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Writing and the International Primary Curriculum
Deidre Hazlewood is Vice-Principal of Primary Years at St Joseph’s Institution International. Deidre has led training on the International Primary Curriculum (IPC) and writing skills. Here she answers some questions about using the IPC to support the development of writing skills:
Question: Why do you think the IPC provides opportunities for helping teachers to support children with their writing?
Deidre answers: Students write well when they are engaged with the writing, see purpose to the writing and when they have open opportunities to be exposed to and inspired by authentic writing experiences. With the topics and themes of the IPC units, students are immersed in stimulating units to motivate and inspire purposeful writing. Students have ideas and inspiration from the units to know what they want to write about. Embedding writing sessions within the context of the unit provides teachers with more lesson time to focus the teaching on the craft of writing.
Question: How do you suggest teachers use the IPC for supporting the development of writing skills?
Deidre answers: By integrating the Language Arts curriculum with the IPC unit of work, students are able to bring to the writing composition a bank of knowledge, ideas and opinions to use in their writing. Using the ‘what’ of the IPC unit to inspire thoughtful and purposeful writing, students are not short of ideas or motivation to write. Teachers are then able to be much more focused on supporting students with the ‘how’ of the writing process.
When teaching a new skill to learners embed it using familiar content. Similarly, when teaching new content, students should be given familiar skills to engage with during the learning process. By applying this concept to the development of writing skills, we need to make sure that when we are teaching a new genre or form of writing, that we are not also linking it too quickly with the content of our unit of work in IPC. It is difficult for students to have to deal with the new information and then also a new form of organising and presenting this information. There does come a point when the two, the content of the unit and the form of the writing, can come together. The challenge for teachers is when to align the two.
Question: What specific writing skills can be applied most readily within the IPC units?
Deidre answers: Non-narrative forms and genres of writing lend themselves readily to most of the units of work. A report of a subject or event; a persuasive leaflet, poster or letter promoting a place or point of view; or a discursive balanced argument for topical issues are ones that first come to mind as specific areas of writing most easily and naturally aligned to units of work.
Note taking skills can be activated and developed for every unit of work through the research lessons. Students use a range of sources to gather this information such as interviewing, observing others, using information texts, viewing film or delving into the Internet.
Question: Can you suggest some ways, in conjunction with the IPC, to encourage reluctant writers?
Deidre answers: I like to use visual literacy to tune reluctant students on to writing. Using images, film or picture books are resources that can be used for all units of work across all grades. Students with hesitancy to read and write can still be exposed to rich language and provocative contexts which can inspire and prompt writing. The power of the image or the sensation of sound can evoke a feeling or opinion with even the most reluctant student.
Some examples of visual texts or film used with IPC units are: Baboon on the Moon (Short Stories, Short films for four to seven year olds, British Film Institute) used with MP1 Day and Night; The Lost Thing (film and picture book by Shaun Tan) used with MP2 Inventions; Mermaid Story an Aboriginal Dreamtime story (animated clip from the Dust Echoes series on www.abc.net.au/dustechoes/) used with Myths and Legends MP3. I simply love the short film Dangle from writer/director Phil Traill which can be found on YouTube. It is another short film from the BFI and guaranteed to tempt even the most reluctant writer to ponder and imagine ‘What if…
Question: Are there any particular IPC units of work that are most valuable for applying a range of writing skills?
Deidre answers: Any unit that is shared with enthusiasm by the teacher and is held by the students with interest, curiosity or passion is going to be a valuable unit for ‘spring boarding’ the students into learning. A unit that inspires students to talk, debate, discuss and share their opinions through talk will result in opportunities for developing writing.
There are a few units that do strike me as having the breadth and depth for developing writing, as they provide the opportunity to develop speaking and listening, reading and writing skills across narrative and non-narrative forms. These examples are also chosen as each of them suits the age and interest level to spark enthusiasm for writing.
In Flowers and Insects (MP1) students can look at poetry, well know fiction titles and of course information books. They develop their reading for research skills and begin to expand their vocabulary for description - this is a great unit for both girls and boys! The Rainforest unit in MP2 again can look at all text types and inspires rich language development within a motivating unit suited to 8 year olds. Lastly, one of my favourite units is the thought-provoking Migration unit in MP3. This internationally rich unit provides numerous avenues in which students can read about personal accounts, research historical and geographical events and be exposed to some thought-provoking historical fiction texts that motivate writing.
Question: Can you give any advice to teachers about the planning of literacy outcomes (particularly writing) within an IPC unit of work?
Deidre answers: Always begin by thinking about what the desired learning outcome is – for both the unit of work and the language arts unit itself. If there are authentic links there, then choose quality texts and experiences that will allow them to discover the path to this outcome. Don’t be in a rush to get to the writing itself as it is the talk for writing, the drama, the reading of quality texts, the viewing, and the planning that will support classroom instruction and develop deep engagement and understanding.
Question: During a review of the impact/success of integrating writing, what types of questions should a teacher be asking him/herself – can you give one or two examples of this?
Deidre answers: Reflection by the teacher, team of teachers and students at the end of a unit of work is an integral part of raising and maintain standards. Not just from unit to unit, but also year on year. I have two simple questions that I ask.
- What do my students know/know how to do now that they did not know at the beginning of this unit of writing?
