The Scottish Survey of Literacy and Numeracy 2016 found that many primary pupils were achieving the level required.
” P4 and P7 where 62 per cent and 65 per cent of scripts, respectively, demonstrated that pupils were performing well, very well or beyond the level” (Scottish Government, 2017)
This almost contradicts the experience I have had of literacy, specifcally writing, in schools. Whilst pupils could produce excellent pieces of work, consistency was not always there. In my multiliteracies course a discussion took place during a tutorial about pupils motivation to write, it seems rational to expect that when people are motivated then the quality of their work will be greater. Although this is not always the case, when too excited pupils can lose sight of the original task.
I have made a very long-winded acronym of what I think is important when teaching literacy in schools.
Prompts; some may disagree with this and it is probably dependant on your own class and how they work, I believe that it is beneficial to have writing prompts or checks that pupils can visit to self mark their work. These prompts could be in the form of a wall display, a set of cards that sit in an area of the class or a card for every pupil to have on their desk when writing. Having individual cards may be beneficial as it allows for differentiation. These prompts can include grammar considerations such as capital letters (and when they should be used), full stops (and when they should be used), commas (and when they can be used) and similes (and what they are).
(I am considering changing the first P to Pupils; could teaching become more inclusive and pupils have involvement within the planning of lessons? This would allow for a deeper level of learning and understanding. Could pupils be involved in the decision of most improved writer or giving constructive feedback for a partners work? Having more inclusive pupil led lessons may lead to increased pupils motivation, understanding and possibly Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development, where pupils are learning from their peers.)
Understanding; what they are doing and why they are doing it. Additionally, critical literacy is an increasingly important skill. The ability to evaluate their own work, the work of peers, a newspaper report, a tv report or a blog. Being able to understand why an article was written, who it was written by (author bias), the main points, if the articles main points are reliable (statistics/ quotes) are all vital skills. Questioning is an important part of understanding and being able to answer these questions will aid pupils daily as a life-long transferable skill. Ultimately the purpose of writing will always be to communicate, sometimes the message is very clear and sometimes there is a hidden agenda that critical skills are necessary to uncover.
Realistic; if the pupils do not relate to the task their motivation is lost. If the writing is topic related and they are studying the Jacobites, before writing about the battle use art to create outfits and weapons for the battle, re-enact the battle in a drama lesson. These rich experiences will act as resources to support their writing. Provide the pupils with as much resources as possible in order for them to understand and engage in the task.
Perfection is overrated; appreciate what the pupils can do and focus on their development from that point. Expecting perfection can lower your opinion of a student’s ability and they can often sense this. The focus should always be on learning and development and not ticking boxes. Pupil’s will likely have a much more positive attitude to writing if they can see that you believe in them and see that they are trying to improve.
Other forms of literacy; look at the world around you, pupils do not write at home anywhere near as much as they write in the classroom. (Remember returning to school after the summer holidays and having an aching hand for the first week because you had become so unaccustomed to writing.) Be creative and find ways that students can achieve outcomes and benchmarks from the CFE that they understand and will remember. In early years education shaving foam can be a blessing for letter formation, as can play dough. For older pupils you can incorporate the language that they are learning- challenge them to spell a Spanish word using the materials you have put in front of them. The objects could be as simple as newspaper, play dough, sticks, leaves, stones; basically anything you can find around school, home or in the garden.
Support; writing is not easy, there’s lots to remember and this can be overwhelming to pupils. It’s normal to have different expectations from different pupils, no class of pupils will all find the same aspect of writing challenging. However it is important not to compare pupils, comparing leads to grouping and the risk of this is that pupils conform to the expectations of their group and therefore limit what they can produce.
Evaluate; pupils should have the opportunity to view others work, to create constructive feedback and to revisit their own work. I previously mentioned questioning, it shows that an individual is engaged in the task and through the questions are making meaning. Constructive feedback is a great way for pupils to show their understanding of the task through what they comment on and the vocabulary they use.
Some ideas we discussed during this tutorial included having a blog that pupils use for their writing, a blog which can only be accessed by the pupils, teachers and perhaps parents. When pupils work is solely read by the teacher individuals can sometimes lose sight of the importance of producing quality work. Knowing that peers will be looking at their work can encourage pupils to check their grammar, spelling and overall quality of their work. Whilst this may work for some classes it may cause stress to pupils who do not want the pressure of others reading their work. What I found worked well in my placement school was paired writing. Every pupil would have a pair- chosen by the teacher, and everyone would do their work individually as normal. Before the end of the lesson the pupils would sit in their pairs and swap books, every pupil had their own marking card and used a colour code to mark their peers work. Red, for example, could be used to indicate missing or unnecessary punctuation. To encourage the pupils to help each other, the star writer would be the PAIR that had most improved their work. Through this pupils became more competent and vigilant in not only their own work but when marking peers work. Additionally, they have learned to be more constructive in their feedback to others.
The only way you can have your pupils writing like this
is if they understand the purpose of the work and benefits to them. My first literacy lesson was extremely nerve-racking, pupils were asking lots of questions about verbs, adverbs, nouns and sentence structure and it helped me to understand how confused they can feel about writing. If the pupils do not understand the purpose this only throws more confusion into the mix. Using a short movie arguably saved the lesson (I will write a post about using short movies for literacy soon), the pupils were engaged and had a visual tool to help their understanding. Being a trainee teacher a lot of my learning is strongly based on trial and error and what works for one class will not always work across the board, that is a good thing as it encourages continuous learning and development. Inevitably the above acronym will change and develop as I encounter new schools, classes, staff, pupils and experiences. This is the nature of education, there is however, one thing that should never change: a pupil focused learning environment and teaching style.
SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT., (2017). Chapter 4: Writing attainment in 2016. Edinburgh: The Scottish Government. Available: http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2017/05/7872/341218 [Date Accessed: 24th April 2018]