consider if students could work with differentiated content, while still working towards the same learning objective, and if that differentiated content could be chosen by the student itself, based on his/hers own interests.

Allowing the students to choose their own desired writing-topic is also based on Dorn and Soffos’ views on the cognitive sides of writing, where they describe, how the first thing a young language learner needs, when starting the writing process, is the ability to understand and pull together ideas (feelings, emotions and images) or knowledge from their own memories, which they desire to communicate; “Language becomes a tool for consolidating bigger ideas into original statements while choosing the best words and placing them in the correct order.” (2001:2), which is a complex process driven by a personal need to express a message. The more meaningful and personal the idea is for the child, the easier it will be for the child to use its transcription skill.

In order to integrate these didactic theories into our teaching sequence, we planned a course with the digital media tool, StoryBird, which is a online program that allows the student to tell a story using pictures and writing. In addition we organised the sequence in such a way that the students would work with, and improve upon, their main L2 linguistic competencies, e.g. speaking, listening, reading, and especially writing.

During
During the course, we quickly learned that the learner´s knowledge regarding genres was not sufficient enough, for them to work individually on their project. This forced us to spend time, that we had not previously planned in the teaching sequence, to create a mutual understanding of the genres at their disposal. The way of approach was through brainstorming, which proved to be confusing for the learners, even though their teacher assured us that they had experience with brainstorms. Furthermore the level of knowledge in the class was very divided given their disorders, age groups and their experience with general education. This proved again to be quite a challenge for us to find common ground within the classroom. Ultimately the learners did not achieve the levels of learning that we intended.

According to Harris & Graham (1996) scaffolding the child at appropriate points is a tool of mediation, that then helps the child’s ability to orchestrate the social, cognitive, and mechanicals sides of writing, thus writing is a learned skill, shaped through practice and constructive feedback, which further helps the child to become a self-regulated writer, though when helping individual students, some of them reacted positively to being instructed but found it hard to continue alone (individually or in groups), others shut down when receiving individual help, which created a lot of misunderstanding in regards to how far they actually were and whether they had understood the task at hand.

Post reflections
During our post reflections, it was certainly obvious that there was a need for more scaffolding, perhaps more explicit learning goals should have been given earlier on, which could potentially have resulted in more common ground within the classroom. If they had physical resources e.g., sheets of genre characteristics, it might have helped the students better, than repetitive black board teaching and individual help – as those two interactions seemed to either throw off the students or annoy them. When looking at the results of the students’ written products in StoryBird (Appendix 1), it is clear that the students are all still in the stage of the emergent writer as described by Dorn & Soffos (2001). The emergent writer’s greatest challenge occurs with transcribing the message. Here the teacher can guide the child to learn to use simple resources to assist problem-solving efforts. Risk-taking behaviours are the basis for early monitoring, searching and self-correcting actions, which are the foundation for successful writing. As the emergent writer practise reading behaviours, it allows them to make logical and realistic predictions for the upcoming words and phrases (p. 7). Yet we did not see the risk-taking behaviours in all of the students, as most of them had to be explicitly told almost what to write in order for them to write something. A’s story uses very simple sentences, but whilst M’s are more complex; there is no cohesion in the text whatsoever. T only made one page, besides the front page, but was the only one that seemed to use put his own ideas (feelings) into words.

Literature:

Boding, J. (2014): Synlig Læring er Synlig Succes. Dafolo.

Dorn, L. J. & Soffos, C. (2001): Scaffolding Young Writers: A Writer’s Workshop Approach. Stenhouse Publishers

Harris, K.R. & Graham, S. (1996) Making the Writing Process Work: Strategies for Composition and Self-Regulation, Cambridge, MA, Brookline Books

 

Appendix 1 – Examples of student texts from StoryBird

A’s story:

M’s story:

T’s story:

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The Development of Young Writers

Reflections on Scaffolding Young Writers, Chapter 1; The Development of Young Writers, by Linda Dorn & Carla Soffos

Writing, the action, has both a social and a cognitive side. “Writing is by nature a social process. Writing represents the means by which a message can be communicated to someone else.” (p.2) Children uses inquirers such as “What does this say?” as foundation for learning how to write. Children that come from homes of writing environments before they start school. have already acquired critical understanding for learning about the writing process (p. 2). Healy (1994, p.2) talks about the cognitive side of writing, and describes that for a child to start the writing process, the child must understand and pull together ideas (feelings, emotions and images) or knowledge from their own memories, desired to be communicated. “Language becomes a tool for consolidating bigger ideas into original statements while choosing the best words and placing them in the correct order.” (p.2), which is a complex process driven by a personal need to express a message. The more meaningful and personal the idea is for the child, the easier it will be for the child to use its transcription skill. Scaffolding the child at appropriate points is a tool of mediation, that then helps the child’s ability to orchestrate the social, cognitive, and mechanicals sides of writing, thus writing is a learned skill, shaped through practice and constructive feedback, which further helps the child to become a self-regulated writer (Harries & Graham:1999). Writing itself is a very complex process, which you have to recognise, when teaching young learners, after having identified ideas and words for expressing them, the writer then has to read, revise the text by e.g., deleting unnecessary words, sections or rearrings sentences, and paragraphs, to clarify concepts. Thus the next level of complexity is added as the writer has to consider the receiver’s (read: reader or audience) need and experience of the text and, their knowledge of the given idea, concept or information. During the act of writing, the writer will develop and apply strategies of organising, monitoring and revising the specific message to the particular audience (p. 3). According to Healy (1994, p.3) developing a well-orchestrated writing process depends on the interrelatedness of the following three aspects; comprehension of ideas, expressive language and facility with mechanics. It is the teacher’s role to strive to create a balance between the child’s composing and transcribing skills, yet the ultimate goal of teaching is to promote an orchestration process, which happens at the intersection where old knowledge meets new knowledge i.e., if the child has too many new things to learn, this can interfere with the orchestration process (p. 4). There are specific benchmark behaviours along a continuum of writing control with young writers, and the primary grades are critical times for shaping orchestration. Therefore the teacher must recognise the behaviours that indicate how students are becoming writers, and to promote this process, teachers can ask four simple questions:

  • What is easy for the writer to do?
  • What is hard for the writer to do?
  • What does the teacher expect the writer to do?
  • What does the teacher expect to do for the writer?

Levels of writing competence

The emergent writer

Greatest challenge occurs with transcribing the message. Here teacher can guide the child to learn to use simple resources to assist problem-solving efforts. Risk-taking behaviours are the basis for early monitoring, searching and self-correcting actions, which are the foundation for successful writing. As the emergent writer practise reading behaviours, it allows them to make logical and realistic predictions for the upcoming words and phrases (p. 7).

The early writer:

Here the writer has begun to think about the length of their stories, and it is common for the writer to evaluate their words with comments such as “Look at how many pages I wrote!” (p. 8). The early writer will move from chronological accounts to more focussed pieces, that sustains the theme throughout. The teacher can introduce the early writer to new resources, including writing forms and checklists, serving as self-help guides to promote independent thinking. It is important, that the child must possess the knowledge and skills to use these resources in productive ways (p. 9)

The transitional writer:

The transcribing skills of young writers are faster and more automatic, thus the control frees their attention to focus more actively on the craft of writing (p. 9).

In conclusion, to develop independent writers, the teacher must consider both the cognitive and social sides to learning by being attuned to what the child already knows.

Literature:

Dorn, L. J. & Soffos, C. (2001): Scaffolding Young Writers: A Writer’s Workshop Approach. Stenhouse Publishers