School Name: Lucerne Elementary Secondary School
School District: SD#10 Arrow Lakes
Inquiry Team Members: Katrina Sumrall: Katrina.firstname.lastname@example.org, Heather Jenkins: Heather.email@example.com, Nicholas Graves: Nicholas.firstname.lastname@example.org, Chelsea Lada: Chelsea.email@example.com
Inquiry Team Contact Email: Chelsea.firstname.lastname@example.org
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Literacy, Language Arts – Writing
Focus Addressed: Differentiated instruction, Flexible learning, Formative assessment, Growth mindset, Self-regulation
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? What happens when we give students choice, flexible grouping and targeted lessons to address writing skills and development?
Scanning: To find out where our students were with their writing, we used an on-demand performance assessment in narrative genre as outlined in the Units of Study by Lucy Calkins. This work involved independent writing within a 45 minute time frame. Later, we met as a kindergarten to grade 6 teaching team to discuss the results.
Looking at the writing and discussing our experiences with writing in our own classrooms, we found that we knew little of what was happening in each others’ rooms. We noticed a pattern of students struggling to identify their own strengths or goals, writing without an understanding of the writing process, and a lack of motivation or enjoyment.
Focus: We chose to focus on writing in part because of its correlation with reading. Our decision was based on the idea that all writers are readers, but not all readers are writers. We felt that if we focused our work on writing, it would help our students grow as readers as well.
We also decided to use portfolios to help students develop their ability to reflect on their own strengths, goals and growth. Writing presented what we considered to be the subject area that allowed the most tangible and visible indicator of growth over time, making a writing portfolio an accessible scaffold for self-reflection for even our youngest learners.
Our hope was that by giving students choice about which small group mini-lessons they attended, we would see an increase in engagement and motivation. We also hoped to see an increase in motivation by working towards a whole group publishing party where students could share their own work within a genre and hear what others, across the grades, had done within that same genre.
Hunch: n previous years, we had been teaching writing in our own rooms and had no formal opportunities carved out for sharing and discussing the work our students had been doing. Our hunch was that collaborating in assessment and planning among the teachers would provide consistency and rigour across our elementary literacy program. We also noticed that students were not involved in their own assessment or collaboration with each other. Our hunch was that portfolio assessment would increase student involvement and therefore increase both their motivation and self-regulation. We hoped that flexible, cross-grade groupings and frequent opportunities for students to share their work with each other would have a similar outcome.
New Professional Learning: Our team explored the Units of Study: A Workshop Curriculum for Kindergarten to Grade 5 by Lucy Calkins. Before beginning our ‘literacy pods’ (mixed age targeted mini-lessons), we used the on demand writing assessment with our entire group of students as suggested in this resource. In bi-weekly meetings, we discussed what lessons we had used from this resource and how we had adapted it to meet the needs of our group. Because we were teaching cross-grade groupings in our literacy pods, this resource became a valuable reference for planning lessons outside of our own classroom age group. This allowed each member of our team to become familiar with the entire program, from kindergarten to grade 5.
We also found the rubrics and student writing sample continuums included in this resource to be valuable for scaffolding student self-reflection. We used these rubrics and continuums with whole class groups, mixed-grade groups and individual students mid-unit and end of unit for each genre. As students became familiar with these resources, they gained value as tools for reflection. They provided students with consistent language and examples, and became an effective and accessible scaffold in helping students identify their own writing strengths and identify their own specific writing goals. This work also provided us as teachers with specific, student-created goals from which to plan our next steps in teaching.
Taking Action: Starting with the evidence gathered from the on-demand writing assessment, we met every two weeks to collaboratively plan lessons targeting our students specific needs. After the initial assessment, our planning was based on the needs we saw arising during the ongoing writing workshop and conferences we had continued within our own classrooms. These mini-lessons were focused on a specific skill, which could be accessed by any student, regardless of their age, grade or overall writing ‘level’.
Meeting during our early dismissal professional development time allowed all members of the team to be present, including classroom teachers, support teachers, educational assistants and our principal.
After meeting as a team and deciding which lessons would be offered, we brought these options to our students. Students would select a lesson they wanted to attend. Then, during a 1 hour block, students would bring their writing folders with them to work through a mini-lesson on a skill of their choice, time to write and individual conferencing with the teacher who taught that mini-lesson. We called these groupings ‘literacy pods’. Giving students across the whole elementary school the same choices meant the pods consisted of cross-grade groupings and that students worked with a variety of teachers across the grades.
We started with a unit on narrative writing and then moved to informational texts. Each unit lasted approximately 6 weeks. Students across the elementary school worked on skills within the same genre, either during writing workshop in their own classroom, or during the bi-weekly ‘literacy pods’.
Rubrics and example writing continuums from the Units of Study resource guided our conferencing with individual students, our planning of literacy pods, and the students’ self-reflection of their own writing, including goal setting.
Towards the end of each unit, students selected a piece of their own writing to revise, edit and publish. We held literacy pods focusing on these skills, as well. When students were ready to publish, we held a publishing party. This consisted of small, mixed grade groups sharing their work and providing feedback to each other, often in the form of two stars and a wish. When everyone had had a chance to share their work in a small group, we gathered as a large group and gave students the option to share their work with everyone using a microphone.
Students also selected a piece of writing to go in their portfolios. Included with the selection was a self-reflection about why they had chosen the piece, their strengths and learning from the unit and their personal next steps for writing.
Checking: As our evidence, we used the students’ writing portfolios, the end of year district writing assessments, student surveys, as well as our observations and informal feedback from students.
Based on this evidence, students’ writing output and quality of writing improved, especially with informational texts. Through the portfolio reflections and in conferences with students we noticed that student became more able to speak confidently and concretely about what they were learning and where they were going with their learning. According to the student surveys, students felt more confident in reading as well.
We observed that peer connections across grades were very important in increasing student motivation and engagement. Students looked forward to literacy pod days and asked about them often, especially in the younger grades.
Reflections/Advice: Our biggest take away was the value of collaboration time. Having consistent, dedicated time to assess, share and plan together as a team of teachers was the most important factor in making the literacy pods a success.
Similarly, having a block of time where every classroom across the entire elementary school worked on writing allowed us to involve all our educational assistants, our principal and our learning resource teachers. This made the student to teacher ratio manageable for the level differentiated instruction and support we wanted to achieve.
As students become more fluent in their ability to talk about themselves as writers, we would like to work towards student-created rubrics for each genre. This would further deepen students’ self-reflection and self-regulation and give them even more ownership over their learning.
We also identified a need for targeted instruction in public speaking as a means for students to share their work with confidence and clarity.
As next steps outside the context of writing, we plan to expand this format to include ‘math pods’. Within our K-3 classrooms, we would also like to use this structure for collaboration to expand our co-teaching and flexible grouping instruction to more than just 1 hour every two weeks.