Toli Papadopoulos, Author at Education Matters Magazine - Page 163 of 172
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Toli Papadopoulos

Seven Steps to Writing Success

Collaborate, create and celebrate great writing

Typically writing classrooms are quiet. People often regard writing as a personal and solo activity, intense and full of concentration. It does not have to be this way.

Collaborative classrooms are vibrant, interactive and tick all four boxes of speaking, writing, reading and listening in literacy. It is certainly possible for students to work together when writing.

What’s more, the benefits are huge: ‘individuals are able to achieve higher levels of learning and retain more information when they work in a group rather than individually’. Gokhale (1995)

Most importantly, however, collaborative learning engages students and makes learning far more efficient and enjoyable.

Verbal is vital

While physical writing is seen as an important part of the literacy process, speaking and listening are often not valued as highly. However, the National Curriculum stresses that, ‘language, verbal or non-verbal, is critical for the development of literacy skills’ (ACARA).

Orality is a common theme in academic research worldwide. ‘An important, albeit obvious, early marker needs to be entered here that listening and speaking are the roots of reading and writing.’ (www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0000/1175/Rose_Review.pdf)

In the USA, an addendum was added to the Common Core curriculum, highlighting the need for teachers to focus more strongly on verbal literacy. ‘Reading, writing, speaking, and listening should span the school day from K–12 as integral parts of every subject.’

(http://www.corestandards.org/other-resources/key-shifts-in-english-language-arts/)

Talk is a vital scaffold for writing for all students; it is the first step in literacy. It is also particularly important for students from ESL (EAL/D) backgrounds and those with learning difficulties.

Collaborative writing lesson

Here is an example of a collaborative writing lesson on writing a Tightening Tension™ scene in narratives.

Imagine. One topic. Four students. Their heads are close. They are engaged, interested and on task.

The topic is a churchyard (or graveyard) late at night.

They are all contributing ideas. One of them is quickly recording the ideas. The others are talking even faster, thinking, brains working freely. Here’s what they might be saying…

I SEE

Tall monuments

Broken headstones

Names, births and deaths carved in stone

Tattered flowers

Broken bricks in grass

Darkness

I HEAR

Wind

Eerie rustling

Heart beating

Breath coming fast

I TOUCH

Cold, too cold on skin

Trees or bushes

Cobwebs on skin

Coat hugged tighter

I TASTE

Fear, bitter in mouth

Strange tingling on tongue

I SMELL

Jonquils – too sweet, and out of season

Something old, very old

New mown grass

Cold air

I FEEL

Alone

Eerie

Growing fear

Frightened

Determination

Total panic

Then comes the call: TIME’S UP! The brainstorming all stops. Kids suddenly scramble to their desks, hauling out paper, grabbing pens. Ready, set, WRITE!

In 30 seconds they are writing furiously. No hesitation, no resistance.

For four minutes they write. They are passionate and confident. Then come the words: STOP writing.

They groan in frustration, and refuse to look up. But gradually, finally they finish their last sentence, sit back and smile with pride.

Given the brainstorming above, here’s what students might have written in just four minutes.

If only I hadn’t been late home, I would never have taken a short cut through the churchyard.

The night was cold, far too cold. I hugged my coat tighter around me. It was weirdly dark too. There were all these shadows around me, tombstones and monuments of people long dead. Names, births, deaths…and now the broken bricks and long grass tells the true story – they are forgotten.

If only I had started home earlier. It would not have been so dark. And so cold…

The wind picked up, cutting through me. I smelt fresh mown grass, someone was paid to care. But over it all was a smell of sweetness. Too sweet.

I put my head down and walked faster.

Then the scream pierced the darkness. Heart pounding, I ran.

If only, if only, if only…

Writing does not have to be silent

Writing is brainstorming and creating first, and actually pushing the pen second. So to aid in creation, writers use collaboration as a tool. There has been a long history of this collaboration:

  • Script writers for TV shows work in groups, bouncing ideas off each other, arguing over what to include, piggybacking on each other’s ideas quickly and creatively to create great shows fast.
  • Remember the ‘soiree society’? Famous authors Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo, or expatriate Americans living in France in the 1920s and 1930s such as Gertrude Stein, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Oscar Wilde…they all hung out with fellow author friends and gained inspiration (and companionship) from each other.
  • Modern authors gather in critique groups either in person or online, to share ideas, inspiration and get feedback on their latest work. For example, The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Australia: http://www.scbwiaustralianz.com/our-blog/2016/3/31/online-critique-group-update.

