Developing Excellence in Writing
In 2014/15 we conducted an analysis of writing results achieved by our students. It became apparent that, although students at Larrakeyah were achieving well in comparison to other schools in Darwin and around Australia, there had been no year-on-year improvement, in fact there had actually been a slight decrease in NAPLAN results.
Our analysis found that students, especially in Early Childhood, were never writing for pure enjoyment. Purposeful writing is important; however, first student must learn to love writing.
We also discovered our students were strong in:
- sentence structure
and needed improvement in:
- idea generation
- persuasive devices
Based on our findings, we decided our writing priorities should be:
- Provision of high quality, regularly scheduled and structured writing sessions
- Students actively involved in writing and in charge of their writing journey i.e. assessment capable writers
- Student choice writing balanced with explicit teaching of writing
- Teachers and students enjoying talking about writing, analysing its effectiveness and planning future action through roving conferences, peer feedback and self-reflection
- Teachers reflecting on the effectiveness of their writing programs through data analysis from a variety of sources
- Teachers planning targeted teaching and differentiation in response to identified data trends i.e. assessment focus to drive instruction
So, what was to be done?
First, writing became a priority and was put into the Annual School Improvement Plan in 2016.
‘Improve student writing data through the implementation of a whole school approach to develop assessment capable writers’; support the implementation of the English Curriculum with the introduction of the Cambridge Curriculum (English); improve the quality of teacher judgements in relation to assessment data and the ability to use data to inform teaching practices across the school’.
Second, a Plan of Action was established:
- Teachers across the school were to work with the Department of Education Project officer for “Assessment Capable Writers” project
- Provision of professional development for teachers in aspects of writing pedagogy
- Creation of professional learning opportunities and observation sessions with high achieving classrooms
- Identification of schools that teachers from Larrakeyah Primary could visit to gather ideas and knowledge on successful writing programs and processes.
The Plan of Action since 2016
Over a period of 3 years teachers across the school were involved in the Assessment Capable Writers project. The following aspects of Writing and writing pedagogy were covered:
- Professional Development in the 7 Conditions of Effective Writing (Donald Graves) this involved modelling and sharing of good writing practices through working with a writing coach
- Development and instigation of Walkthrough Focus Tools with an emphasis on student voice and visible learning e.g. ‘What do good writers do? What do you do when you have finished writing?’
- Review of practices across the school – scheduled walkthroughs by members of the Literacy and Leadership Teams and analysis of observations
- Planning of whole-school professional development in areas of identified need through each term’s Professional Learning Plan; use of Literacy Focus Team to deliver professional development
- Linking of Assessment Capable Writers to whole-school Visible Learning practices and prioritising data analysis
Writing Triads were introduced which involved three teachers who worked with each other for the purpose of observing lessons and giving and receiving feedback about the impact of the teaching on student learning.
Checklists were provided to assist teachers in their observations, self-reflection and guided feedback.
Writer’s Notebooks were introduced to students across all Year levels.
The Writer’s Notebook is an essential resource for independent writing. Notebooks are filled with thoughts, ideas, observations and things the student wonder about, hope for or want to know more about.
It is a place for students to collect observations, ideas, feelings, facts, and lists. Students can include sketches, photos, artifacts, newspaper headlines, magazine articles.
Students place their ideas into their notebook, do some exploratory thinking and then shape their ideas into a topic.
From 2015 leaders in the school and teachers visited schools in Singapore, New Zealand and Queensland to understand what was happening in schools where writing was a very successful aspect of the Curriculum.
At the Australian International School in Singapore teachers learned how to implement Writer's Workshops. Writer's Workshops were introduced into Early Childhood initially, and then across the all year levels.
In Auckland, teachers learned about the impact of Visible Learning and the benefits of introducing the Cambridge Curriculum alongside the Australian Curriculum.
The knowledge gained from these visits has had a profound effect on writing pedagogy within the school as well as providing outstanding resources.
A Literacy Focus Team was established within the school. This Team’s focus was not just on Writing but on Literacy as a whole. Their work has improved writing across the school.
The team is:
- Responsible for purchasing resources for Reading and Writing and do so each year, ensuring our school is widely resourced in this area.
- Working closely with Department of Education employees and engaging with them to come and run PD’s for our teaching staff, in areas of need that have been identified.
- Responsible for assessing the writing data in our Teaching Teams, developing writing targets and confirming our writing data.
- Responsible for introducing Writing Triads, Brightpath and Writing Sprints.
Brightpath is a new and valuable marking tool where teachers compare their students' writing with work samples provided by the Brightpath organization.
Brightpath records the results of assessments and reports a range of formative and summative information to teachers and principals. This provides an informed basis for developing teaching programs targeting the needs of individual students.
