28 September 2013

Scaffolding Writing: Authentic Audience

For the past few weeks I have been working on scaffolding my IGCSE Second Language English class. These lessons arose out of the start of year assessment we conducted to determine levels and needs. This is pure assessment for learning.

The writing was very weak and in reality, way below the prerequisite for success at this level. However, as I am a big believer in self-fulfilling prophecies, I told them what a great start they had made and proceeding to dig deep to form some solid foundations to allow them the success they deserve.

The IGCSE exam requires learners to write two essays of between 100-200 words each, depending on the level of paper they sit. One requires formal register, and one, informal register - normally a letter. AfL dictated that a letter was at present out of reach and so, my little unit on postcards was born.

Previously, I have written about the first two weeks of this plan which involved:
  • labelling an image of a beach to provide and expand vocabulary
  • completing cloze sentences using the vocabulary
  • writing their own sentences using the vocabulary
  • scanning and skimming postcards for language patterns
  • drafting postcards to someone in the room
  • writing responses to these drafts
  • searching for relevant images
  • note making about personal experiences
  • recording descriptions orally
  • listening to peers aurally
  • questioning peers about their descriptions
You can read about these two phases in my posts Scaffolding Beginner ESL and Fotobabble.

This week I used an authentic audience to encourage and engage my class.

We are lucky enough to have a sister-school in Malaysia where I also used to work. A colleague there found out about this unit and offered up her Year 8 class as an audience to send postcards to.

I prepared for the week by accessing the Year 8 website my colleague shared with me. On here, there is a clickable image created using Thinglink out of photographs of each learner in the class. Each link takes users to the blog for each learner where an introduction has been posted. Most are Vlogs, some are Glogs.

I paired up each of my learners with a Year 8 learner. For those who are ready to be pushed slightly more, I paired them up with two penpals.

Lessons leading to the writing of the postcards continued from prior lessons, as outlined in my previous posts Scaffolding Beginner ESL and Fotobabble

I provided the list of penpals and the link to the Year 8 website. My learners had to locate their partner and go to their blog to learn about them.

I provided a sheet with prompts asking them to write down at least three things they learned about their penpal, though provided space for more to challenge those working at a more advanced level. I then asked them to think of three things they would like to share with their penpal and at least one question they would like to ask them. All these had to be based on the notes they had made and the understanding they had about their penpal.

They really enjoyed learning about the Year 8s and were excited about having someone real to write to. The prospect of getting a reply really motivated them and this strengthened my belief about the positive impact authentic tasks have on learning and engagement.

Following this, I asked them to decide how they would greet their penpal and how they would end their postcard. They also had to decide on some common phrases they were going to use. All this required them to transfer the learning they had done in prior lessons from identifying language patterns in postcards.

They then drafted their postcards and had them checked over. Finally, they chose a postcard from a selection I had brought in (found and collected free from bars and museums around Singapore) and copied their messages neatly onto them.

Some of my most challenged and reluctant writers completed the writing without any input, prompting or support from me AND with minimal mistakes. This was a real breakthrough as these learners were loathe to string even a single sentence together five weeks ago. 

I posted off the postcards at the end of the week and look forward to receiving some replies.

My next stage will be to develop this into longer pieces and letters of 100-200 words. I do believe they will get there.

I am so proud of their progress and work. I can see tangible improvement that makes all the hard work and planning I have put into this unit totally and utterly worth it.

22 September 2013

Scaffolding Writing: Fotobabble

Last week, I wrote about how I broke down informal writing for my second language IGCSE class.

This post outlines the second part of the learning - you can read about the first part, on my post, Scaffolding Beginner ESL. Briefly, the first part involved:

  • using an image of a beach to label and provide vocabulary
  • cloze sentences using the vocabulary
  • writing their own sentences using the vocabulary
  • scanning and skimming postcards for language patterns
  • drafting postcards to someone in the room
  • writing responses to these drafts
This week, I included some speaking and listening using FOTOBABBLE. 