Compare this style of writing to the ‘cone of silence’ where we give students a topic, don’t let them talk and ask them to write individually for a whole lesson. We have given them few support structures and no way to tap into the help and creativity of others.

A collaborative classroom

  • 3–4 is the optimal size of groups.
  • Lower ability students work better in mixed groups.
  • Medium ability students are best placed with peers of their own ability.
  • Higher ability students are not affected by the mix of the group according to research. Lou, Y., Others (1996)

In collaborative classrooms, group members are intensely curious about what their fellow students have written. Taking the writing back to the group is an essential part of the process. After writing, students read out or pass their work to other group members. The benefits of this are enormous:

  • It is a form of publication where writing is shared and celebrated. Enthusiastic faces nodding, smiling and laughing at humour…these are all forms of feedback that real authors never get.
  • Students learn from each other: ‘Hey, I loved the way you used dialogue there. I’m going to use that too.’
  • Students are analysing each other’s writing – some good, some not so strong. This gives them a basis for comparison and learning.
  • Engagement is dramatically increased. Compare the passive nature of ‘students write, teacher corrects’ with the dynamic nature of sharing students’ work. Sharing in groups IS the assessment and the feedback and it comes from multiple people rather than just one teacher.

Sharing effort and product is an important part of collaboration and a great way to improve students’ writing.

Teachers are often concerned that students will ‘steal ideas’ from each other. However, you will be surprised at how students can take the same material and shape it according to their own skill sets and experience into something completely different.

Try out the sample lesson on Tightening Tension™ (see link below) and see the extraordinary diversity of writing that comes from each student – even if they were part of the same group.

The positive impact of collaboration

The positive impact of a collaborative classroom is that it increases student engagement and improves their results. Research has shown that when students work collaboratively they learn more, retain more and have a far more positive attitude towards learning. They also have a lot more enjoyment and engagement every day in their classes.

As teachers we don’t want to just ‘stand and deliver’ information. Students love to know that we have the confidence to allow them to be active learners and that we trust them to learn, listen and share with each other throughout the learning process.

To access the sample lesson on Tightening Tension™ go to: https://www.sevenstepswriting.com/samples/lessonplans/.

For more collaborative lesson plans become a member of Seven Steps Online: https://www.sevenstepswriting.com/info-seven-steps-online/.

Boys answer questions

Helping FSC bring sustainability into the classroom

In collaboration with Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) Australia, Tork® Professional Hygiene has sponsored the launch of a new program for primary schools to assist in teaching the next generation about sustainability.

Read more

School starting age lower

Tasmanian Government releases school starting age 'fact sheet'

Anne Barwick told The Mercury that the proposed change has “the potential to impact children negatively”. “A high percentage of Tasmanian children access kindergarten – a non-compulsory year – and this change equates to children as young as three years, six months being integrated into a school environment,” she said. Further concerns have been raised by the union for childcare workers, the Tasmanian Association of State School Organisations, Rural Health Tasmania and the state Opposition, causing the Government to respond with a new fact sheet on the initiative. Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff announced the fact sheet, saying it aims to dispel concerns raised by detractors of the plan.

“The Government is proposing to lower the compulsory starting age for prep by six months — not 18 months as is being falsely claimed by some,” he said.

“This means instead of starting prep at the age of five, Tasmanians will start at the age of four and a half years. This is a very significant but by no means a radical change, this simply brings Tasmania in-line with the rest of Australia.”

Mr Rockliff confirmed Ms Barwick’s concerns, however, stating that parents will have the choice to send their kids to kindergartner sooner, starting at the age of three years and six months. The Mercury reports that Opposition education spokesperson Michelle O’Byrne contends the initiative is not backed up by solid evidence.

“All that Tasmanians have been told by the Government is that the justification for changing the school starting age is that it will bring the state into line with the rest of the country … there is no definitive Australian school starting age.”

A “Stop lowering the school age in Tasmania” petition organised by United Voice has so far been signed by 2,561 people. The school starting age fact sheet can be found on the Tasmanian Department of Education website.]]>

School starting age lower

Tasmanian Government releases school starting age ‘fact sheet’

Tasmania’s State Government has moved to allay concerns that the proposed new starting age for schoolchildren could be detrimental to kids’ health.

