It’s the ultimate motivator to get students to do things. It is ultimately what they want to avoid at all costs.
But what if using failure as a scare tactic we used it to help our students develop more of a growth mindset and used it to teach them how to take risks.
Learning is a journey that starts with not knowing how to do something to learning how to do it.
It reminds me of teaching my kids how to tie their shoes. For a while, I would just do it for them or simply buy them shoes without laces. By avoiding the problem, I avoided that frustrating part where they cried because they couldn’t do it, begged me to do it for them and were just annoyed that I wouldn’t just buy them more velcro shoes.
But learning how to tie our shoes is an essential skill that all humans, if capable, should master. So my kids had to go from not knowing how to do this independently. The process involved showing them how, making them practice until they learned it. But this also means that there were a lot of failures and frustration.
Like many kids, they simply didn’t do this on the first or even hundredth try. This learning process also required me to hold the belief that they could do this and that through my patience and support of trying again and again, eventually, they would get it and be successful.
This is also what learning looks like in my classroom each and every day.
Too many students are afraid to fail, and this often prevents them from even trying in the first place. They don’t know how to do it and don’t know how to manage the frustrations that come along with failing. Perseverance and self-reflection is a skill that many of my students struggle with immensely,
So knowing this was a problem I asked myself
How do I help students to learn that failure is part of learning how to do something?
How do I help them to understand that how to fail and overcome failure is an essential skill?
The first thing I noticed that made a difference was talking about it.
I found that it was essential to address that failure was a part of learning. That the first time something was tried, students shouldn’t expect it to be easy. But that they should take this opportunity to decide what they needed to do next and where they were going to learn going forward.
At the beginning of a learning unit, we complete a diagnostic assessment. This is a test that allows the teacher to understand what students know and what they don’t know. This task is often frustrating for students. However, it is essential to set both themselves and you up for success.
You, as the teacher, know where they are, and they, as students, can only go up from their own frustrations that this task can induce.
Self Reflection Check-Ins
Now that students understand what they need to do to move forward, and where they are on the continuum of learning, another vital opportunity is to get students to self asses their own knowledge.
To do this, co-create a modified stoplight system.
Green – I am confident with my knowledge. I fully understand
Yellow – I understand most of it. I feel good about my knowledge
Orange – I understand some of it. I still need help but know and do a few things correctly
Red – I am struggling to understand it. I need a lot of help to know what to do.
Help students to define their next steps in their journey. For the subjects that you are teaching, create a list of goals that will help them improve within that subject area. Then post these goals within your classroom. Then when conferencing with students helps them to determine the skill that they most need to work on to show improvement.
This is an example of my goal board within my literacy programs
A classroom goal board from Be The Star Goal Board
Students use this during student-teacher conferences and tell me what it is they are going to be working on next. During these conferences, students will get feedback from me as to what they need to improve. Then they will set a goal to make these improvements.
One of the easiest ways to show students that failure is okay and part of the journey is to focus on the scars of failure and not the wounds. Now, this is an analogy that I learned on another podcast. However, it can apply to education and what you do in your classroom.
Kids who are afraid to fail may feel this way because they fear the consequences of failure. Feeling like a failure isn’t the goal. It is teaching kids to work through hardships and persevere through painful learning experiences.
So to focus on the wounds means you are focusing on the failure at the point of failure. This is when it is messy and doesn’t feel right. Instead, work with students to point out the scars that failure leaves behind when they have distance from it. Focus on the positive outcomes of failure.
This often happens in my class during math. At times I will give my students a new version of their morning math page. This page is differentiated to allow the diverse learners in my classroom multiple entry points. It is also a page that is repeated daily, and the parts that change are the numbers that they are working with.
If I were to focus on the wounds, I would be focusing on their frustrations at the moment. Instead, I focus on the scars and remind them of the last time I changed the page and how they felt. Then I challenge them to remember how they felt a few days after that when they had mastered the skill and concept and learned the lesson we were trying to achieve.
Though this example, I am focusing on the past event that they overcame and reminding them that they can do hard things.
We will also use these as examples of their progress. With student permission, I will use exemplar students who might often not be in the spotlight to celebrate their perseverance and ability to overcome hardship. This highlights for other students that failure is not the end of the line that there is a way out and a place to go.
