School Name: Sangster Elementary
School District: SD#62 Sooke
Inquiry Team Members:Camille McFarlane: firstname.lastname@example.org, Lisa Lockerbie: email@example.com, Sue Molholm: firstname.lastname@example.org
Inquiry Team Contact Email: email@example.com
Type of Inquiry: NOIIE
Grade Levels: Primary (K-3), Intermediate (4-7)
Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Writing
Focus Addressed: Core competencies (for example, critical thinking, communication, problem solving), Differentiated instruction, Growth mindset, Inquiry-based learning, Land, Nature or Place-based learning
In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Our focus was to create confident engaged writers by taking them into nature and utilizing nature and story workshop.
Scanning: Our curiosity was first stimulated by a workshop one of our team attended with Adrienne Gear. We were also intrigued by Story Workshop. We’ve noticed our students, from k – 5, are not always risk-taking when writing. Some don’t even see themselves as writers, and need a lot of adult help to even get started with their writing. When asked ‘How is it going with your learning? Your writing?” some will respond “I can’t write.” ” I don’t know how to write. ” and “I’m not a writer.” We gathered data; in grade 5, 6/28 students are typically ‘non-starters’ and always need help getting started. Only 1/28 can write descriptively without any help. In K, many students say ‘I’m not a writer – I can’t write yet’ and we have collected early samples of first attempts. In grade 2/3, one child will be our ‘wonder child’ – this child typifies the ‘dependent’ writer who can do little without checking with the teacher first. We’ll watch and collect samples of change over time in all our classrooms.
Focus: We were inspired by attending Adrienne Gear and Story Workshop events, and have tried a little already in our classrooms. We are excited to see some progress already, and think working together in a focused way as a school on these strategies will have a great impact on students’ view of themselves as successful writers. We’d like to see confident, excited writers, eager to share their writing with various audiences – classmates, younger children, sharing in the library.
Hunch: In the past, there was not a lot of subject matter choice – we all wrote about the same thing. And students all wrote for 1 audience – the teacher. That’s not authentic. Students place too much emphasis on spelling, neatness, the ‘look’ of the writing instead or the content. We feel shifting that focus will free them up to take risks and be real writers
New Professional Learning: We explored “Writing Power” by Adrienne Gear and used it as a framework for our weekly writing plan. We then utilized her planning tools and format in our forest writing activities. We also examined the “Opal School” and Story Workshop, as well as connected with other teacher bloggers in the province who focused on building literacy skills in nature. As well, we explored digital storytelling resources and tools to become more confident using technology.
Taking Action: Learning about Walking Stories and Story Workshop
Our librarian read each class the same walking story, “Stanley’s Stick,” and discussed the elements of walking stories and anchor lines.
The three classes gathered on the field and we reviewed walking stories and anchor lines. We read, “Not a Stick.” We asked the forest permission to borrow nature to help us learn.
In buddy groups, the students went into the forest and collected sticks, rocks, and fircones to be used for story workshop.
Each class independently held story workshops using the items collected from the forest using the anchor line, “It’s not a….it’s a…”
The Kindergartens conferenced their walking stories from “It’s not a stick.” In the forest, they also created on the spot walking stories and went around the circle adding descriptive language to expand on the anchor line. They also wrote their own walking stories using the anchor line, “It’s not a stick, it’s a….”
Our librarian asked the Grade 5 class to bring one of the rocks to library class, and she read “If you Find a Rock.” Students then chose four rocks to write their own walking story using the anchor line, “If you find a rock…” The class used the Four Corner Planning sheet from Adrienne Gear’s “Writing Power” text.
Creating a Class Walking Story
The Kindergarten and Grade 5 classes met in the forest and read, “A Closer Look,” as inspiration for our next walking story.
Buddies were given a clipboard with the Adrienne Gear planning sheet in mind map format, which we titled “Closer Look – Descriptive Words.”
Buddies each found a forest item to describe. They needed to list at least four descriptors.
Educators went around and worked with the students to take a close-up picture using the microscope camera and then also a picture identifying the nature item.
The next day, the grade fives imported their photos and added them to the google slides template to create our own “Closer Look” book.
The following day, the Kindergarteners and Grade 5s met to co-create their piece of the walking story on the chromebooks.
The students then transferred their piece of the story into a class shared document. We then printed copies of the story to add to our class libraries and the school library.
Creating Stories with a Problem
Inspired by the Sooke to Sidney Rock Hunt, children from both classes requested to paint their own rocks. To capitalize on the students enthusiasm, we decided to paint our own rocks for story workshop.
We met in the forest and explained the process. We discussed what elements of stories are essential. The children decided that they needed to paint settings and characters. The only stipulation we gave, was that it had to be found in our forest.
Each student painted a character and a setting from the forest.
Later in the week, the buddies met outside for story workshop.
They chose characters and setting they would like to use for a story. They made up a problem and a solution.
After orally telling the stories, students used Adrienne Gear’s Web Planner to record the story.
Each student then independently created their own story.
Grade 5’s peer edited each other’s stories and the kindergarteners conferenced.
Both classes gathered together to share and compare their stories.
This was an incredible experience. All children enjoyed it and the learning was so rich for all involved. It was inspiring when the students came back together to read their shared stories. We will do this project again!
Checking: When examining the evidence it is clear we made a difference. Our key students became risk-takers and in their reflections they spoke of themselves as writers. Our learners were engaged in the writing process and were excited to see “Forest Writing” on our daily schedule. The forest calmed their minds, while inviting them into it’s world. As well, story workshop, and buddying with other classes, enabled students to be creative and orally tell their story and plan collaboratively. We believe having the forest provocations, really invited learners into the writing process. Our group of learners were all able to identify multiple adults in the building who cared about them. As well, the children saw the writing as purposeful. They recognized the importance about learning about planning tools, structure, and descriptive language as key for all their writing in the future. The students are hopeful we continue writing projects in the future, and use picture books, nature and story workshop as an invitation to writing.
We were inspired by the results and plan to continue with this inquiry next year.
Reflections/Advice: We learned that by trying something different, listening to our students, and responding to our student needs we were able to engage all students in purposeful and meaningful writing. We were able to combine some best teaching practices of differentiation, inquiry and place-based learning by taking our students out into the forest to learn. We were purposeful in our plan and choosing anchor books to teach specific aspects of writing. We were then able to incorporate story workshop using nature provocations to inspire our students. By incorporating technology, we were challenging our older students to learn new skills and then enabling our younger students to engage with the technology tool. As well, we were creating community within our school.
Advice to other schools – take a chance and try something different. Be purposeful in each activity and have clear goals, however follow the students’ lead when possible – they make take you places that you did not anticipate. Have fun!