Friday, August 26, 2011

Text Marking: Using Colouring Pencils in Class

Back to School

For many, August coming to an end and the beginning of September heralds the start of a new academic year. Children return to school after a long summer holiday and seem, to the new teacher, to be a lot further behind than what last year's teacher had promised. Research data shows that children can lose up to 50% of what they gained the previous year. Therefore the first two weeks or up to a month of the school year is  a crucial period in recovering the basics in numeracy and literacy and setting in the routines and structures of the new classroom.

Coloured Pencils

One idea that can transform the tedium of revision into excitement is to use coloured pencils. A much over looked part of most children's equipment (and very cheap to get hold of in the supermarkets), coloured pencils can be used to pull out the prior knowledge and understanding.

  1. Photocopy a page of a reading book that is at the level of the children on the table
  2. After comprehending the text ask the children to mark alternate sentences using two colours and a ruler to underline
  3. Mark the capital letters and full stops
  4. Use a colour to identify nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs etc.
  5. Mark simple and complex sentences, highlight the conjunction
  6. Use wipe-boards to write out sentences and then model sentences using the same structures
Follow Up

Use coloured pencils when children are peer marking work. Ask children to use specific colours to identify the learning intention in the child's work, followed with a written comment and target.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Writing an Alphabet Poem

A simple poem structure can still let you, as the teacher, explore a number of poetic elements. Here I look at using the alphabet poem. Often thought of as over simplistic, this poem will grab all of your students' attention. They will laugh outloud as they explore the different sound effects. All writers, from the weakest to the most boyish, will be happy to have a go.The individual lines are sophisticated enough to stretch the most able of children.You will find the poem linked below with a writing scaffolding template linked as well. Alternatively I have often just put the first few lines on the board (IWB or hand--written) and the structure speaks for itself.

Start a lesson by asking children if they have ever made a sound for a gun while playing a game. Go around the class listening to suggested sounds and phonetically transcribe the sounds on the board for all to see.

Introduce the next poem as about an alien that comes to earth in a spaceship and shoots lots of different things before returning to space. Ask the children to think about the size of the things that the Gwolsh shoots and to decide if this might give an idea to the size of the Gwolsh.

Read A Gwolsh with a Gun by Tricky McDee.

Using the Poem

  1. Look at the structure of the poem - identify the alphabetic pattern
  2. Look at the pattern from line to line where the alphabetic pattern starts (sound effect first word, three words of alliteration, animal/object in the middle of line, effect or what happens on the end)
  3. Spot changes to the pattern - does it matter?
  4. Write their own part to the poem using the writing scaffolding frame here
  5. older or higher ability children can attempt the writing scaffolding without seeing the original poem
Follow Up

Sound effects are for saying out loud. The children should read the poems putting as much effort into making their sound effect words as possible.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Larry's Helmet: Poem and Resources 6-11 yrs of Age

Larry’s Helmet

Larry had a helmet.
He brought it into school.
We all crowded round him,
Thought he looked so cool.
But when you put it on,
It was the strangest of things.
Weird ideas in your head.
New powers at your fingers.

You could make it fire out
Orange lasers at your friends.
Teleport them to the roof,
Till they accept your demands.
Invisibly walk around
Pushing little ‘uns out your way.
Make them think a monster
Had descended on their day.

But the thing I liked the most
Was the timely teacher test.
A smack around the head was when
The helmet worked the best.
Larry's Helmet is a poem by children's poet Tricky McDee. It is a poem that rhymes and that rhyme scheme can be explored. A good source of discussion is whether lines 6 and 8 rhyme. Older children can be introduced to the term half rhyme and could brainstorm half rhyme pairs on their table wipe-boards. 'ing' would be a good place to start with half rhyme creation.

Although Larry's Helmet contains rhyme, it does not mean it needs rhyme to make it a poem. This point must be stressed when teaching. This can be reinforced by asking the children to write their own poems. I will advocate a structured procedure below, but if you have children that understand and appreciate poetry writing, then don't tie them into this procedure. Just ask them to brainstorm around some areas before they set off writing.

The poem can be downloaded here.

6-8 Years of Age

Read the poem a couple of times. Have the children imagine they were putting the helmet on. What powers would it give them?