The only thing worse than failure is not trying at all.
Feedback and Assessment
Students need to know from us as teachers where they are and where they are going.
They need to know what the measurement stick looks like when it comes to assessment.
They can’t improve if they don’t know where they are and where they need to go.
For this reason, feedback cycles and conversations with students on where they are and what they need to work on are essential components of all parts of the subjects that you teach.
In writing, I schedule a time to meet with the student and assess where their skills are as a writer. I use the curriculum expectations along with the success criteria developed within my literacy program to help me facilitate this conversation.
Together we discuss what good writing looks like and create levelled texts to include on a “Bump It Up” poster that hangs in our classroom. On these levelled texts, we cover the ideas made by students on the differences between the versions.
Students can regularly compare how they did on their writing with that of the example texts. This allows them to know how they measure up in their skill level and tells them exactly what they need to do moving forward if they want to improve their mark.
In the past, I have used my bump it up boards in a variety of subjects such as Reading Responses, Fiction/Non-Fiction Writing, Math Problem Solving and Inquiry Projects. They have been massive on a big bulletin board, portable on a trifold board, or simply just on a piece of chart paper. Regardless of how it is displayed, it helps students to better understand how to measure their success.
Failure is essential, but these are the little failures along the way that the student can overcome. These are not setting a child up for a situation where they will not reasonably be able to meet the targets that are being set.
Teachers need to have high but reasonable expectations of students’ abilities.
It is also essential to focus on the way a student bounces back and overcomes failure more than the failure itself.
Learning needs to be worth the risk of falling down and failing. Students need to understand that through their hard work, perseverance and grit students can work through and overcome the hardships of failure.
This is the world they are living in – life isn’t perfect, failure is inevitable, and hard work is necessary.
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What is the triangulation of data…and how the heck do you do this in the classroom on top of all of the other things you need to do.
What Is It?
The triangulation of data creates a three-prong approach to assessment. This means that all of your assessment does not need to be products. You can assess students in more ways than tests and worksheets.
Assessment can be gathered from three main ways.
Observations:First all day every day students are doing things that we can observe and track. Assessment can be done through our own observations. When we are working with small groups such as through guided instruction or observing students working independently or in partners. Our observations are a valuable assessment tool to determine student skill levels. Observation is especially important in formative assessment. It helps us as professionals to decide what students can do and where we need to go next. It is a great tool to help us inform instruction.
Conversations: We should probably talk to our students….right?!? These conversations provide an insight into a student’s level of understanding. Not every student will competently be able to show the depth of their learning through pencil and paper tasks. If our only assessment tool is one method we may miss discrepancies in understanding. Talking to our students and allowing them to explain their thinking and show their learning through these conversations helps to validate our assessment.
Product: This assessment tool is familiar to most. It’s relatively easy to administer and collect. The teacher hands out a task and the students complete. Then the teacher takes it and marks it on their own time and hands it back. This is probably the most familiar way that teachers use to assess students. However alone this method does not capture a differentiated picture of student learning.
So the challenge becomes how do we add observations and conversations into our program as valid ways to assess student understanding while also understanding the practical ways that make this doable in a busy teacher’s schedule.
How I Use It?
Look for Lists
These are class lists that I determine a set of observable skills I am looking for. In math, these could be “can students accurately model a 5 digit number” and “can they model these numbers in different ways using manipulatives.”
While students are working on this activity…
I can walk around and watch them do this activity.
I can also have this as an activity that they do at a small group table in front of me.
I can assign them to take a video or picture of them doing this and share it with me. Then on my list, I check off using a 1, 2, 3, 4.
Use Some Tech
There are a variety of tech tools that can be used to aid in a student’s ability to show or tell all about their own understanding. In this method, students have a wider variety of choices to share their learning and understanding of the material with you.
Explain Everything allows you to record, annotate, and capture learning in a very flexible app for Ipads. This allows students to tell you and show you what they have done and what they have learned. They can then share this learning with you and you can mark this just like you would a regular pencil and paper task.