At Larrakeyah Primary we have identified 2 Brightpath leaders whose job is to:
- liaise with the Education Department
- take part in Reliability checks with other Darwin schools to build their ability and understanding on using the rulers
- upskill staff in marking writing samples using the data.
Writing Sprints were introduced into the school. The teacher targets a particular area of writing and provides their students with tasks and activities to improve their skill in that area.
Sprints ideally run for only a few weeks. The speed is important so that too much time and energy is not wasted on any one approach. The Writing Sprints have been incorporated into programming since 2019 and are proving a valuable tool in upskilling teachers and developing student writing ability.
What do we see happening in Writing across the school after 4 years of the Action Plan?
- Students and teachers have a common language about the Writing Process and the 6+1 traits of writing. These are explicitly taught and reinforced through Roving Conferences where students identify where they are at and where they need to be.
- Writers’ Notebooks are provided for all students to have opportunities to plan their own writing.
- A cycle of feedback is established in each classroom to enable students to achieve and to continue achieving as writers.
- All writing is purposeful and valued and cross-curricular. Gradual release of responsibility occurs as the students’ progress in their skill levels.
- Writing is explicitly modelled according to the students’ needs, and is an expectation across the school.
- New staff are given induction sessions to enable them to understand the school’s cross-curricular pedagogical approach. Powerpoint Presentations and videos of teachers modelling best practice in writing including how to give and receive constructive feedback are available for continuing professional development.
Teachers have developed shared beliefs and understandings:
- That all students can achieve high standards given the right time and support
- That our expectations are equally high of staff and of students
- That we use data to set targets and intervention practices are in place through differentiated practices
- Leadership teams gather, triangulate and report data for staff and students and a collective responsibility is assumed for all students’ improvement
- All staff have clarity about the literacy priority of the Department and of our school. It is aligned, precise, clear and intentional.
- That there is Explicit Teaching of writing.
The Explicit Teaching of writing across the school is an important step in teaching students to become effective lifelong writers.
The act of writing consists of multiple processes, strategies and conventions that intertwine and overlap. Teachers need to be explicit in demonstrating and talking to students about what effective writers do. Teachers also need to provide opportunities for students to apply new understandings in their own authentic writing contexts.
A successful writing program requires a daily block of time, with time allocated for:
- explicit instruction on selected aspects of writing
- time for students to write independently
- and opportunities for students to receive and provide feedback.
The following table provides the basic lesson structure dedicated to the teaching of writing across the school. The structure is flexible and can change on a daily basis. The needs of the students drive teacher decisions about how much time to spend on each element in a day or a week.
Lesson Structure Model
Turning in (5 minutes)
Go over the Learning Intention and Success Criteria to make students aware of what they are learning and how they will know they have been successful
Warm up (5 minutes)
Motivate students and get students ready for their writing lesson with warm up activities that may include – oral language task, revision on a previous skill, literacy game
Explicit Teaching (10 - 20 minutes)
The session begins with the teacher explicitly focusing on one key element. This may be the teaching of the text type focus, moving through the writing process – planning, drafting, conferring, refining, publishing, grammar or punctuation lesson, mini lesson on an area of need identified through conferences, go over a trait – ideas, organisation, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, presentation etc.
This can be done through modelled, shared, guided or interactive writing with a focus on one key element to build deep understanding rather than try to cover too many different elements
Independent Practice (30 minutes)
Students have the opportunity to compose their own texts and demonstrate their control of what has been modelled to them in previous parts of the session. They write for real purposes and audiences. Students may be asked to compose a free choice text inspired by their writer’s notebook. They may be asked to write a specific text type. Students will be authentic writers and understand the purpose of the text they are creating.
During this time, teachers will be conferencing with individual students on their work. Please refer to the roving conference sheet.
Reflection (10 minutes)
This is a crucial part of each session. Students have the opportunity to share what they have done or are working on as well as share what strategies and processes they have used. They receive constructive feedback from others on what they can do to improve their writing. It is important to spend time teaching the children how to be critical friends to their peers to ensure this is productive. Students will also be called upon to share their work in the authors chair – teacher picks students who have met the success criteria for the lesson. This information is then fed back into future planning so it targets specific needs and children.
We have also developed a new Writing Pedagogy Framework.This document sets out how we teach at Larrakeyah Primary School. There is now a unified and consistent pedagogy throughout the school.
All of the above has had a profound effect on the student’s writing within the school. The data we have received from Brightpath, Writing Triads, Writing Sprints, NAPLAN and pre- and post- tests has been analysed by the Literacy and Data focus teams and the Head of Curriculum.
The data clearly shows that over the past 5 years there has been substantial improvement in writing across all levels of the schools. Not only are students developing their understanding of the various components of writing (sentence structure, spelling, grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, ideas, audience, cohesion and persuasive devices) but they are demonstrating a love and joy of writing that will stay with them forever. For those still developing we have the right processes in place to continue to help them improve and develop their writing skills.