Fotobabble is an easy to use website that allows learners to upload a photograph or image of their choice and then record themselves talking about it.

First, we found images of either places they had been, or places they have always wanted to go to. They also had the opportunity to use Facebook or Instagram to use photos of themselves in the actual places they wanted to talk about.

They then made some bullet point notes about their chosen image using some prompts I gave them, and topics we had identified as common from the last lesson.

Learners then signed up to Fotobabble.com - where you can sign in using Facebook OR email. Once signed in, all they needed to do was click CREATE A FOTOBABBLE and add the photo or image they had decided to use (these can be from the hard drive, the Internet or Facebook). There is also a range of themes to add to the background of their image.

Next, they recorded themselves talking about their image, based on the notes they had made. To record, they pressed 'record'. When they were done, they pressed 'stop'. We had to try this twice as they forgot to press SAVE the first time - see my Fotobabble below, which I created to trial the recording, and to remind them to press save!

Once they had finished their recordings, I paired them up. Each had to listen to their partner and ask at least two W questions. We have been working on open questions using the five W words (what, when, where, why, who) following sustained silent reading (SSR) time, and this was a great opportunity to transfer this skill, as well as ensure their listening was active.

Next, we are going to do some more listening, reading and writing by linking up with another school, viewing their blogs and then writing actual postcards to post to them. Click here to read about this opportunity to engage learners with an Authentic Audience.

Information Overload: Google Keep - Helping Learners get Organised

Our school is 1:1 but in its infancy. It is a new initiative that will revolutionise our learner's experience of education. However, teaching learners to manage themselves in a paperless way is posing somewhat of a challenge.

Homework in particular is a problem; the recording of homework specifically, is an issue. I use Edmodo to post homework. I use Google Calendar, which is embedded in their page on my Learning Site, and shared with them to add to their own calendars. I also use the school site, which is the party line. Homework is therefore recorded for them in three places, so they have many ways to find it.

Are they doing it? No, not always.

Part of the problem might be the lack of transference. We know that the physical act of writing helps learning. If they are passively receiving homework instructions, perhaps they are not actively engaging with it.

Ever-searching for solutions to help my learners organise themselves digitally, I recently found out about Google Keep - which seems to be a well-kept secret. Developed to challenge Evernote (which I have used for years), Google Keep could offer a solution - particularly as we employ Google Apps for Education.

It is like 'Sticky Notes', which I used before I found Evernote BUT it is in the Cloud. Rumours abound that it will also become integrated with Drive (some geeks have delved into the code: read here).

It is available on Apple and Android. I simply typed in Google Keep. In 30 seconds I had created this:
Example Google Keep

Each subject could be a different colour
Notes can be viewed in list or grid view in a similar way to Drive.

To help as a homework organisation tool, they can be colour-coded to easily identify different subjects.

Recognisable Google icons
Images can be inserted, completed work archived and mistakes deleted with the click of a button - all using icons used in Drive, which our learners will recognise.

Set a reminder
What is also very helpful, is that reminders can be set up for particular dates and times. The times are pre-determined for morning, afternoon or evening OR you can pick a time of your own.

A pop up then appears on the screen that has to be clicked to be removed (obviously, they can forget again once they have clicked it but hey, we can only do so much!).

This week, I think I might trial this with a few classes to see how they feel about it.

I hope Google Keep will offer a solution to some learners at least.  The more options we provide in helping them become information literate and manage their workload the better. I think Google Keep is simple and easy to use. It is similar to Drive, which they are now familiar with and I believe it could be effective in helping them record and manage their homework.

14 September 2013

Informal Writing: Scaffolding Beginner ESL

My Year 11 class are working on informal writing. As part of their IGCSE assessment, they have to to be able to write using appropriate register and style. This involves their being able to interpret the question in order that they are able to identify the correct language to use. It means they also have to have the language ability to choose the correct diction, tone and formality level.

Last week, we worked on PAT - Purpose (why), Audience (who) and Text Type (what) and they had a go at identifying these three things in a number of different tasks. This means they have some skills at begin able to unpack a task and make decisions about how to format their answer as well as the kind of language they need to use.

