McGirr Elementary SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

School Name: McGirr Elementary

School District: SD#68 Nanaimo-Ladysmith

Inquiry Team Members: Justin Green – jgreen@sd68.bc.ca
Alison Eathorne – alison.eathorne@sd68.bc.ca
Michele Kraft – mkraft@sd68.bc.ca
Andrea Galloway – agalloway@sd68.bc.ca
Tamara Mark – tmark@sd68.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: jennifer.robinson@sd68.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOIIE

Grade Levels: Primary (K-3)

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Writing

Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Differentiated instruction

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Using “Powerful Writing Structures” as a foundation for providing structure, guidance and creative ideas for the writing programs in Grades 2 and 3. We were hoping that it would help students understand different writing formats and structures, and at the same time develop their own distinctive writing styles and voice.

Scanning: At the start of the year, teachers undertook a class write as one formative assessment. Teachers noticed that students’ conventions and sentence structure were adequate, but voice and idea development was limited. We wanted to give them opportunities to develop these important aspects of the writing traits.

Focus: In reviewing our assessment data for our classes, we determined that there was a significantly large group of students who would benefit from explicit writing instruction within a predictable writing routine.

Hunch: We were interested in not only using individual lesson plans/ideas for writing, but also in having a structure for weekly writing as well as a sequence for writing units. We thought with this structure and progression that there would be opportunities to systematically build students’ skill in writing and more fully develop their writing voice.

New Professional Learning: Teachers involved in this inquiry explored “Powerful Writing Structures” and used this as the basis of our writing programs this year. Each teacher implemented as much of the program as they were comfortable. Most teachers followed a similar sequence moving from personal narratives to non-fiction writing, and finally working on story writing. We were able to periodically discuss mentor texts and strategies that particularly resonated with our classes.

Taking Action: The premise of “Powerful Writing Structures” is that our brains hold our thoughts and ideas in three different “pockets”: one pocket stores our experiences and memories; another holds facts and information; and the third holds our imagination. Teachers introduced the brain pocket writing and referred to it each time they did writing in the classroom. Grade 2 teachers noted that introducing Brain Pocket writing was a game changer with a very positive effect on student writing!

For the memory pocket, many classes utilized a strategy called Picture Plan. This strategy has the students planning their writing from memory using four big ideas connected to their topic, using a four-grid sheet. Students could draw, write, or do both to plan out their ideas one day, and then the next day use the picture plan to help guide their writing using more detail. This was a valuable structure for the students to focus on when sharing their memories.

Triple scoop words are another explicit teaching strategy that Grade 2 and 3 classes used to enhance the language used within the students’ writing. The ice cream graphic was particularly engaging for students and a visual reminder for them during later writing lessons.

During non-fiction writing, classes chose to focus on a few specific strategies. When learning about a topic, classes focused on chosen big ideas and then within those ideas, recorded “dash fact details”. The students then used these details and created their own sentences from them. Many classes wrote animal reports and were able to write with descriptive detail about the animal. Teachers noted that the structure and specific lessons enhanced student writing.

The imagination pocket focus was on breaking the story down into steps that the children could understand and then apply to their own writing. For example, the “Somebody, wanted, but, so/then” structure provided support for the students when creating their own stories. Another class focused on a character development sheet as well as the “Beginning, Middle and End” structure for writing these stories. Another class found that ‘Effective Story Endings’ was particularly helpful. Many different aspects of story writing were used in various classes with a positive effect.

Checking: Overall, Powerful Writing Structures provided just that, structures, for both the teachers and the students for different formats, as well as a weekly structure that moved students from planning to editing/revising and finally to publishing. Participating teachers agree that this book enhanced our writing program and improved our students’ writing skills. One teacher noted that they were better able to have focused and meaningful conversations during writing conferences, and that students were able to able to more readily incorporate this feedback into their written work.

Reflections/Advice: We think that this is an area for future learning and growth for our students and ourselves so that we can further enrich our writing programs. One suggestion has been to focus on 2-3 areas in each grade level as there are many writing structures outlined in “Powerful Writing Structures”.

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