Monthly Archives: January 2010

Why blog? One Year in…

It’s fair to say that there are differing opinions among my colleagues about why I and many others blog. I used to feel a little ‘miffed’ when colleagues questioned me, now I don’t. I write in order to reflect and reflect so I can write. I share my practice openly and have found that others share their practice with me.

My teaching and learning has changed because I have been able to make contact and share with educators globally. The pool of knowledge and experience I have been able to access has been enormous. My professional development, which is substantial, has not cost my school anything.

I started blogging on the 18th of January, 2009. Yesterday was my 1st anniversary. When I started, I wondered if anyone would be interested in what I do, would anyone ever leave a comment and was it worth the risk of putting myself and my teaching practice ‘out there’.

Now, when I read my first post, I think ‘wow’, I’ve really changed my practice. I have a deeper pedagogical understanding of how students learn and have accessed and read the research of many of education’s great thinkers.   

My First Year of Blogging Statistics:

I have written 124 posts.

There are 169 comments made.

I have had 17, 059 hits.

My 2009 Cluster Map (Archived)  

Thanks for visiting, commenting and sharing what you do with me.  Take the time to watch this video which was posted on Lucacept. I think all teachers should view this. We can get so ‘bogged down’ in the small things and forget the big picture.  Love his comment, ‘stay hungry, stay foolish’. 

Cheers Nina

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Responding to a comment: What does a typical day or writing block of writing instruction look like? Great question Angela! I can only hope my answer is great. Hmm! Here ’tis’…

Angela Stockman is a coach in New York and has left a comment on my post about Student Led Interactive Writing. I’ve included a copy of Angela’s comment below because it has a number of questions. I also thought a comment box just wouldn’t give this comment justice. You can visit Angela’s site by following this link and I strongly recommend that you do.

I find explaining what I do difficult because ‘I know what I know and do what I do’ naturally. It’s that ‘unconsciously skilled’ verses ‘consciously skilled’ biting back again. Once again I need to reflect in order to write and write in order to reflect… and I would have to say that is one of the reasons I blog. It makes me define my practice, thus moving me from ‘unconsciously skilled’ to ‘consciously skilled’. In order to share what I do, I need to operate in the later.

Angela’s Comment:

‘It is so inspiring to hear an experienced primary teacher speak to the fact that students CAN and DO teach their peers, reflect on their learning, and define their own needs. What does a typical day or block of writing instruction look like for you structurally Nina? I am fascinated by this!

I facilitate a writing community of teachers and young people. We are hopeful that over time, many of the kids in our program will evolve into great teachers of writing, and we work to identify those kids and support them by providing them with great teaching strategies and opportunities now. I’m wondering if your approach might help us!’

Background:

Four years ago I was teaching a Year 3 / 4 (8 – 10 year old students in Australia) and at the time we were preparing for our government testing. I was talking to my students and they asked me what a good piece of writing was in my opinion. What a great question and one they were entitled to ask. We had been looking at writing genres in-depth but somewhere along the way my teaching missed the mark.

For my students to improve their writing skills they needed to know what a good piece of writing ‘looks like’ when written, ‘sounds like’, and ‘feels like’ when read.  To do this I used the deconstruction model introduced to me by Lane Clark. I proceeded to gather what I believed were good examples of writing for each genre. At the time I used material taken from CARS & STARS a reading comprehension program I was using. The children then worked in groups and used the ‘jigsaw’ thinking tool to record their findings. Sharing our findings as a class was powerful and meant we had to negotiate writing criteria for good pieces of writing. This was a great start, but just not enough.

I remember showing my students the Victorian Essential Learning Standards Moderation Guide. The document wasn’t suitable in its form due to its language, so I decided change parts of it for my students to use. This made the document ‘user friendly’ for the students. As a whole grade, we went through the document which included writing samples – this visual component was essential for the children. I noted at the time that the engagement level of my students skyrocketed because I think they felt that I was letting them in on ‘secret teacher’s business’.

Very bravely, they decided to look at their own writing and see where their writing measured up against the standards. To my surprise their personal and honest self assessment and conversations about their own writing was ‘bang on’. There are teachers who struggle with writing moderation, but these children did not. It also gave each student direction. I remember having a chat with each student, discussing their progress and given their new understanding, what they felt they needed to do to move their writing on.

