Monthly Archives: July 2009

The best group writing strategy for 5 year olds! PrepD Interactive Writing: Here I go again…and again…and again!

It’s the beginning of 2nd semester and my preps are half way through their first year of formal schooling in Australia. I’ve written many posts about Interactive Writing. The Early Years Program outlines Interactive Writing as a teacher directed writing strategy. However, I have developed this strategy into a student led whole grade activity.

To make this writing strategy really special, I allow the children to write using textas on large sheets of paper. Children select a colour to write with and use this colour to write their name down the side and their contributions. While the children are writing I’m listening to their conversations and observing the strategies they have learnt in action. Leaders are selected to help organise this activity with all children being given an opportunity to lead at some stage.

It’s my belief that this strategy accelerates writing development and supports less confident writers. Teaching children to prompt, support but ‘not do for others’ allows children to help others in a productive way which flows through to other learning situations. Self editing becomes a natural extension of the process as children read back and fix up known errors. Groups share their writing and discuss ways they could improve their writing next time. This reinforces taught concepts.

At the beginning of the year the students brainstormed a sentence about a shared experience that all groups wrote. Now each group negotiates their own two sentences to write and share with others when completed. I’m looking at how children transfer what they have learnt into their writing e.g. simple punctuation (full stops, capital letters and exclamation marks), space between words, sentence structure and handwriting, specifically letter formation.

Photos – Interactive Writing July.




To add to this activity, I sometimes immediately type and print their writing using ‘dotted tracing script’ which the children trace over.


If interested, please read my previous posts about Interactive Writing. You can use the search bar in this blog to find previous entries.

Cheers Nina

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Writing Development in 5 Year Olds (Prep Students in Australia-1st Year of Formal Education) 5 Year Olds Can Explain their Writing Development!

5 year olds (first year of formal schooling in Australia) can write, can talk about their learning and can explain their learning growth to others. This age group continues to amaze me with their ability to understand their learning journey and talk about what they have learnt. They are quite specific about their gains and very willing to share even the smallest details. They recognise their areas of need and will work hard to develop skills, as long as they know what they are. Young children need to be in an environment that encourages them to ‘take risks’ and talk about what they are doing. Talking, explaining, writing, thinking, making, leading, participating are all actions and require interactions.

This doesn’t just happen. As a teacher, I’m always looking for ways for my students to lead the learning. To explain a taught concept to others is powerful. Sharing our knowledge with others, helps others to learn as well as ourselves. My students, and will reiterate 5 year olds, have just participated in their first ‘Three Way Conferences’(parent-teacher-student). Using their portfolio which contains work samples that display their growth works. My students happily showed their families their work and explained their progress. Some quietly spoke and shared the speaking with me and others did most of the talking. Time for teacher/parent discussion was also given and it was up to the parents to decide if the student remained for the whole time. Most students participated for the whole time.

The following photos show a student’s development in journal writing. Interactive writing, modelled writing, shared writing and independent writing are strategies that are planned into writing sessions. Spelling rules are taught through focus sessions and are a natural part of learning to write. My students know what an ‘e’ does at the end of a word, how sounds change and can explain these concepts in their own words. New strategies and concepts are taught in context, not as an isolated study.


Writing sample of  student A written in February.


Writing sample of student A written in July (this week).


Writing sample of student B written in February.


Writing sample of student B written in July (this week)

Each student’s journey is different, but the writing development among my students is inspiring. What do I think has enabled my students to take this journey? I believe that the Language Experience approach combined with Early Years writing strategies are the key to developing confident and capable young writers.

Next post: Interactive Writing – The next level.

Cheers Nina


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‘Twitter’ as a tool for Professional Development and Professional Sharing

In terms of ICT, I’m still very much a beginner. However, with a mentor Jenny Luca  also known as @jennyluca on Twitter and other educators who are SHARERS, my professional development has been enormous. My latest learning curve has been using Twitter to make contact with education professionals worldwide to help develop me in this area. I’d like to say I share a lot on Twitter, but at present I’m more of a follower. I follow some amazing educators who have a real passion for what they do. And ‘yes’, I do have people following me, obviously in hope that I contribute more. My ‘tweets’ are mostly thanking people for sharing something with me.  However, this will change!

