Writing framed with SOLO taxonomy

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I have to share this piece of writing from one of my students. For this post, I will call him Jimmy. That is not his real name.

Jimmy is a 7 year old who has been with us since he began school. He has had several interventions including reading recovery but continues to lag in national data.

I chose to work with him this year because he has finished the other intervention and currently is not having any other form of withdrawal. He is also one of my ESOL funded students and my inquiry this year was to reflect on strategies I use for writing and to try something different. I know when I work with students I can accelerate their progress. I use SOLO taxonomy to frame the learning and I won’t change this strategy because I know how effective SOLO is for making learning visible for the students that I work with.

However it is what I chose to do with the students that is different. Whenever ever I withdraw my students I shudder at what is happening. I know from international research that withdrawal is the least effective strategy for my bilingual students. They are already on the back foot by trying to catch the moving target of National Standard Data. So withdrawal continues to put them on the back foot. If I do withdraw students it is because the numbers are spread across classes, As much as I can I try and work in class alongside the classroom teacher. This is the most effective strategy for working with bilingual children. I have seen this in action too first hand in Finland and we all know about the Finns and their NSD.

So for my current target group they are spread across two classes. They are all boys who have had reading recovery but are not maintaining their levels and that is an ongoing critcism I have had with reading recovery withdrawing bilingual children with no English. If I had my way with the system I would have them begin after being at school for two years and not when they turn six.

For this intervention I wanted to switch my boys onto writing. Usually, I would align my programme with what the children are doing in class so they are not missing out on learning by just doing language based activities. If the class are writing, then we are writing too. If the class are writing about ANZAC then we are writing about ANZAC too.

However for these boys I have chosen to try a different method.

First I had them list all the things they were interested in. I believed I would find a common theme between them. Well that did not happen. I uncovered a different passion in each student and found out that they all like drawing.  For ‘Jimmy’ it was Minecraft. To clarify how much he knew, I asked him to draw the main character from Minecraft. With my own beginning knowledge I knew it was Steve. So Jimmy drew Steve.

I told him that we would describe Steve and to do this we needed to list our ideas.

I then asked him to list everything he knew about Steve and I would help him. Using SOLO I knew listing is a multistructural out outcome and from my initial observation I knew this was not a difficult task to do. I gave him a piece of paper and asked him to list all he knew about Steve. When he was ready I gave him another colour and asked him to list all the tools that Steve used in Minecraft. Then he was given another piece of paper and asked to list all the monsters in Minecraft that he knew. Then a final piece to list why he liked Minecraft. Keep in mind I am not a Minecraft player. I have an account and have played the night time version only once.

In the follow up lesson Jimmy was given the task of writing up his first piece of paper. I changed the usual strategy for this too. I have often worked in our junior class and could see how challenging it was for the children to have their describe map stuck into their books and then they have to flick back and forth with their writing. So for my group I gave them a separate book for writing and used a different book for planning. This was to keep all the artifacts together and also so they can visually see their plan all the time. It is in front of them. A major challenge I know with children learning how to write in English is keeping the thought in their head. It is hard enough that we are asking them to write in another language but we are also asking them to think and keep the thought in their head long enough to get this down. I understood the importance of this strategy from the work we did last year with Anne Girven.

As Jimmy wrote down his thoughts, I could barely keep up with him. He wrote quickly. As he wrote I reminded him about the importance of ticking off his ideas. Again the writing professional development learning from last year. In two 30 minute lessons Jimmy wrote 4x pages.When it was time to come to me he would run to be the first into my session. He told me he loved writing. His draft was so raw and delightful I did not want to touch it and so I have not made any teacher edits. Unfortunately he became sick and so missed the next two sessions for editing. So his writing has remained untampered with teacher support. How often do we correct because that is how it is done? We don’t do it to their drawings so why do we do it to their writing? Correcting writers work has also been a real issue with me as a teacher. I am informed it is modelling but I know too from my own experience that until I am ready to make my own spelling changes then it isn’t going to happen. I am empathetic with emergent writers because my own writing is an ongoing challenge for me.

Afterwards in the next session I had him draw the monsters. Then I scanned this into the computer, imported the lined drawings into paint and he dumped colour into them. I learned this little trick from our work with Ant Sang a graphic artist.

Jimmy wanted to come back at lunchtime to work with me. I had to turn down his kind offer because I had other student commitments. I did suggest that he return and work in my room while I worked with other students. This he did.

He missed the self publishing part so I typed up his story for him while he read it out. In the published story I corrected all his inventive spelling and left his initial draft in its current state. I used presentation to do this and then imported the graphics in.

Finally I printed off his home copy and I sent him to receive a principal’s sticker from Dr Kofoed.

Where to next?

For me as a teacher, I was surprised at the relational thinking coming through strongly in his writing. I was aiming for a multistructural outcome but this piece of writing is definitely relational. I will get him to identify and highlight all the relational thinking words that he used to link his ideas.

Because the learning intention is to describe Steve, I will have him rephrase the last paragraph about why he liked Minecraft to what is special about Steve. At this stage of the intervention, I am uncertain if I can push extended abstract thinking but think I can start to develop the early sentence structure to include an I believe statement.

For my next session I will introduce the relational words and the describe rubric and explain how both will help them with their next piece of writing. The decision I have is do I continue to write about topics that interests the boys or shall I focus on the writing that is happening in class? I have identified a commonality with this group of boys and that is a love of cartoons. So maybe I should create a collaborative comic with them.

