As you have seen through the Evidence of Literacy section on this site, there are many examples of quality classroom artifacts that demonstrate literacy learning across the grades here. So even though I didn't showcase every classroom I visited, it was common to see these types of evidence in the classrooms I did visit.
That said, there was a very specific reason as to why I started with looking for classroom artifacts and not one of the other components of literacy instruction. I chose to start there because it was the safest and least intrusive way for me to begin observing what is going on in classrooms. And form the response that I have received from teachers, and have subsequently commented on it here in my blog, it was time to move forward and begin looking at other aspects of literacy instruction.
In choosing what to look for next, I have been influenced by the many discussions I have been having with principals and teachers across the district. These are conversations that also correlate with some of the trends that I am seeing as I visit classrooms. So... for the next while, we are going to focus on Teacher-Managed Instructional Activities with a focus on providing a Balanced Literacy approach to teaching Writing.
According to McEwan-Adkins (2011), "teacher-managed instructional activities are lessons in which teachers provided targeted, direct, explicit, systematic, supportive instruction to students in any of the eight curricular components of a balanced literacy program." To further that statement, she lists the eight curricular components as phonemic awareness, word identification, spelling, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, reading a lot, and writing.
As I have considered these aspects of a balanced literacy program, I think that the easiest way for me to observe progress and gather actual evidence would be to focus on writing. Additionally, as I have already mentioned, I have not observed very much in the way of writing instruction as I have been in classrooms. And to be honest, much of what I observed in terms of classroom artifacts related more to reading and the other components and not writing.
There are additional reasons as to why I am choosing to focus on writing as well. According to our FNSSP focus on literacy and numeracy, the mandate calls for systematic testing and evaluation of students in the areas of reading and writing. To date, I have not seen anything that allows us to gather concrete data for writing with the exception of the PATs. So as I begin to observe writing in the classrooms, I will be able to determine the extent to which we need to build and institute a more formalized writing program across the grades that will not only provide us with the data we need, but also help us improve our writing instruction and assessment at all grade levels.
Balanced Literacy Framework for Writing
Keeping in mind that many of us are not formally trained in teaching through a balanced literacy framework in language arts, I will try to share the basic components of what writing can and should look like on a regular and/or daily basis in your classrooms. I want to point out, however, that I am also one of the teachers who is not trained in Balanced Literacy. Nevertheless, offering a well planned language arts program according to the program of studies actually falls in line with the tenets of a balanced literacy framework.
According to Brailsford (2003, p. 179), there are six purposes to writing on a daily/regular basis in Balanced Literacy:
- to determine and model writing techniques
- to help the children to develop awareness of the organizational structures that underpin different writing genres, and to encourage them to use these writing organizers in their own planning
- to engage students in a variety of supported writing activities
- to provide an environment wherein Independent Writing can occur
- to conference with students and help them to refine their writing, and
- to share through publishing and Author's Chair
As I stated before, I have not been formally trained in Balanced Literacy; however, as I study Brailsford's book on Balanced Literacy, I am amazed at how much overlap there is between her framework and what I used to do as a classroom teacher. In reality, I think that this overlap comes down to best practice and that best practice will find a home in a variety of different programs and approaches to learning.
So when it comes down to teaching and doing writing in the classroom, a teacher should focus on three different types of writing activities:
- Write Alouds
- Shared Writing
- Guided Writing
- Independent Writing
Write Alouds are where the teacher engages in writing on the spot in front of the class. This can be in the planning phase using a graphic organizer, or it could be in producing a rough draft like the one you want your students to generate. Doing write alouds with students is and can be stressful and messy for teachers. It puts you on the spot to produce writing in front of students on the board or on the smart board. But even though it is on the spot, students need to see their teacher model good writing and model what it is that he/she expects them to do. It is especially important for students who are not strong writers, because they need this process to be as explicit as possible.
Shared writing is when a teacher models a certain aspect of the writing process with the participation and help of the students. That might mean that the class collectively writes a descriptive paragraph where the teachers writes or types and the students provide the teacher with the necessary information to make that happen. This process can be beneficial because students can begin to engage in the process of writing and model the expectations of the teacher as outlined in the write aloud, without yet having to do this independently.
Guiding writing has students engaging in certain aspects of the writing process, with teacher support. This means that students engage in activities such as planning, writing, revising, editing, publishing, etc. It is important, though, that these types of activities are teacher directed learning opportunities and not initially expected that students can do them independently... nor should they be completed independently because this is where teachers can observe, coach, and help their students prepare for successful completion of independent writing.
Independent writing is when students engage in writing tasks that stem from the guided writing activities. Most often, this happens after the initial planning phases using graphic organizers and the generation of an exemplar through a Write Aloud or Shared Writing activity. Independent writing may also happen after students have participated in editing activities where they can go back and continue with or add to their initial piece of writing.
Using Mini Lessons
When teaching students to write using this framework, it is important that you use mini lessons to break down and make explicit what you expect from your students. Remember that students do not have overly lengthy attention spans to begin with, so your lessons should be sequenced to accommodate this. Fortunately, a balanced literacy framework will help you achieve this.
When teaching mini lessons on what your students need to know or be able to do, keep in mind that these mini lessons an writing activities should work their way into your unit planning and not be independent from whatever it is that you're already teaching. Remember that good teaching stems from linking and sequencing the activities of your units in a meaningful way.
The following is a list of some things that students should really have modelled for them in either a Write Aloud and/or a Shared Writing mini lesson (Brailsford, 2003, p. 185-186):
- use directionality conventions in writing
- write down ideas by using invented spellings and words from the Word Wall
- write patterned sentences based on a language pattern from a book
- write a literature response
- persuade in print
- use conversations
- write a descriptive paragraph
- link paragraphs to write a report
- write a letter
- write a narrative
- write a poem
- use an organizer for a particular genre
- revise a draft
- decide on appropriate titles
- improve leads
- use connectives to link ideas across sentences
- add more description
- take notes
This is for Everyone - Regardless of Subject Area!!!
Remember: it takes a village to raise a child, not just the language arts teacher.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about what I have written here. I would love to meet with teachers and help them if they are at all concerned about teaching writing in their classes.
Brailsford, A. (2003). Balanced Literacy. Edmonton, AB: Edmonton Public Schools, Resource development Services.
McEwan-Adkins, E. (2011). Literacy Look-Fors. Retrieved on Monday December 20, 2013 from go.solution-tree.com/literacy.