When I want to know something I simply ‘tweet’ what I’m trying to find out and people respond. I recently wanted to know how I could get a screen shot of a website to use in this blog, as I was having problems with certain programs. @Dirkk who lives in Germany responded and sent a link to his site. I’ve used Aviary, as @Dirkk recommended and it worked. ‘Ah’, the power of the web!  As a thank you to Dirkk, my first screenshot is his link!


Educators share their knowledge and expertise on Twitter and it’s the notion of sharing that I find uplifting.  Today @Pam_Thompson sent out a ‘tweet’ about a wiki she has created for teachers at her school to build upon. I followed the link and it’s excellent. The wiki has links to interactive games that I’ve never seen before and as I’m teaching myself about wikis at the moment,  this was just what I needed to see. Pam could have kept this for her staff, instead she put it out for others. This is what Twitter is about for me.

When I started using Twitter I couldn’t see its value, as I’m not interested in who’s having coffee with who, however, when I discovered that I could network with teaching professionals worldwide, ‘I changed my tune’. I now follow some 100 professionals including world news channels and have about 95 people following me.  

screen shot

Cheers Nina  

If you want to follow me on Twitter, I’m @ninadavis.


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This is not about ‘intellectual property’, it’s about professional sharing. Why do I blog?

Once again I’m revisiting a topic I’ve commented on a number of times: Why I blog? I wrote:-

I was sitting in my staffroom listening to a conversation about blogging. A statement was made:

Why does anyone bother with that and who’d be interested in what I do all day? I’m growing accustomed to this! I didn’t respond, but I should have said ‘I am’. I am interested in what my colleagues are doing. I am interested in teaching and learning outside my arena. Someone then said, Nina has an educational blog. Silence!

Why am I revisiting this topic? I have recently received a number of comments on my blog that I believe are worth sharing. Sometimes I receive private emails from readers and those will not be shared, but the following comments have been sent in response to posts. I value these comments and feel that they answer the question, why I am committed to professional sharing via my blog. The comments are shared below.

Hi Nina,

I just wanted to say a big ‘THANKS’ to you for your blog. I started reading your blog today and have read back every entry to the start of this year because I couldn’t stop myself from learning more and more information!   

Adele H

i was amazed and wondered by your motivation and inspired by getting the kids interest in writing. I have these problems with my first graders. i was asked to write guidelines in journal writing elementary… i find it quite hard without prior knowledge and sufficient experience… hope you can help me out. I’ve always been a failure to this aspect. thank you so much!  Christine

I have offered my support to Christine and have thanked Adele. I don’t know these teachers personally and most likely they live in different countries, but our educational issues are the same. And to those who share their classrooms and knowledge with me, I thank you!

Cheers Nina


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8000 Hits- Thanks for Visiting! Camille the French teddy visits Mount Hotham and makes many friends.


Camille our French exchange teddy has just come back from visiting Mount Hotham in the Victorian Snowfields. Have a look at her holiday snaps and you’ll see what a great time she had.



While at Mount Hotham, Camille visited a student at the Dinner Plain Primary School.


Camille caught the shuttle bus from Dinner Plain to the ski runs each day.


Camille drove the bus and made friends with the passengers.


Camille was checking the spelling on this sign. She thought Guage should be spelt Gauge. Oophs!  Please read Camille’s previous post to find out more about her.

Cheers Nina – 8000 hits! Thanks for visiting.

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The Constructivist Theory – Yeah so, what’s that? The Theory Explained!

I’m often asked about the Constructivist Theory and to be honest, I’ve had to research this myself to really embed it into my practice. I’ve taken Kevin Blissett’s post about the Constructivist Theory from his blog, as I found his summary excellent. His last paragraph states his beliefs and I have to agree with him. Kevin Blissett writes a fantastic blog of which I am a regular reader. He is the principal of an international school in China.