Flipgrid: is a new tool for me and one I hope to implement more in my classroom. The promise fo this app (because I have not used it yet) is the ability to ask a question and students will respond with a selfie video or other video. It also allows students to share their own ideas with each other contributing to the collective understanding of the topic as a group.
Native Apps and Google Classroom: It’s not a fancy app but simply using the native camera on the iPad or device and recording what they are doing, taking pictures and app smashing their ideas together and often even adding these to slides is a great and easy way to capture learning. Once they have used the apps already installed like camera, voice memo and video editing they can add these to google classroom to share.
Record Video and Take Pictures: It’s hard to see and hear everything. So sometimes it’s okay to capture understanding and learning by taking video as evidence of learning. This is a record of observations that you can take with you and assess.
This is a great time to be having conversations and observing students. Since we don’t assess modelled or shared lessons for assessment and evaluation we need other opportunities.
Some of my most valuable assessments are made during small group learning. You have a small group where you can watch observe and talk to these students about what they are doing. Look for key skills of students while working with them as areas of focus during this time.
Many of these strategies are what we would encourage a student with an LD or other special education needs to use. However, what is good for one student is probably good for many. Just because you don’t use a test does not mean that your assessment isn’t valid. Also just because parents don’t understand this doesn’t mean that you are not doing the right thing. You don’t have to please the parents…just educate them on what you are doing.
How do you use the triangulation of data to collect assessment information on your students?
What are the instances in a day where you might need to use small group instruction?
For me, there are two different key areas where I will have small group instruction.
The first is with language and small group instruction with both reading and writing groups.
The other area that is a focus in my classroom with small group instruction is guided math.
So with all of this small group learning happening what does the planning look like?
Step One: Group Your Students
Step one is planning out your groups. There are many ways to group your student and we discussed these in a previous blog post here.
Once your students are grouped you can begin to plan lessons that meet their needs.
Step Two: Make a Plan
Choose what expectations you are covering in a week. In a traditional classroom, you might plan a different lesson for each day. In this you will plan a traditional lesson for the whole group and then follow up lessons will be within small group instruction. So for the remainder of the week, you will plan a lesson for each group to be delivered to the needs of that group.
In a guided reading setting this might look like you doing some pre-teaching the week before then instructing students to provide them with additional practice of this skill.
In writing, perhaps you have a group of students that need additional reminders of how to write within a specific form or genre. A small group opportunity to review these skills may help students to move past an area that they are stuck.
In math, you may teach the whole group a concept with modelled and shared learning and then through small groups reinforce, reteach or extend the learning for these students.
For this plan you may want to stream your lessons providing more support and reteaching for those that need it and provide extensions to those who need it too.
Step 3: Plan Independent Practice
if you are working with a small group then the rest of your students will need to be working on independent practice. Independent practice must be easy enough for students to complete but rigorous enough that they are actually learning and practicing skills.
For language, these activities can be together as students and respond to reading and craft a draft of writing that can be assessed as independent writing.
For math, there are opportunities for students to work through a variety of expectations that also highlight different process expectations. A variety of activities can include hands-on learning, application of skills, and key knowledge and understanding practice.
Step 4: Implement
Now that you have your lessons planned. Make a rotation for students to complete the independent practice while also providing opportunities to meet with you.
You may want to ensure that your group that needs the most support is provided with the most of your time while the group of students that do not need your help as much get less support.
Sometimes this means I meet with my ‘high’ group first and then let them go off and explore concepts. While with my lower group I may meet with them more often or even daily throughout the week.
Step 5: Assessment
Since you planned at the beginning what expectations (or cluster of expectations) you were looking to cover with your weekly lessons you can assess students on their mastery skills on this topic.
The method of note-taking or data collection will be whatever works for you as a teacher. Here are some of my own favourite ways to collect data.
Class list – Using colour coding or a numerical code I will write the expectation or cluster of expectations at the top of the page and then as I meet with students I will make notes of what level or skill they demonstrated with me during guided reading.
Tech – There are many apps that let you take notes and anecdotal notes on student performance. Apps like markbook, or Idocieo are all great options to record assessments of your students.
A class list with open boxes that allow me to write a quick note about each student and how they are doing.
A group book: if you are meeting with specific student groups you can have a different notebook or page for each member of the group and simply take notes based on just the lesson and students from that group.
