Talk 4 Writing Tuesday [2nd edition]

Kerry our superstar writer is back for the second edition of T4W Tuesday. Today you will find another fabulous blog for you to learn, engage and reflect on T4W. We are so grateful for Kerry's hard work and enthusiasm to bring this awesome blog to Smile Teachers every week.

Hi everyone! I hope you all have had a wonderful week.

Open, sensitive and impressionable young minds. That’s what we work with every day. What an honour, privilege and massive responsibility that is!

When my own daughter was in year two, her grandparents were visiting and we were enjoying a family get-together at home one Sunday evening. As her Oma and Opa were preparing to leave, my daughter decided she was going to have a shower. She started to get ready for her shower but then decided to come outside to wave goodbye to her grandparents and she was absolutely stark naked!

We lived on a fairly busy street in the local community and, wanting to protect her from the glances, giggles and potential ridicule from anybody who might happen to pass by, I said, “Honey, just go inside and put something on and then you can come back to wave to Oma and Opa.” She happily skipped off and I assumed she had understood my reference to public modesty and I imagined she would return wearing her dressing gown or something similar. Nope. She reappeared a moment later, wearing only a shower cap….

Not exactly what I had meant! I realised then that I was dealing with an open, sensitive and impressionable young mind that needed greater clarity and precision to navigate the world than what I had given.

I am a great supporter of looping students from one year to the next and I am very fortunate to be teaching this particular group of delights for the second year. On my post last week, the mother of one of my gorgeous little kiddos commented that her daughter wants to grow up to be just like me – a year one/two Talk for Writing teacher. She is one of those kids that just lives, eats and breathes school and I know how much she fell in love with Talk for Writing last year. Seriously, her day was just not complete without it! She told me last year that when she grows up she would teach Talk for Writing, just like me, and I realised right then that here is an open, sensitive and impressionable young mind that I needed to nurture completely.

Guaranteed, when I am in the midst of looking too far ahead and concerning myself with where I want my students to be at the end of the year, or momentarily worried about whether or not I am adequately preparing them for NAPLAN next year, one of them will tell me something that stops me in my tracks. One little treasure will say something like, “Guess what? I can turn the taps on for my shower all by myself now!” Or maybe they’ll tell me how they rode their bike without training wheels for the first time yesterday after school. Open, sensitive and impressionable young minds that are living in the here and now and they need me to see them, guide them and support them just as they are right now. Today.

When I allow myself to truly slow down and live in the present at school, I know my time with each group of kiddos is limited and precious. Being impressionable is natural in a child and we see examples every day of how easily most children adapt to their environments and how easily influenced they are by all that they see and hear. Language acquisition is a perfect example of all that they absorb.

How often have you cringed when your own child mimics your phrases and expressions in perfect context??

I almost hyperventilate if a parent ever tells me that their child was playing “school” at home and pretending to be the teacher. Oh gawd! Which of my expressions had they chosen to use in their play at home as typical “teacher talk”??

With language acquisition being the core of all the oral communication, reading and writing we expect our students to acquire, it’s so important that as educators, we expose children to high quality texts that enhance their literacy development in motivating and engaging ways and support them in their quest to become independent thinkers and communicators.

I always begin my Talk for Writing unit with a cold task. This is a type of formative assessment whereby students are asked to write a piece of work in the genre that is to be focused upon. Little to no further instruction or explanation is provided. For example, my students were asked to have a go at writing a report on a creature at the beginning of our current unit of work. This process allows me build upon what the children already know and to target my instruction around what they need to learn. When analysing the samples of writing produced, I’m looking for what needs to be taught on three different levels – the needs of the whole class, those of differing groups and individuals needs. It means that I have to be relatively flexible in my planning, as what the students produce will guide my further instruction.

A student's cold task writing about a creature.

The next step is to choose, adapt or write the exemplar text, ensuring the grammar, language features and structure of the text is pitched ever so slightly above the level of where the majority of children are and that children will be able to internalise the pattern of the text and add it to their language banks.

Confession time! I’m busy. I’m too busy, realistic and inexperienced to think I could possibly write a better exemplar text than Pie Corbett or his trained consultants. There are so many great model texts available on the Talk for Writing website, as well as in many of the publications available. They are well suited in length and structure to particular year levels. Sometimes, I may do a slight adaption to some of the language used as the terminology may be unfamiliar to my students, but that is rare. I have total respect for those of you out there who are writing your own exemplar texts. Well done to you!