I spent the afternoon with my SOLO mentor who encouraged me to display the process. I am not the best at making things look pretty for the wall and usually just throw things up. As much as I can I like the children to see too that my own handwriting continues to develop and so they see my handwriting in its raw state. So if you see my writing, that is the writing that the children see too. What I do try and do is make it legible ad I even do this for my modelling books. Several of our children still write with a pencil so if they write with a pencil I also write with a pencil/felt.

For more information about SOLO Taxonomy visit. http://pamhook.com/

Teachers as Visible Learners

What a day.

Today we had our school assembly and this time it was led by our senior school students who are known as Te Ako Kahikatea. In the New Zealand native forest Kahikatea is the giant of the forest and with the status of being named after the giants of the forest there is also the expectation that our senior students will step up as Kaitiaki and spread their branches and leaves to lead and protect all the other seedlings growing beneath.

I was there in assembly as usual. I was excited and proud for our Travelwise team because today our principal Dr Wendy Kofoed was presenting us with our school’s silver Travelwise status from Auckland Transport. I am the teacher who works with the Travelwise team. This year the team have really stepped up activities and efforts for our school.

I sat in assembly and spotted my big sister and was feeling worried because I care for my aging parents and wondered if all was ok at my house. Assembly began and I focused back on the what was happening.

First Te Ako Kahikatea shared their learning and explained the process of their discovery Friday. As usual I thought I need to be recording this but have been trying to step back and let the team leaders take up more responsibility of sharing their team and their students learning via their team blogs and sites. The rest of assembly unfolded and we listened to achievements and notices.

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Then it was time for our certificate to be presented and we all went up on stage. One of my Travelwise students had written a short explanation of why we were awarded our certificate.  We received our certificate.

Next Te Ako Kahikatea received their principal’s award. I love this part of the assembly because its like mini celebrations of learning for students from the teams.

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IMG_2516After that the  assembly came to a conclusion but before then our lead student commentators said they wanted to call up an amazing teacher who deserved the honour of a mention for all that they do for our school. They played a video and it was me. Many children from the team that I taught, teach and work with shared little snippets about why they thought I deserved this recognition. This part was totally not part of our usual assembly.

I sat right up the front in shock and felt overwhelmed by emotions such as incredible pride at hearing them speak so clearly. Some of my bilingual IMG_2547students spoke and  I wiped away tears of joy and was called up to receive a massive bunch of flowers and presented with a red pandanus necklace known as an ula fala which I associate with our Samoan leaders or matai. I was also given a leadership badge and gift that the students work towards and my Travelwsie team had created an amazing card for me.

IMG_2539I stood there listening as some of our teachers spoke too about how I have guided and supported them in their practice. Some from my Travelwise team led our school song and I joined them.

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Finally I thanked everyone for the honour bestowed on me, made mention of my big sister and took the opportunity of highlighting our Samoan language week that is celebrated next week.

I believe it is important to be transparent as a teacher, thinker and learner so that children can see your progress. I thought about my Samoan culture and what my grandmother Matalaoa used to say to me, ‘E iloa le tagata i ana tu ma aga’ which means people know you by your actions. I am often asked what is my role at Newmarket School and I often reply jokingly, ‘You do not see what I do but if I was not here the school would fall down.’ At the same time I know that if I was not there and the school did fall down then I have not achieved my ongoing goal of growing others as teacher leaders.

So if you are visiting my reflective blog and were involved in today, thank you, thank you, thank you. I can’t wait to share the children’s video because it shows how awesome their collaborative skills are developing. I can’t believe how they were able to keep it such a secret from me.

Where to next, like Kahikatea we all need mentors and leaders who guide us. We all need feedback about what we do to help with the running of our schools. We must continue to take time to acknowledge each other whether its via words and actions or words on a blog post or tweet.

Faafetai tele lava mo lenei aso matagofie.


Update: my #WELS15 friend Jon wrote this fabulous piece and I have added the link here because he writes with clarity and has included references  I have added his twitter here too. @jca_1975.

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Defining TeachMeetNZ

TMNZ key word image (1)TeachMeetNZ is a professional learning community and environment that provides asynchronous and synchronous opportunities for New Zealand teachers to connect, collaborate, create and celebrate with other educational professionals beyond their own school communities.

First teachers build professional relationships by making connections with each other on twitter and google +.

Then they collaborate together as they learn from and with each other on how to use Google Presentation, Google Hangout, Slideshare and other online presentation tools for sharing their work.

Next they create a nano presentation and share an education story, a critical inquiry or an idea that has impacted on personal practice. This presentation is shared with a current cohort where critical feedback is given and received. The practise sessions are recorded using Google Hangout for personal viewing to help with identifying areas of self improvement.

After that teachers celebrate the learning process in a three minute ‘nano’ presentations that TeachMeetNZ curates allowing teachers to leave a learning legacy for the benefit of other educators globally.

Finally a critical reflection including links to professional literature is written and shared with the education community via a blog where again feedback is given and received.

Overall TeachMeetNZ supports teachers professional learning and builds capabilities. Ultimately I  believe that a visibly learning teacher benefits students learning and student achievement. ‘Every child deserves a teacher that never stops learning.’ Something amazing happens when a group of educators connect, collaborate, create and celebrate together. That is TeachMeetNZ.