At the end of the day, small group instruction does involve a bit more planning and organization at the beginning of the week. However, this is generally at the beginning of the week. This growing pain is also reduced the more you do this. With more practice, it becomes easier.
As teachers, we spend so much time establishing rules and routines in our classroom. We practice and rehearse how to complete work and move around our classroom.
At some point, it is time to move on and begin our guided instruction.
Guided instruction is an effective tool to provide concentrated support to students that target an area of need. It allows teachers to be more responsive to students and learn more about the strengths and needs of our students.
During guided instruction, the students are beginning to do things independent with less teacher assistance. It is a great opportunity to collect formative assessment data and inform instruction.
With all that said, how do we group students in meaningful ways so that we can deliver this targeted instruction?
One of my concerns has always been that as a teacher the traditional way of grouping students goes back to basal readers. Reading books that were colour coded and referenced birds. These books helped to determine your identity as a student. You were either smart or dumb based on what level book you were reading.
Or alternatively the only students that sat at the guided reading table were those that needed help. The stigma attached to getting this help was quite negative and prevented those that needed help with actually asking for it out of fear of the stigma and reaction of their peer group.
So then how do we combat this in a modern classroom?
We know that guided instruction is effective but that only happens if students actually participate and engage with the learning that happens within this small group.
So the question that remains is how do we group our students effectively so that we reduce the negative feelings associated with coming to our guided reading table.
Here are some of the many ways you can group students for guided instruction across curriculum strands.
The first task before grouping students is to understand the factors we may consider in grouping students together.
Collecting data is an essential way to ensure that your groupings are effective. Ask yourself the following questions to determine how the students should be grouped.
What is their level of academic proficiency?
What are their interests, strengths and needs related to this topic?
What are their learning needs that may impact groupings?
What are their attitudes and experiences about working with small groups?
How can personalities be combined across groups?
Why am I grouping them? What is the learning goal(s)?
It is important to use a variety of data including standardized assessment tools, previous assessments. Your own professional judgement is also a key factor here too.
Once you have your data your next step is to plot this out for each student. Grab an index card for each student and write out this information about each student. Include assessment data, notes on preferences. Using cards will allow you to lay them out and adjust the groupings as necessary.
Once you have your cards completed decide on the factor you want to prioritize for your groups. For example, you could group writing groups based on interest, strength and needs of the writer. In this situation, you may want to pair students up with peers that have complementary skills.
Groupings: Academic Skill
This is one way you can choose to group students. For example, you could group all your students based on the grades they received on the last assessment you conducted. If you use a standardized reading assessment then this could be used to determine guided reading groups. All students within in a similar range of reading ability could be grouped together to form one group.
The benefits of this type of group are that you have similar abilities in each group which could help you with pulling and finding resources. Generally, the assumption is that students working at a similar academic level would have the same skill deficits and that this could be addressed specifically with the teacher within this small group.
The downsides to this type of grouping also include the problems associated with the stigma that the lowest readers are in the low group. If you have a group of students here that very clearly tie self-worth to academic performance or overvalue a narrow understanding of what smart means that this type of grouping may be problematic. This is especially the case for those that benefit from small group instruction the most.
Groupings: Interest and Strengths
Another way to group students is to find common ground between students. This involves surveying them and collecting data on a student’s interests and strengths within the topic of study. Contrary to an academic skill which assesses the needs of students. Groupings in this category focus on what the student can do well.
From here you can choose two pathways. First, you can pair students with others that share the same strengths or you can choose to pair complementary strengths. For example, you could pair a student who has a strong voice with writing narrative stories with an analytical student that prefers to write research reports. Allowing these students an opportunity to learn from each other and teach others their strengths.
Overall this is my preferred way to group students.
Who says you actually need a plan to group students.
Why not group your students randomly (then adjust for personality conflicts)
Sometimes students need to work with a variety of individuals and there doesn’t really need to purpose or intention behind their groupings.
There are so many random ways to group students and sometimes the results are great and other times there are opportunities for students to learn to work better together and persevere through group challenges.
There is nothing wrong with grouping our students in ways that consume very little time.
This is often the way people suggest that students be grouped for small group instruction however many skip on the practical ways in which this could happen.
