School Name: Happy Valley Elementary
School District: SD#62 Sooke
Inquiry Team Members:Kareen Kimoto: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paula Andrew: email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Oral Language, Language Arts – Reading, Language Arts – Writing
Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Formative assessment, Growth mindset
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? To build confidence as writers who see purpose for their writing, who are willing to take risks, and whose written output reflects the strength of their ideas and voice in their oral language.
Scanning: We noticed that when we asked our youngest writers to write, even after lots of opportunity for talking about their ideas, they declared, “I can’t do it. We noticed that their oral language did not match their written language, and sometimes when they were asked to write their ideas down, their writing was disjointed and stilted. Their writing wasn’t as rich as their oral language; the word choice was simple when compared to their oral language. Some students wondered why they had to write, and did not see a purpose for writing. From the First Nations Principles of Learning, we recognized that learning is embedded in memory, history, and story, and that it is reflective. From the OECD Principles of Learning we recognized that the activities should be centred around the students and their experiences and connections. We recognized that there are individual differences, and than all children should be given the chance to be social and interact as part of a group. We recognized the importance of constantly assessing our students and changing instruction as needed.
Focus: When we noticed that our students weren’t writing with as rich language and detail as when they were speaking, we decided to focus on this aspect of writing development. We wanted our students to be able to see the purpose for written language as being a valuable and useful means of communicating their ideas and giving a voice to their ideas.
Hunch: We wondered if students’ prior experiences hadn’t given set the expectations that they can write, and that they are writers. We wondered if their written language wasn’t as detailed or rich as their oral language because they were afraid to take risks or challenge themselves with unknown words or structures. We wondered if the environment in our classrooms did not foster risk-taking (the idea that writing takes time, and that it’s okay to make mistakes). We wondered if it was taking too much effort at the beginning of the year, if maybe stamina needed to be built.
New Professional Learning: We explored using mentor texts, identifying writing traits as we were reading aloud, discussing different aspects of what writers do, and modelling different writing traits. Some of these ideas were new, some were already part of our practice but used with a new lens. We found “The Writing Strategies Book” by Jennifer Serravallo especially useful. The “6+1 Traits of Writing” by Ruth Culham was also used. To support each other, we met on a regular basis and discussed what we were doing in class, what we were wondering about the process, and where we should go next. We shared ideas and kept each other motivated to keep trying our new ideas.
Taking Action: Kareen (grade one) decided to provide resources for her class and plenty of opportunities to talk and write. She developed a writing folder which included an “Ideas Book” created by families, labelling photos of important people and places for each child. The folder also included a writing dictionary with more pictures of labelled objects, a heart map of ideas to write about, and a class photo with classmates labelled. Her class made anchor charts of all the reasons they can see to write, and worked on creating class books with joint writing projects.
Paula (grade 2/3) taught mini-lessons focused on details, word choice, and sentence fluency, and had her students keep strategies and tools in a “Working on Writing” book. We used mentor texts (picture books) to identify the writing traits we were focusing on in our writing and collaborated to create class books to refer to. Paula provided written feedback to the students to highlight the writing traits that they were using well, and suggestions for improvement.
Checking: Kareen: I noticed that my students are confident when beginning their writing, with lots of ideas for what they could write about. Most students see themselves as writers and are proud of what they can write now. They no longer panic and say that they cannot do it. I am satisfied with the progress and attitude change of my writers. I used interviews and observation for baseline and change evidence. They are able to confidently answer the four key questions and add details to show their understanding.
Paula: I noticed significant positive differences in my students’ writing regarding their word choice, vocabulary, and detail. I noticed they used the language of the writing traits when offering feedback to each other, they could describe what makes good writing, and they used our classroom resources when they were stuck. I believe the work we did made a big difference, and I was quite satisfied with the improvement in their writing. I used a baseline writing task and then used another task after a great deal of learning to make a comparison. My students’ answers to the four key questions were much more detailed and rich post- inquiry.
Reflections/Advice: We learned to have faith in the writing development process and that our students will learn. We also learned that focusing in on what our students’ needs are, tracking their progress, and making adjustments along the way, can make a significant difference in their learning. We also believe that collaboration between colleagues strengthens each other’s teaching practices and ultimately improves our students’ understanding of concepts, in this case, writing. We plan on taking these ideas into next year, especially using the inquiry model to identify tensions in our practices and work on student learning and professional development.