The thing that I often find most challenging at this point is to keep my mind focused on identifying where my students are right now with their writing and what I need to teach them in order for them to progress. I need to keep focused on my teaching goals as I can easily be sidetracked by a delightful book on an interesting and engaging topic, such as space, under the sea or pirates, and forget that the unit of work or text that I choose is simply the tool by which I teach the skills through embedded literacy and that I’m not actually wanting to teach the kids about space, under the sea or pirates.

A student's cold task about a creature.

When I do my initial planning, I need to consider what my teaching goal is, which text I am going to use to deliver my teaching and what I will do to get my kids interested and excited about the topic. This is often referred to as the ‘hook”.

As I told you in my first post, we are currently writing non-chronological reports about dragons. To ignite the student’s interest in dragons, I found this editable article and I was able to change the details to be far less frightening and to suit our local area and community. We enlarged the article and replaced the first page of our local newspaper with it, headlining the news of a dragon sighting at another primary school in our community. One day, towards the end of our math lesson, ten minutes or so before lunch, our awesome EA came into the room. She was holding the paper, looked seriously concerned and apologised for interrupting but wanted to know if we had seen the news in today’s paper yet. As I took the paper from her, the kiddos started to wiggle forward and rise up on their knees.

Remember those open, sensitive and impressionable young minds I spoke of earlier? Yep. Hooks work very well with those! In this case, maybe too well! As I started to share the article with them, their eyes grew as big as saucers and their jaws dropped. We had to be very careful now, ensuring the said dragon was painted in a friendly and harmless light as some of the kiddos were becoming seriously concerned. With the article now shared and a million questions being fired at me we were able to do some “research” and we came across a report written on Welsh Green dragons (the type of dragon featured in the article), which highlighted their friendliness and harmless attributes. This article was simply a slight adaptation of  Pie Corbett's The Manchester Ridge-Back that I had prepared and renamed to tie in with the newspaper article.

Wow! I hadn’t anticipated how excited the kiddos would be but they shared the news with their siblings, friends and neighbours in the playground and even went to the office to ask the ladies at the front desk and the deputies if they had heard today’s news! I happened to be on duty that day and the other students bombarded me with questions and the need to clarify this article. A shred of doubt was now on everyone’s mind but it was so much fun! Their excitement was through the roof!

Open, sensitive and impressionable young minds do not need to be going home on Friday afternoons thinking about local dragon sightings, no matter how friendly and delightful those dragons may be! We made sure to let the kiddos know that the whole article was a fake but how awesome it will be to learn more about the report we had come across. This set the scene for our imitation phase to begin the following Monday morning and their enthusiasm was certainly contagious! One little girl even made her Mum drive to that other school over the weekend, just to make sure there weren’t any claw imprints or burnt trails on the oval!

How cute is that?!

The reason why I enjoy successful hooks so much is because I love to see my students intrinsically motivated to succeed. I’m not a huge provider of extrinsic rewards like stamps, stickers and certificates – mainly because I simply forget about them! – But to see a child motivated to learn, without the offer of receiving anything concrete for their efforts, simply warms my heart because that is the child who will grow to develop goals, dreams and aspirations of their own that will drive their future success throughout their school years and beyond. This stage of the Talk for Writing process provides the opportunity for all students to experience intrinsic motivation and I’m sure we all know how vital that is to successful learning.

Next week, I will share with you the steps we took through the imitation phase. As the Talk for Writing program has grown and developed, certain stages have also been somewhat revised. I undertook my training in 2015 and even though I stay up to date online, I am aware that those of you who are more recently trained or experienced may use different terminology to mine or progress through the steps in each stage differently. That being said, I vary the delivery of every unit anyway, and I would love to hear about the variations that you apply as well!

Well, that’s it from me this week! I’m excited to delve further into anything of interest to you in upcoming posts.

Until then everyone – be safe, be well, and be happy!!



Learn more about Kerry and her T4W teaching ideas by sending us an email or message. She is more than happy to answers any questions.

You may have the chance to meet Kerry at one of our Perth Meet Ups, at our Mindset Manoeuvre Workshop where we help develop mental agility in teacher or maybe you'll find her sipping a margarita at a Bali Teacher's Retreat.

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