A Critical Look at the Constuctivist Theory by Kevin Blissett 

The overwhelming trend in schools of education and “best practices” within many schools is founded in a philosophy known as constructivism. The simple version is this: constructivism maintains that we learn best when we a) construct our own meaning from our experiences and b) develop our own solutions to problems. Over the years, the philosophy has been put into practice under a variety of names such as discovery, experiential, problem-based, and inquiry-based learning. The philosophy is central to the approach espoused by the renowned and ubiquitous International Baccalaureate Organization.

Characteristics of the approach:

  • minimal teacher guidance
  • abundant classroom resources
  • minimal memorization and/or rote learning of rules, laws, fundamentals, etc.
  • a general emphasis slanted more towards skills than content
  • students “discover” solutions rather than being shown how to obtain solutions to problems

Most teachers–and many administrators–seem all too willing to accept this fundamental approach to teaching without questioning its underlying assumptions about the epistemology behind it and the mental processes that are employed as a result of it. I was always taught, as a philosophy major and elsewhere, not to drink the kool-aid before I find out what’s in it. Hence, I continue to maintain an open mind about the pros and cons of various instructional design paradigms as I explore the base philosophies underneath them.

This quest has been going on for some time and is back on my mental frontburners after reading a provocative paper by Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller, and Richard E. Clark, which purports to demonstrate that minimal guidance as a pedagogy is not nearly as effective–at least for younger learners–as an approach which is much heavier on content and teacher guidance.

The centerpiece of their paper is the relationship between “working memory” and long-term memory. Long-term memory, they posit, is the focal point for human cognition.

Our understanding of the role of long-term memory in human cognition has altered dramatically over the last few decades. It is no longer seen as a passive repository of discrete, isolated fragments of information that permit us to repeat what we have learned. Nor is it seen only as a component of human cognitive architecture that has merely peripheral influence on complex cognitive processes such as thinking and problem solving. Rather, long-term memory is now viewed as the central, dominant structure of human cognition. Everything we see, hear, and think about is critically dependent on and influenced by our long-term memory.

Working memory, they explain, is the mechanism we use to actively process current information.The problem the writers identify is that our working memory is quite limited in the type and amount of information it can process at any given time.

Working memory has two well-known characteristics: When processing novel information, it is very limited in duration and in capacity.We have known at least since Peterson and Peterson (1959) that almost all information stored in working memory and not rehearsed is lost within 30 sec and have known at least since Miller (1956) that the capacity of working memory is limited to only a very small number of elements. That number is about seven according to Miller, but may be as low as four, plus or minus one (see, e.g., Cowan, 2001). Furthermore, when processing rather than merely storing information, it may be reasonable to conjecture that the number of items that can be processedmay only be two or three, depending on the nature of the processing required.

Their conclusion regarding the working memory:

Recommendations advocating minimal guidance during instruction proceed as though working memory does not exist or, if it does exist, that it has no relevant limitations when dealing with novel information, the very information of interest to constructivist teaching procedures. We know that problem solving, which is central to one instructional procedure advocating minimal guidance, called inquiry-based instruction, places a huge burden on working memory (Sweller, 1988). The onus should surely be on those who support inquiry-based instruction to explain how such a procedure circumvents the well-known limits of working memory when dealing with novel information.

So their conclusion is that minimally guided, inquiry-based learning places an undue burden of the ability of learners–particularly primary aged students–to process the information in their working memory. This task would be easier if students had more of a context stored in their long-term memories from which they could better make sense of the problem confronting them.

The authors then produce a number of studies indicating that learners who are extensively guided store more knowledge and skills in their long-term memories than those who receive minimal guidance. After discussion of the studies over several pages, they conclude:

After a half-century of advocacy associated with instruction using minimal guidance, it appears that there is no body of research supporting the technique. In so far as there is any evidence from controlled studies, it almost uniformly supports direct, strong instructional guidance rather than constructivist-based minimal guidance during the instruction of novice to intermediate learners. Even for students with considerable prior knowledge, strong guidance while learning is most often found to be equally effective as unguided approaches. Not only is unguided instruction normally less effective; there is also evidence that it may have negative results when students acquire misconceptions or incomplete or disorganized knowledge.