Experience tells me that learning is positive for all children, no matter what their standard, if they can see their learning moving forward. It’s that ‘success builds success’ theory in action. Children feel empowered when they understand and have some control of their individual journey, making a commitment to self improvement/reflection and knowing what they need to do to improve. It’s no different for me; I like to know what is expected of me and how to move my teaching and learning forward.

I’ve always let children have a say about what our class should be like. We’re a team and all team members have a responsibility to each other and themselves. I have also allowed children to lead and question their learning, so it seemed natural for me to build on this… and the fact that I’m teaching 4-6 year olds didn’t alter my teaching philosophy. Hence, I try to make learning experiences student led when possible. I’ve been developing the PD Student Led Interactive Writing strategy for two years. This strategy is embedded in my teaching and I believe using this strategy enables children to develop a real understanding of the writing process. I also believe this strategy combined with the Early Years strategies will lead to long term gains, not short term. Please ‘track back’ through my blog as I have written many posts about this strategy.

So, what does a typical day or block of writing instruction look like structurally?

Writing everyday is crucial. I try to follow a program that becomes familiar to the children; however, nothing is set in concrete, so my program can be changed to respond to the children’s learning needs, our inquiry or their interest. Different genres  are introduced to support our planned inquiry. As many of my students are beginning writers, teaching genres tends to be left until later in the year. My program is Language Experience and Play Based Experience based. I won’t explain these in this post as explaining these approaches needs a dedicated post. However, if you put Language Experience in my search box you can read other posts I have written and view a  slide show for a presentation I gave.  If I gave this presentation again, my slide show would change. I am constantly learning, improving and refining my practice.

THE WEEKLY BASICS OF MY WRITING PROGRAM:

Oral Language– Build it daily:

I move children to different areas of the room for each activity. Movement is important for young children. I find it helps children to focus. I use these activities throughout the week to build oral language. Children with poor oral language find the going tough. Oral is crucial and underpins all that I do!

Oral Language Activities: Start every day – 10 Minutes – I  give my little strategies ‘made up’ names so that the children become familiar with the expected task.

The Chat Room:  Speaking and Listening – News, Show & Explain – Question & Statements

Give me Another Word & Then Another:  e.g. Go-start, begin etc… See how many words of similar meaning they can give for a word. Beginning of the year – Prep 1/2 – build to 10 words by the end of the year.

Talk About You Time: News

Big Pictures / Big Ideas:  Discussion

Daily Big Book Fun Time: Concepts of Print

Retell it!

What do we know about sentences, words, letters & punctuation?

Alphabet Knowledge – phonics / blends etc.

Disco Writing: Bee Gees – Staying Alive (Words changed to ‘Stay on the Line’ and ‘yes’ their is the dance. Sensory Activities, Letter Formation

Shared Experiences Recap: school life – incursions/excursions etc.

Build me a Sentence: Sentence Board, Magnetic Letters / Words, Mini White Boards  

Our Language Experience Little & Big Books made using Student Led Interactive Writing Text

Wonderings : Questions students would like answered is incorporated daily and used to direct focus content.

HERE ‘TIS’ – A ROUGH GUIDE!

Monday

10 Minute Writing Focus (teacher choice and/or a ‘Wondering’)

Modeled Writing Strategy (Whole Class) Revisit concepts, skills

Independent Journal Writing

Sharing and reflecting on our learning – 10 Minutes

Tuesday

10 Minute Writing Focus (teacher Choice and/or ‘A Wondering’ explained)

Using thinking tools and recording thoughts/discussion to assist our writing

Shared Writing Strategy – Responding to literature / Analyzing – understanding different types of writing

Sharing and  reflecting on our learning – 10 Minutes

Wonderings: Children brainstorm things they’d like to know and learn about related to writing.

Wednesday

10 Minute Writing Focus (teacher Choice and/or ‘A Wondering’ explained – related to genre)

Using thinking tools and recording thoughts/discussion to assist our writing

Independent Writing – Narratives, Letters, Reports, Recounts, Cartoons, Opinion etc…

 Sharing and reflecting on our learning – 10 Minutes

 Thursday

10 Minute Writing Focus (teacher Choice and/or ‘A Wondering’ explained – related to genre)

PD Student Led Interactive Writing – related to a shared experience (This is when I often take a ‘needs based’ group not ability group for Teacher Led Interactive Writing)

Sharing our reflecting on our learning – 10 Minutes

Wonderings: Children brainstorm things they’d like to know and learn about related to writing.

