William Konkin Elementary SD#91 Nechako Lakes

School Name: William Konkin Elementary

School District: SD#91 Nechako Lakes

Inquiry Team Members:Judith Thompson: jthompson@sd91.bc.ca, Richard Thompson: rthompson@sd91.bc.ca, Morgan Paulson: mpaulson@sd91.bc.ca, Dave Beck: dbeck@sd91.bc.ca, Anna Geddert: ageddert@sd91.bc.ca

Inquiry Team Contact Email: dbeck@sd91.bc.ca

Type of Inquiry: NOII (focus on core competencies, OECD learning principles, etc.)

Grade Levels: Intermediate (4-7)

Curricular Area(s): Language Arts – Writing

Focus Addressed: Formative assessment

In one sentence, what was your focus for the year? Supporting struggling writers through involvement in formative assessment.

Scanning: During the scanning phase we examined:

Written responses on reading comprehension assessments; Independent writing samples; Class profiles and surveys to get to know our students and provide an overview of the learners’ needs ; 4 Questions survey. For questions 2, 3, 4 we narrowed the focus specifically to writing.

Many of our learners are struggling writers who have not attained expected grade-level proficiency. They are quite dependent on teacher direction rather than owning a sense of purpose and passion for their writing. They have very vague and limited understandings of how to improve their writing. The degree and range of difficulties observed in independent writing samples have provided us with a sense of urgency about improving our learners’ proficiencies in writing and sparked our curiosity for continuing to explore ways to do so.

Focus: Learners’ written expression is much poorer than we would expect when compared to their oral expression ability –in persuasive, informational, and creative writing activities. Building on our efforts to establish routines for conferring with writers, we hope to see writers more meaningfully engaged and taking ownership of learning in response to timely formative assessment and feedback to improve their writing. We hope that students will begin to see themselves as writers as they pursue purposeful writing that is interesting and more relevant to them.

Hunch: Writing difficulties may be the result of: -A need for more differentiated activities that would be more responsive to differing learner needs. -Need for growth mindset approach to help in developing confidence, stamina, and risk-taking in writing. -Learners not involved and lacking ownership of their own progress monitoring and learning. -Needing to help many students shift from focusing on assignment completion to focusing attention and ownership on what they are learning. -Too many short answer responses and not enough practice composing longer, more complete, responses and extended writing. -Gaps in phonetic code and morphological knowledge for encoding words in writing. Many students show a dependency on the adults to help them spell words. -A need to make writing tasks more relevant and purposeful to engage students’ interests and provide them with satisfaction and purpose in writing daily.

New Professional Learning: -Reviewed important elements/practices gleaned from our study of Lucy Calkin’s guidelines for conferring with writers. Shared writer’s conference templates with staff. -Engaged in a school-wide professional book study using Embedding Formative Assessment (Wiliam & Leahy). -Explored the use of Learning targets, co-constructed success criteria, timely formative feedback and self-assessment, and a PLC framework adapted from Dylan Wiliam to facilitate an iterative cycle of reporting on actions, receiving constructive feedback, and planning next steps.

Taking Action: Communicated learning targets; co-constructed success criteria with learners; increased one-to-one teacher-student conferring about writing; increased the use of laptops for writing; used speech-to-text for some learners to assist with written composition; have started using success criteria and editing checklists to help with self and peer assessment; some are effectively using the Comment feature in Word for teacher and for peer feedback; and have provided more freedom to write from experience or on topics of one’s own choice.

Checking: Comparing independent writes over time, we noticed improvements in motivation to write, volume of writing, sentence and paragraph composition, and use of conventions by many learners. Writers are more independent and have increased in stamina and engagement. Some learners are better able to express how they are doing with their writing and next targets to work on. We see a need to continue working with exemplars and student self-assessment in order to help them show evidence of meeting the success criteria and better articulate how they are doing and how they know. While we see progress in the quality of writing we are not satisfied and feel that staying the course until we see them expressing themselves with more passion, impact, and voice. In writing their drafts, while many writers focus on expressing their ideas, when it comes to self-assessment, many of our writers remain focused on the superficial aspects (e.g. conventions, simple sentences, basic paragraph organization, and with minimal description). We will need to do more modeling of revising for improving clarity, understanding, impact, and voice to encourage more learners to develop those aspects.

Reflections/Advice: With diverse contexts and programs in our school, having a common focus of embedding formative assessment to improve student learning has unified our efforts. It has provided us with common principles and actions to collaboratively share, discuss, and act on. Teachers appreciate the feedback received from colleagues about actions they have carried out in class since the last meeting. This has helped our Collaborative PLC work on Writing to become more focused and productive.
One-to-one formative feedback seems to be the greatest influence in improving student writing. Identifying effective features in writing samples and co-constructing criteria for success provides writers with a better understanding of the traits of effective writing. We have noticed that learners need modeling and coaching in how to provide peer feedback effectively. Having them focus at only on positive traits of the writing at first is helpful.
We will increase the use of laptops as a writing tool –we noticed that they have made editing and revision easier and students are more motivated to write using the laptops. We will use Read&Write features (speech-to-text, word prediction, etc.) to enable some of our non-writers to be able to express themselves.

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