Earlier this year, Tasmania’s Premier Will Hodgman announced the Government would lower the starting age from five to four years and six months, following a review of the Education Act.

At five years, Tasmania currently has the oldest minimum starting age for schoolchildren of any other state or territory in Australia.

However, Early Childhood Australia’s Tasmanian branch President Anne Barwick told The Mercury that the proposed change has “the potential to impact children negatively”.

“A high percentage of Tasmanian children access kindergarten – a non-compulsory year – and this change equates to children as young as three years, six months being integrated into a school environment,” she said.

Further concerns have been raised by the union for childcare workers, the Tasmanian Association of State School Organisations, Rural Health Tasmania and the state Opposition, causing the Government to respond with a new fact sheet on the initiative.

Education Minister Jeremy Rockliff announced the fact sheet, saying it aims to dispel concerns raised by detractors of the plan.

“The Government is proposing to lower the compulsory starting age for prep by six months — not 18 months as is being falsely claimed by some,” he said.

“This means instead of starting prep at the age of five, Tasmanians will start at the age of four and a half years. This is a very significant but by no means a radical change, this simply brings Tasmania in-line with the rest of Australia.”

Mr Rockliff confirmed Ms Barwick’s concerns, however, stating that parents will have the choice to send their kids to kindergartner sooner, starting at the age of three years and six months.

The Mercury reports that Opposition education spokesperson Michelle O’Byrne contends the initiative is not backed up by solid evidence.

“All that Tasmanians have been told by the Government is that the justification for changing the school starting age is that it will bring the state into line with the rest of the country … there is no definitive Australian school starting age.”

A “Stop lowering the school age in Tasmania” petition organised by United Voice has so far been signed by 2,561 people.

The school starting age fact sheet can be found on the Tasmanian Department of Education website.

Thumb-sucking research from NZ

NZ researchers find nail-biting, thumb-sucking behaviour reduces allergy risk

A new study from the University of Otago, New Zealand, found kids who exhibit thumb-sucking or nail-biting behaviours could be less at risk of developing allergies later in life.

The findings are just one result from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study, a long-running data collection exercise that has followed the lives of 1,037 participants born in 1972 and 1973.

The paper, which appears in the August issue of the US-based journal, Pediatrics, suggests childhood exposure to microbial organisms via thumb-sucking and nail-biting could reduce the risk of developing allergies.

Parents of the participating children were asked to report their thumb-sucking and nail-biting behaviour at ages 5, 7, 9, and 11 years of age. Each of the participants was then checked at page 13 and 32 years old for ‘atopic sensitisation’, which is a positive result on a skin prick test to at least one common allergen.

Results show that the prevalence of sensitisation was lower among children who had sucked their thumbs or bit their nails by 38 percent, compared to those who didn’t at 49 percent. Children who were reported to both suck their thumbs and bite nails had an even lower risk of allergy at 31 percent.

Lead author of the study, Professor Bob Hancox said the exposure to microbes as a result of these behaviours may alter immune functions, resulting in the children becoming less prone to allergy.

“The findings support the “hygiene hypothesis”, which suggests that being exposed to microbes as a child reduces your risk of developing allergies,” he says.

At the same time, Professor Hancox and the other co-authors of the report stress that their findings aren’t grounds for encouraging children to acquire these habits, as it’s not clear as to the net health benefits of such behaviour.

Stephanie Lynch, a medical student who co-authored the study as a summer project, says “although thumb-suckers and nail-biters had fewer allergies on skin testing, we found no difference in their risk for developing allergic diseases such as asthma or hay fever”.

Sam Bonney

Give a Textbook charity launches

Melbourne beauty salon owner, Sam Bonney had been travelling to the Philippines for years before conceiving of a plan to help local students.

Her new charity, Give a Textbook, takes unused and secondhand textbooks donated in Australia and places them with schools in impoverished Filipino communities. In this way, Ms Bonney feels her idea follows the “teach a man to fish” philosophy of giving.

“It’s our way of empowering the community, and further support young people so they will be able to overcome the challenges of what the future holds,” she said.

The new non-profit is currently seeking donations of textbooks mainly for high school years 7-12, whether they be specific subject textbooks (Mathematics, Science, English etc.) or associated reference books like dictionaries, atlases and encyclopaedia.

“Currently, people can reach out to us through our Facebook page and from there they will be able to locate their nearest drop off point,” Ms Bonney explains.

The Give a Textbook Facebook page currently has 255 ‘likes’ and growing.