First, flexible groupings are flexible. This means that membership to one group or another is constantly changing. It will change on need, opportunity, and learning goals that the teacher has set out. It’s more like a non-group grouping. It is preferable in theory because the groupings that are made for that short period of time are fluid and based primarily on formative assessment data collection. However, the management of flexible groupings can be a daunting task if as a teacher you crave control and organization with a dash of consistency.
So practically flexible groupings can still be maintained, controlled, and organized if you look at them differently from a schedule of events that happen each day.
In my experience flexible groupings don’t happen on a schedule, in fact, they are often not preplanned with group members.
In a flexible grouping scenario, you have a few choices.
Each week regroup students based on the data you collected from the previous week. Based on the tasks from the previous week you can give students a code: Re-teach, Review, Continue, Jump Ahead (colour codes are better than codes that resemble assessment categories). With this assessment, you can identify what type of lesson each student needs based on the groupings from the previous week.
Another method is to not assign students to a group at all and have the students self identify (with perhaps some help) that they need more assistance. Begin your week with your previous weeks learning goal. Ask students to provide you with a self-assessment on how well they understood this concept. Give students each a card and have them put their name attached to a level. Use a stoplight visual to help students identify this for self-assessment. Depending on each student’s classification (and your own data monitoring students can identify if they need more teaching or can move on) If this type of flexible groupings students will identify their own needs as learners and your small group instruction will be determined primarily with their own self-assessment. In this scenario, students who identified themselves in red will meet first and more often than those who identify as green.
Grouping Multiple Ways
If you are looking for ways to group the same students in multiple ways such as grouping by ability and strenth one effective strategy is to use colours, numbers and letters.
If you have 25 students in your classroom you can put them in three different types of groups
Interest and Strength Pairing
So to start, choose five colours and randomly assign students to one of these colour groups. Have a look at the results and adjust if there are major issues with personality or ability. Although these are random you don’t want there to be an unfair advantage in one group over another. These random groups should still contain a nice cross-section of ability and mixed ability.
Next group your students by academic ability and assign these students each with a letter. Thow them off a bit by choosing random letters of the alphabet not only A, B, C, D…
Finally, group students based on strength and need making sure that you have paired students with a partner and within a group where there is a friend that has a strength with their area of need. Assign each of these groups with a number.
Now each of your students will have a colour, a letter, and a number.
When using groupings you can simply ask students to get into their _________ group.
This means that you are using flexible groupings across subject strands and these are preplanned ahead of time so that you do not have to constantly group and re=group students.
Which way is best?
There isn’t one way to group students and this list isn’t exhaustive.
Your own assessment of student need and your own needs as a teacher are the best determining factors in deciding how you will group your students into small group learning teams.
Your ability to group your students will be based on your experience and sound professional judgement. When in doubt go with your gut and trust that you have a reason for your decision and that if it doesn’t work out you can always change it.
Good luck with your next groupings.
Want to read more about small group learning in the classroom. Read more here
focus on the process of how to write within a form
repeat this for a few weeks
have students write within that form
evaluate their work to see if they could write in the form
Honestly, it worked. I was able to get my assessment data and cover my curriculum.
But…it was boring and my students were less than engaged. Especially those students that had no interest in writing in their form.
Their creativity was gone, stifled, and hidden underneath a bunch of systems and rules that had to be followed. Robot writers were being created.
However, writing is personal. For anyone who had ever written outside of the confines of school can tell you writing is a creative and personal process.
You pour yourself out onto paper and take risks to share your ideas with others.
So why then as teachers do we take this out of writing to focus on covering the various forms of writing instead of simply letting kids write and experimenting with different writing forms?
Just because it is how it has been done in the past doesn’t mean that it needs to be done like that forever.
We do it because it is easy, linear, and allows us to teach from a checklist of expectations. Its better for us as teachers, but is it better for students?
I changed how I teach writing 4 years ago.
Faced with a group of boys who refused to write for the previous year, and coming from a feeling that my writing program was hitting expectations but I was spending more time pleading with students to write anything instead of helping them to write better, I looked for an alternative.