Friday

10 Minute Writing Focus (teacher Choice and/or ‘A Wondering’ explained – related to genre)

We Love to Write Workshop – free choice

Sharing our reflecting on our learning – 10 Minutes

I try to take a small group each day which is teacher led and rove and support children when not taking a group. Teacher Led Interactive Writing and Guided Writing are strategies I favor when working with small groups.

We also write at other times of the day to support our inquiry and for pleasure. The key for developing great writers is to build oral language. It’s hard to write if you don’t have a strong vocabulary to draw on. I call my teaching approach to literacy ‘The Interwoven Approach’. I weave all areas of language e.g. phonics, sentence structure, letter formation / recognition into my daily program and focus on a particular need.  I try to always link new knowledge to known concepts and understandings, so what is being taught is meaningful and in context.

There are numerous other things I do, but what I have described are the main strategies I consistently incorporate. As the year moves on, students are asked to lead / teach our writing focus and share time. Now if 4-6 year olds can confidently do this imagine what the capabilities of older students are.

To answer Angela’s second question- I believe that if a teacher just embedded Interactive Writing – PD Student Led & Teacher Led into their program, their children’s writing would FLY! Big statement, but I think I can ‘back it’.

Cheers Nina

P.S It’s hot in Melbourne – Its 1am and still in the 30’s. I tempted, no, going for a quick night swim – nice! 

To Angela: Once again thank you for your comment and I hope this makes sense. What do I need to make clearer?

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The Story of a 2009 Cluster Map! Time to move on…

I’ve recently received an email notifying me that my Cluster Map is going to be archived. Ah! I love my map because it shows where people who visit my blog live in the world. It lists the countries and although the map ‘hits’ data doesn’t actually match my statistics, I’ve enjoyed looking at my map develop.

I remember having the same conversation with Jenny Luca last year about her Cluster Map and not really understand her loss. Well, I understand now. Recently I told Jenny that it was happening to me and she said, ‘you get over it!’  That’s comforting… I can change the ‘url’ to keep my map, but as I can’t understand the instructions I’m going to let my map go and ‘suck it up’. Hmm!

So I can always remember my 2009 map, I’ve taken some photos of it to include in this post. This is my way of knowing that I can always visit and see my journey.

Cheers Nina

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Differentiated Teaching – Knowledge Scaffolding – The PrepD Student Led Interactive Writing Approach developed by Nina Davis – Would Dr John Munro support this strategy?

I have just finished reading an opinion piece, ‘Which children really benefit from streaming?’ written by Dr John Munro.  Reading this article has motivated me to write this post. Dr John Munro is an Associate Professor at the Melbourne Graduate School of Education, University of Melbourne – Australia. His article was published in ‘Shine’ – Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, Victoria, Australia – December 2009: Issue 11.

It’s reaffirming for me as a teacher to read articles based on sound research which support my practice. My teaching practice is one where children are encouraged to understand, monitor and share responsibility for their learning, and I do this with 4-6 year olds. Assessment ‘for learning’ and ‘as learning’ drives my teaching. My planning carefully embeds scaffolding strategies that build upon student knowledge. I believe this teaching approach differentiates teaching and learning in my classroom. Dr Munro’s findings support the PD Student Led Interactive Writing Approach that I have been developing for the past two years and have been recording and reflecting upon in this blog.

I have taken the following excerpts from Dr. Munro’s article that made me go ‘aha’…

‘When teachers use knowledge scaffolding procedures effectively, diversity can be catered for without the need to divide students into groups for learning.

‘Some teachers believe it is easier to teach a group that is homogeneous in its ‘ability’. They usually link ability with achievement; the ability grouping is based on past outcomes.

‘They miss the point that achievement is the result of learning (and teaching), not the means by which learning occurs.

‘When teachers use knowledge – scaffolding procedures effectively in their classroom, this diversity can be catered for without the need to divide students into groups or streams.’

‘Knowledge scaffolding is about establishing what students know at the beginning of the topic, and guiding them to enhance this by scaffolding and directing their learning and thinking activity.’

Dr Munro does concede that there will be times where like ability grouping will be needed, but our aim is to develop independent learners. I agree! 

Cheers Nina

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