Informal letters are a common assessment task in the IGCSE exam. Planning backwards from this final outcome, I designed the following lessons.

Build vocabulary: I found an image of a beach with plenty of things going on and asked learners to label it.

After a minute or so, I provided a list of words to expand and support their learning of vocabulary.

We then discussed the words and the labels using a blown up labelled version I had prepared and laminated. We discussed spelling and pronunciation for words such as 'island' and 'buoy'.

Sentence Work: Next, learners were given a set of 12 cloze activity sentences using the words covered and the image.

Listening: learners swapped their sheets as I read the answers and they marked each other's work.

Writing: learners then had to write three sentences of their own using the image. Learners working at a higher level were asked to develop their sentences to include two objects; use connectives; use prepositions etc.

Reinforcing: we discussed postcards and went over the PAT. I had a postcard to show them as a concrete object to hang their understanding off.

a) Skimming: I gave them an example of the text from a postcard (personalised with names from our class in). I asked them to skim read to get a general idea.
They then read it again more slowly to underline words they didn't understand before moving on.

b) Scanning: They had some basic multiple choice questions to answer about the content. We talked about knowing that proper nouns and names of cities and countries are capitalised as a way of scanning to find this kind of information.

c) Scanning: Outside the classroom, I had stuck up 15 examples of real postcards. Each was numbered 1-15 and had an image of the actual postcard, with a typed up version of the text beneath it. Learners were given 5 minutes to run around to each postcard and scan to find out where each one had been sent from. They recorded each place on a sheet next to the number of the postcard.

We returned to the room and checked our answers.

d) Scanning: Learners were sent back out again to look for more specific details: patterns of language for greetings, saying goodbye, common phrases and common topics. Beginner learners were also provided with some examples for each.

Again, we returned to the room and went over our answers.

Writing: using this learning, learners then had to write a suitable reply. Scaffolding was provided for those who needed it:

Finally, learners then had to write their own postcard from a place of their choosing to a person in the room. This again, was scaffolded for beginners.

They will plan out their responses in their books then I will provide them with an actual postcard to write on to.

They will deliver it to their classmate, who will craft a suitable response on another postcard (I picked up a load of free ones in a bar).

Part two of this lesson involved speaking and listening using FOTOBABBLE. Read about this here.

Following this, we will move on to informal letter writing. More on this to follow.

Lesson designed with ideas from 'The ESL/ELL Teachers Survival Guide' and TeachitWorld.com.

Running and Writing: Inspiring Year 8 Descriptive Writing

My Year 8s are working on autobiographical writing in a unit I have called, 'Scraps of Me'.

The final outcome is a scrapbook of five important life events. They will create a scrapbook and each page features an image and a paragraph describing the event and the impact it had on their life.

A final paragraph explores how these events have contributed to their sense of self; of who they believe they are.

Scaffolding up to this, we have been working on time lines that graph out positive and negative experiences with short descriptions. We have also been focusing on nouns and adjectives, as our assessment focus is to write imaginative and interesting texts.

Yesterday, I tried "Running Dictation", an idea suggested to me by a colleague.

Learners were in differentiated teams according to ability and given a team colour - red, blue, green and orange. Each team was given a space in the classroom, a large piece of paper, a marker and a set of (differentiated) instructions. Click here to see a Vine of them in action.

Around the space outside of the classroom, I had stuck up the previous evening, coloured sets of sentences. They were all based on the same information but differentiated according to the tasks required by each team.

The aim was to take turns to run out of the classroom (they made sure their pathways were clear before we started and I emphasised safety) and find a sentence of their team's colour. They had to memorise it and run back and dictate it to another team member, who recorded it on their large paper. They tagged another team member who went out to find more. They had ten to find in total. Click here for another Vine.

They quickly realised the need to communicate, as they runners were not paying attention to the sentences the others were dictating so they were duplicating the same ones.