Writing Needs To Be Student-Centred
For so long teaching writing has been focused on what the teacher wants to do and what the teacher needs students to do.
This is not student-centred.
Since writing is so personal, we need to give our students more autonomy over what they write. The more autonomy we can give the more engaged students are and the less we need to worry about managing their behaviour.
So what can we do?
Instead of focusing on specific forms of writing such as an adventure story or fable look at more general forms of writing including
Allow students to choose to write anything within these general forms of writing.
You can brainstorm different genres of writing the fit under each umbrella of writing forms but the flexibility to write here is important.
Junior students (grades 4-6) are just beginning to find their voice as writers. This is a time of great importance because we can shape how they feel about themselves as writers.
I am quickly approaching 40…I am not the best person to decide what a 9-11-year-old is interested in. They are fascinated with bottle flipping, spinning toys, codable robots, weird arm-swinging dance moves and video games that make absolutely no sense to me.
How could I possibly know them better than they know themselves? Do I really know what topics will excite them tomorrow?
Moreover, with our class sizes ballooning above 30 students with an increasing number of unsupported special education needs, what works and engages one student will not work for another.
So the keys to my writing program here are
Allow students to choose what they write
Use choice boards to help them narrow down on topics across these four general categories.
Using student-teacher writing conferences with students to talk about each student’s individual next steps as a writer.
Focus on developing each student’s individual voice as a writer
Build writing confidence through consistent feedback cycles
Writing Needs To Focus On The Writing Process
In the Ontario Language Curriculum, there are 13 expectations that focus on the writing process, not including spelling and grammar skills.
There is only one that mentions specific writing genres. However, it is not the expectation that states these forms it is the example text that follows the expectation.
Examples are not our curriculum.
I know that many instructional coaches and leaders over the years have provided lists of all the different forms we should cover at each grade level. I would agree that these are great forms to explore cross strand through oral texts, read alouds, modelled and shared writing task by looking at the various elements,
However, they should not serve as our limitations that restrict student creativity and exploration of their skills as writers.
I would argue that these forms should be taught and encouraged but not be mandated writing forms or used to restrict students in their ability to write authentic texts.
The focus on the curriculum is much more on the process of writing and steps writers take to write.
Focusing on this major element of the curriculum will be far easier to differentiate and allow teachers to be responsive to student needs than simply commanding that all students write a fairytale.
Focus on developing skills that follow the writing process instead teach them how to write instead of what to write.
Brainstorming and generating ideas – for students who are not used to having this type of control over their own learning this is initially very hard for them. Teach them how to dump out their ideas onto a page in no particular order.
Organizing Ideas – this is a hard one for students because sometimes they just want to write down the story. However, the key to a good piece of writing is a plan. This organizational planning step is universal for every form of writing. How you plan and organize your writing will change depending on your purpose for writing. But instead of walking students down this path, and telling them what to use and how. I feel that giving them a purpose for discovering this is far more meaningful. It also helps them to apply this skill to all areas of writing. We want students to have a method and organization tool to use when writing. Allowing them to know and select the best tool from their toolbox to write more successfully is a far better skill.
Drafting – Too many kids are worried about their ability to spell words correctly the first time and this fear will often prevent them from trying. The last thing I want as a teacher is for a student with great ideas and a strong voice to believe that they are not a good writer just because they can’t spell. Being a good writer and being a good speller are two different skills. The purpose of drafting is to get your ideas down on paper.
Editing and Revising – This step is key to getting students to fix their spelling and grammar errors. They need to know what to look for and fix these. Combined with explicit lessons on spelling and grammar rules students will learn to be better editors themselves. Spelling and grammar are best learned in context. What better context than their own spelling and grammar errors.
Finally, there is publishing. In this final stage, I believe that it is important to recognize that not every piece of writing is worthy of being published. Some are simply not worthy. Allowing students to look at their body of work and select only their best work to be published allows students to think critically about what they have learned as writers and to choose samples of this growth.
Students Need More Time For Mastery
I used to think that teaching a form of writing would take me 6 weeks.
I now realize that writing takes more time.
Students need to write every day….every day! They need to write for a significant amount of time each day too. According to the guides to effective instruction, this means that students should be writing up to 30min a day.
Teaching writing is a slow burn from the beginning of the year to the end.