I strongly recommend that you read the whole paper as I’ve only scratched the surface.

So where does that leave us? For me, the paper supports some ideas which I’ve held onto for some time and muddles others. My danger radar sounds loud and clear whenever I confront a commercial, governmental, or philosophical monopoly and, under such conditions, I actively search out opposing points of view. My best guess, as usual, is that the truth lies somewhere in the middle. That is, I believe that novice learners need substantial guidance but also a decent dose of inquiry. As learners become more mature and establish a suitable context of knowledge and skills, inquiry can begin to take a  more central role in instruction until finally it takes the dominant role. Let me know your thoughts.

His last paragraph states his beliefs and I have to agree i.e ‘novice learners need substantial guidance but also a decent dose of inquiry.’ 

Cheers Nina 

Sometimes someone else just writes it better.


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Student Porfolios: ‘To be or not to be included’ What does a Prep student (5&6 year old) have in their portfolio?

The debate continues: What is the purpose of a portfolio and what should be in it? There are definitely different ‘thinking camps’. So what do I think? I’ve included photos of student pieces included in a portfolio.


My prep portfolios consist of a collection of each student’s work, that show performance and growth. Also included is a record of first draft writing and published writing. I love to include photos of students and their of special art work. And ‘yes’, I include assessment pieces to be discussed at our Student Led Interviews (another post).

Photos below: Evidenced writing development of a student for Semester 1. (1st draft)




It’s also important that students select some pieces of work to include in their portfolio. This is totally up to each student and ‘yes’ I do feel the urge to remove some of their choices, but I don’t!





A Prep (5&6 year old) portfolio is different to the portfolio of an older child. Older children are able to develop criteria for selection and are definitely more capable of organising their choices.

Assessment pieces are labeled in terms of ‘ I can ….’ and relate to planned assessment tasks. My teaching pratice is very ‘open’, enabling parents to view assessment pieces, be present if they desire and discuss their child ‘s progress as frequently as desired.  


My student’s are very proud of their work and their portfolio is their own. It’s a lovely book full of memories that can be enjoyed by both students and their families for years to come. It is also a ‘working document’ that is used to display and evidence  student development. 

Cheers Nina

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Camille – Our French Exchange Student: Language Experience in an Australian Prep Class

Our French teacher organised each Prep grade to have their very own special French exchange student. Camille is ours and she spends a week with each student in the grade and her visits are recorded to share with us. It amazes me how welcome Camille is in each home and the wonderful adventures she has.


Camille spent her very first week with me. This gave future families a taste of the lovely time their child could have with Camille. Camille becomes a big part of her host family’s daily life. She has been to the optometrist to have her eyes checked, the fish market, shopping for groceries, learning the guitar, meeting Paddington Bear, relaxing by the pool, meeting family pets, playing at the beach and catching up with the other exchange students and so much more.




The other host students are Pierre, Pascale and Lou Lou. The fact that Pierre is a frog, and Lou Lou is a poodle just doesn’t seem to matter. Camille has only had one accident and some minor surgery when she became very good friends with a dog, but that’s part of her adventure. Our French teacher has written a lovely book about Camille’s family in Paris. I can see a children’s book in this.



This lovely idea has become a very exciting part of my student’s week. They look forward to hearing about Camille’s adventures and it’s great that the parents are so involved and supportive of Camille. I often have a laugh with our French teacher about how attached we are to Camille. Camille is spending the holidays with my family and will be skiing at Mount Hotham. I wonder if she’ll be a snowboarder or a skier. Stay posted!



One family said that Camille told them she wanted to follow the Kangaroos but she was being polite. She is definitely a St Kilda Football Club supporter.  Go Saints!

Cheers Nina


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