Monday, June 27, 2016

Helping Writers find their Voice

by Phil Margetts (Ako Hiko Education Programme Leader)

You might think that two hours of PD after a long day at school (that included writing moderation) would be a struggle but I found Charlene Mataio’s session extremely inspiring and thought provoking. It was also amazing to see so many teachers from the Ako Hiko cluster come together and work in the same space.

One realisation that I had during the session was that I’ve probably spent more time marking and moderating writing samples, that force me to look at what makes a ‘good writer,’ than sharing this information with my students. As Charlene suggested, co-constructing anchor charts that show the features of ‘good writing’ could so easily be added to class sites and be updated regularly with the added bonus of being more visible to the community and accessible to students at any time. Another goal of mine based on this session is to start displaying writing from all parts of the writing process. I believe that all too often we push for that perfect finished piece of work without valuing the process that gets us there.

My grand idea that I implemented the day after the session was to create a digital resource where students could identify their passions and interests. This would then be used as inspiration and as a framework for students to carry out personalised writing every week. The immediate challenge: What to do with the group of boys whose interests are made up entirely of inappropriate computer games? Is it our responsibility to expose these students to a new range of interests? Or do we accept their current interests and let them write about shooting people until their hearts are content?

And what about our students who need extra support with their writing. How are we using the new technologies to help them? Are we still just substituting worksheets for Google Docs and relying on their increased engagement due of their devices? Are we using the devices to their potential? And if we are, what are we doing to share our practice with others? With so many teachers in one room I couldn’t help but think: What if everyone was to share one tip, trick or resource? How much richer would we become as a cluster? How much would our students benefit?

Finally, the point that was left ringing in my ears: “What have you taught your students about writing today?” So often I find myself trying to get tasks finished, rushing through activities or spending time checking students have filed their work in the correct folder, that this question has been neglected.

It sounds ridiculous that you wouldn’t teach something new about writing to each student every day but I know for a fact that I have been guilty of this in my classroom. The most obvious idea that comes to mind is to use the knowledge that already exists in the room. There are 24 people in the room. Only one of them is me. With so much talk around student agency, how beneficial would it be for your more able writers to take on a greater role in your classroom. How could they be used to make sure that every student goes home knowing something new about writing every day?


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  2. Hi Phil, I'm a teacher at Christ the King Catholic School and attended the same session as you. Like you, I liked the idea of anchor charts and the next day ran with that idea in my New Entrant classroom. It was great - the only problem...the children knew a lot of punctuation already so it wasn't the quick activity I was planning (and I'm very conscious of how long we spend on the mat)! Next time, we'll just do a few examples of punctuation at a time. Thanks for sharing the idea of adding the anchor charts to class sites. I don't have a class site yet but when I create one this is definitely something I'll now think of adding!

    As for the children writing about what they know, I don't have an answer, but I did like the idea Charlene shared to write about the everyday experiences rather than the extraordinary ones (such as going to Rainbow's End on the weekend). Children could write about a wintry day, splashing in puddles with their gumboots on, how it felt to get up and give a speech etc. Have you come across the NZ Primary Teachers Facebook page? There was a great doc shared on it of writing topics. You can access it here: (Let me know if the link doesn't work.)

    The question Charlene asked about 'What new thing about writing did your students learn about writing today?' stuck with me too! It's something I'm still pondering as I will often spend multiple days using the same learning intention for writing. So, while I am doing this because they're not yet using what I'm teaching in their writing independently and need to go over it, what are they learning that's new? Perhaps I could point out what good authors do while reading stories to the children. I'll keep pondering this one!