Once all ten were collected, they followed the instructions on their sheet. Some had to find the noun phrases and underline them. Some had to find the nouns and then make nouns phrases. All teams then tried to use the sentences to make a story - this was originally an activity reserved for only the higher level tasks, but all teams did so well, I asked them all to do it.

We gathered on the mat with the visualiser and teams then showed their stories and explained why they chose the sentence order they did. They were really thinking about the story and how to build tension through the order of their sentences. We talked about how the sentences with the subject had to go before those with the pronouns, so the reader would know who 'he' was. We talked about the order of adjectives and their impact; we discussed how to build a sense of atmosphere and how to create effective open endings that left us wanting more rather than left us feeling the story just hadn't been finished. All using only ten sentences. It was a great opportunity to discuss writing at word, sentence and text level.

The whole activity was great - there was lots of movement and more importantly, lots of learning. It is a technique I think I will use again to engage and inspire deep thinking and effective writing.

08 September 2013

Inspiring a Writing Community

I have started this year with a commitment to develop literacy through reading and writing. I dedicate the start of every lesson to ten minutes silent reading. Sometimes I listen to the learners read, sometimes I ask them to tell me about their reading. Read about this in my post, Inspiring a Reading Community.

We also write for fifteen to twenty minutes each lesson. This writing is done in a separate book to their lesson work. It is an opportunity to explore and play with language and is a chance to write what they want to write. Read about how I set this up and where I got my inspiration in my post, Spilling Ink.

Each lesson they are given the option to:
- write something they need to write about
- re-work or continue with something they have previously written
- use the writing prompt.

I provide a new writing prompt each week - and they can write a poem, a list, a story, a letter, a speech, a script - whatever they want.

Some prompts I have used so far this year are:-

Read about my adventures last year, with Rip the Page, which I hope to continue to explore this year.

In the past, I have also used music, art or video to inspire and prompt. This morning I was exploring Vimeo and found this wonderfully simple yet incredibly clever little animation. This is going to be my prompt for this week... I hope it inspires some interesting and thoughtful writing.

Umbra (HD - 2010) from Malcolm Sutherland on Vimeo.

Inspiring a Reading Community

I have started this year with a commitment to develop literacy through reading and writing. I dedicate the start of every lesson to ten minutes silent reading. Sometimes I listen to the learners read, sometimes I ask them to tell me about their reading.

After each session, learners complete a reading log. They summarise or ask questions, predict or write about how they reading made them feel. Sometimes I ask them to talk about their reading with a partner or small group. Sometimes we share reading as a class.

We use Edmodo as a learning portal, and I am amazed at the sharing that has been going on about books. My Year 7 class in particular are constantly writing on Edmodo to each other about the books they are reading or making recommendations.

I have also set up a Reading Buddy programme. In the first week of the academic year, I asked all my classes to write to me about things they would like to do in English this year. My Year 7s asked to read with primary learners.
I approached the Head of Primary who announced the proposal in a meeting and, two weeks later, our programme was launched.

Learners completed a Reading Buddy Google Survey stating their interests and favourite books. I worked with the Year 4 teacher to match up learners based on this information as well as on ability, gender and personality.

My learners visited the library to look at suitable texts for the level of their learners. I gave them a Reading Buddy Guide and they practised with each other. They prepared flash cards, work sheets and activities to help their buddy. They were fabulous.

We met in the library on Wednesday and they went off in their pairs - and it was wonderful. There are so many diverse learners from so many countries with so many different abilities and different needs. Yet, for 30 minutes, they all sat and they all read and they all smiled. I think - I hope- they all learned something too - about themselves as a reader, learner or teacher.

They complete a log of what they do each week, as well as a record of words they notice their buddy struggling with. They use this information to plan for the next session.

We plan to meet each week and evaluate at the end of the term. If successful, we will roll the programme out to the rest of the school and ask Year 7 to train up new buddies.

One small step closer to a reading community...

Read about my Spilling Ink adventures in writing.

Take a look at http://www.keenreaders.org/reading-buddy-programs/how-to-start-one