I let my students make small baby steps with gradual improvement from one draft to the next. We look at where they start and then what they will do next to improve.
Slowly students will gain the confidence as writers as they believe in themselves to do more of what they are capable of.
Everyone can write and everyone has something to say. It is my job as the teacher to focus on each students strengths as a writer to help them improve areas of weakness.
Each student will be different in what they need and what they are stong with. They can learn from me, learn from peers, and learn from experience.
Validating their voice is key to engagement in writing. Students will do more of what they feel they are successful in. They will work hard to achieve their goals. Many times they just need a cheerleader in their corner cheering them on.
Meet with students regularly to discuss their strengths and needs as writers. Provide timely feedback that supports and guides them towards their next steps as writers.
Have high expectations and a belief that your students can do hard things and you will be there along the way but you believe deep in their soul they have the potential to be amazing writers. Some will need permission to fail (even though they won’t), others will need a push to do more, some will need a soft place to land full of encouragement, some will need failure before growth and some will need a clear target to hit. You as the teacher will determine what each student needs from you to move ahead.
Focus on the process, not the product – worry less about which forms they write in and focus more on the path they take to get there. Allow students to experiment with different forms and push and guide them along the way.
Expose students to different writing forms through modelled and shared reading, oral language, and media texts. Identify the features of these texts, analyze them, replicate these in shared writing activities. Remember students simply have to write in a variety of forms, but the exact forms that they should write are not prescribed in the curriculum. Stick to a wide variety of specific forms within the four categories I mentioned above. Allow students the freedom and flexibility to choose a form within these categories that best suit their style as a writer. Let them hop back and forth between forms and build on one skill over time.
Use a spiralled approach to your literacy program. Revisit topics over time. Link ideas together cross strand so that students can see the connection between reading, writing, oral language and media.
So in summary…
Stop being the only one who decides what students should do during writing time. Instead, allow students to choose what they write about so that they can develop their own personal voice as a writer and embed their interests and personality into what they write.
Stop focusing on specific writing forms and start focusing more on the process of writing.
Stop expecting students to master writing skills in short windows of time. Instead, look at building small areas of skill growth over time.
Wondering where to even get started with how to plan out your language arts program that embeds students voice and choice, focuses on the process of writing and allows students to master skills through a spiralled approach? Sign up for my free training or check out the program.
Planning language arts can be hard. There are three common mistakes that I find many people make when planning out their program.
Focus on the expectations instead of big ideas
This is one that many teachers get caught up in.
There is so much to cover it is hard not to use the expectations as a checklist.
However, when we do this we fail to focus on the big ideas of what we are actually teaching.
When you do this you are looking to pull resources from all over the place that doesn’t really feel like a complete picture. It is an organizational nightmare and will make you feel disorganized and overwhelmed.
Instead, focus on the big ideas and then pick resources that go with this. Once this is planned you can determine which expectations are covered with this material.
You plan in units
This is a big one and one I made myself. It seems logical. You plan one learning activity at a time.
But language development isn’t as linear as this so why is our instruction?
Students need time to practice their skills in language and see how they are interconnected.
When we plan in units we fail to show students how one skill is used with another skill.
Writing an adventure story is similar to writing a fairy tale or even a poem. But when we teach in self-contained units students fail to see how these are related. This often causes them to not apply learned concepts from one activity to the next. So it is like we are starting from scratch each time we start a new unit.
Using a spiralled approach to teaching language with concepts integrated together and tied to a big idea is more effective and efficient.
The person making all the decisions is you…the teacher.
Finally, the third big mistake made by teachers is not embracing choice and voice in the classroom.
The person making the choices is the one doing the most work and learning the most things.
Is that person you or your students?
It should be your students.
Students should have a say in what they are reading and writing.
Language is personal, how we use it, what we think about it and what we say is uniquely you.
So how do we develop students use of language when they are simply told what to do and what to write. When we do this they passively accept what is happening and disengage in the learning.
To engage students and help them develop their ideas, opinion and voice within our language program (while also differentiating instruction) choice is key.
So what should your language program look like?
I would love to show you. But this will take more than a quick blog post.
You are invited to join me for my free masterclass.