- How was this achieved? Outline what it was that had the most impact in supporting or initiating learning. Equally, reflections need to be prepared to answer the question - What hindered the learning?
Similarly, I use these questions successfully with students during the Shared Reading of model texts to really unpack the impact and success of writing.
- What impact on the reader did the author achieve? What were they trying to achieve?
- How did they do this?
Keeping the questions simply to these two will highlight good practice and ensure the continued development of skills.
Question: Many teachers are already addressing a number of literacy skills within the IPC without explicitly identifying them as such. What advice can you offer to teachers to help them make sure they are more aware of this progress that they are implicitly making?
Deidre answers: Good teachers naturally and continuously make implicit links so that students experience the genuine integration of knowledge and skills. Outstanding teachers also do this, however they additionally pinpoint precisely when to make key skills explicit to learners. This judgment is based on accurate formative assessment and is key to the development of writing skills. Bringing this back to practical advice for teachers would be to ensure that the assessment of student learning informs future planning which in turn pinpoints specific and tangible goals for development on which to base and set the criteria for the next opportunity for assessment.
Question: Can you recommend any writing experts to support teachers with their approach to teaching the literacy skills required through the IPC?
Deidre answers: Writing Essentials by Reggie Routman and Enhancing Writing Instruction by Bonnie Campbell Hill and Carrie Ekey are key texts for establishing and embedding a school’s philosophy and approach to writing. These books specifically and explicitly demonstrate practical, easy to implement strategies that turn writing instruction practices into best practices. They outline how to support all learners on the path of writing from first draft to final publication and across all areas of the Language Arts Curriculum.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity when working for the Primary Strategy (UK) to deliver training and support for teachers on the Talk for Writing materials from Pie Corbett. Ensuring that there are plenty of opportunities for students to talk about their thoughts, play with language and rationalise or discover their thinking is crucial throughout the writing process. I would recommend Jumpstart – Poetry as a great book for inspirational writing prompts and activities. There are other books in this series too. One that I have on order at the moment is Talk for Writing Across the Curriculum, Pie Corbett and Julia Strong. From what I hear, it will support both classroom practice and whole school inset.
Revision and editing work is such an important part of the writing process. The Reviser’s Toolbox, by Barry Lane, is a useful and inspirational book for any teacher wanting to nurture thoughtful and dynamic writers. It will support with ways to develop writer’s voice and the craft of writing.
Question: Many teachers refer to boys as being particularly reluctant writers. Can you offer these teachers any advice for making writing more engaging/relevant for boys?
Deidre answers: To engage and motivate boys it has been documented that they respond positively to writing when opportunities provide:
- a clear sense of purpose to the writing
- collaboration with others through response partners and group compositions
- time to rehearse and develop ideas through drama
- logical and systematic links to other subject areas
- some writing sessions without the initial constraints of secretarial features, for example writing journals
- deliberate use of visual texts and visual approaches to writing with explicit discussion of how these relate to writing
But first and foremost, tune them into reading. Whet their appetite with quality texts to inspire a love for language and show them how it looks. Boys need to also see their Dad’s reading and writing too. So organise Mystery Reader sessions with these role models or a Dad’s writing workshop.
Question: Can you explain the difference between writing that is inspired by a unit of work (e.g. we’re doing the Holiday unit so we can write reports when we do a travel brochure), and writing that is fully integrated within the unit of work which, as a result, provides opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of the unit?
Deidre answers: Writing that is inspired by a unit of work has used an idea or experience from the unit to provide a meaningful ‘excuse’ to write’. We have seen many wonderful pieces of writing born from an inspiration from the unit, such examples include Grade 1 students writing letters of admiration and gratitude to their favourite toys as part of their unit on Toys. Of course writing that has been inspired from the unit is valued and has place within our curriculum. It is fun, motivating and meaningful to the children and a lot of our writing opportunities have originated from inspiration from the unit.
Integrated writing units see the key goals and outcomes of the unit being supported and enhanced by the opportunities for writing which have been carefully designed by the teacher. Processes such as the effective use of drama and the reading of quality texts provide further models and experiences for the students to use to develop their understanding of the unit. An example of a fully integrated unit has been with our Grade 2 students in looking at Traditional Tales around the world. To further develop their understanding that people and societies are separate yet integrated, we took the tale of Cinderella and explored how this story is shared and interpreted in many different cultures on the basis of their traditions, beliefs and lifestyles. This is going beyond using the unit to motivate or hook the writer, it uses literature to illustrate.
Question: In your own school, as a result of the IPC, have you noticed an impact on writing standards across the curriculum?
Deidre answers: Our students love writing because they really get to experience the impact their writing has on the reader when we showcase or integrate their writing with our Exit Points or Celebration of Learning mornings. When students are motivated through purpose and audience they put pride and effort into their composition and take ownership of the editing when conferencing with the teacher.
Question: What are the next steps for developing literacy through the IPC in your school?
Deidre answers: We would like to ensure that there is a thoughtful balance between writing that is inspired by the IPC units of work, writing that is integrated with and enhances the enduring learning of an IPC unit of work and writing that is born from intrinsically motivated writers. We believe that all have their place and value here in our school. The first with reason to motivate, the second with reason to support understanding and the third with reason to develop the writer within every child.