Write a poem by following the defined structure.
  1. Decide on a child's name and ask them to describe their helmet
  2. Write a line about what the helmet will do to their friends
  3. Write a line about what their helmet will do in class
  4. Write a line about a good/bad thing that the helmet will do (depends on the bias of the first two lines - third should be opposite)
  5. Write a line about when the helmet works the best
For the younger children or in an ESL setting I would brainstorm each of these on the whiteboard; writing the answers given by the children in note form. The lowest ability children will then be able to choose lines from each category; cutting and pasting their ideas together to form their poem.

9-11 years

I would still follow the above structure but ask the children to write rhyming paired lines for each of the lines above. I would also ask the children to consider each of the senses to add depth to the poem. (Consider sight and add a colour - if it fits, consider sound and a suitable adjective.)

Follow up

The writing process should be:
  • think
  • write
  • edit
  • re-draft
  • final draft
Above we covered think and write. The children should be given the opportunity to re-draft and finally do a presentation piece on a regular basis. (At least once every three weeks.) I like to use line guides behind plain white paper. Once they have written it out on paper, ensure they give their work a title and include a design or illustration or illustrated border.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Scaffolding for Learning: A Supportive Framework for Early Learning

"One way in which writing can be nurtured is through scaffolding. Scaffolding essentially means doing some of the work for the student who isn't quite ready to accomplish a task independently. Like the supports that construction workers use on buildings, scaffolding is intended to be temporary. It is there to aid the completion of a task and it is eventually removed."
Clare et al (1994)
Scaffolding is the support mechanism that is put into place to support learning before learners can work independently.In writing this is many of the elements that go into the writing process, from grammar and punctuation to style and structure. The structure itself of a piece of writing can be broken down and scaffolded as individual elements.
"How teachers interact with students as they complete a task is important to the students' ability to perform the activity. Scaffolding is an instructional technique whereby the teacher models the desired learning strategy or task, then gradually shifts responsibility to the students."
North Central Regional Educational Laboratory

Vytgosky and the Zone of Proximal Development
"Inherent in scaffolded instruction is Lev Vygotsky’s (1978) idea of the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky suggests that there are two parts of a learner’s developmental level: the “actual developmental level” and the “potential developmental level”. The zone of proximal development is “the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers” (Vygotsky, 1978). The zone of proximal development (ZPD) can also be described as the area between what a learner can do by himself and that which can be attained with the help of a ‘more knowledgeable other’ adult or peer. The ‘more knowledgeable other’, or MKO, shares knowledge with the student to bridge the gap between what is known and what is not known. Once the student has expanded his knowledge, the actual developmental level has been expanded and the ZPD has shifted. The ZPD is always changing as the student expands and gains knowledge, so scaffolded instruction must constantly be individualized to address the changing ZPD of each student."

Cooking Up Writing

 The different elements needed for a piece of writing.

We can see quite clearly that writing has an amazing number of elements or skills that need to be combined to create a successful piece of writing. Scaffolding means making children familiar with all of these, so that they can be included in their own writing. Unfortunately as soon as we ask children to produce an original narrative, their technical writing skills are forgotten. I advocate starting out writing by using the already familiar. This means using fairy tales and traditional tales. And using them again and again.

Children in Year 1/Grade 2 can start reproducing the fairytale and therefore allowing them to concentrate on the technical side of writing, i.e. writing in sentences and spelling common words correctly. 

Children in Year 2 and 3/Grade 3 and 4 now familiar with a number of fairy tales can start to replace one or more of the structure elements as they move towards original stories. E.g. Changing the characters but keeping the setting and story line the same.

Children from Year 4/Grade 5 onwards could change a number of elements or even all of them (characters, setting, story ending) but keep the basic structure of the narrative the same.

See later posts that will take this structure and run through it with specific stories. It will also have scaffolding resources that you can access and use in your own classroom.

Twitter as a Teacher Resource

Try these hashtags in the search bar for good (up to date) resources for all teachers: (slight international teaching bias due to current circumstances - see hashtag web-page resource below for larger sample.)


Go here for a larger selection of education based twitter hashtags.

Watch this slide show to show you how twitter can help your teaching practice whether new to the profession, a mature teacher who needs to keep up to date or the teacher who thinks they have all the tools at their finger tips.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Original Authors from the Age of Six

We ask children from a very young age to produce writing. Producing writing is, in itself, a complicated art form. Further, we ask children (as young as six years of age!) to produce original works of fiction.

Not that long ago, many teachers still asked children to produce a piece of writing from just a title starting point - 'A Snowy Day' or 'My Holiday Adventure'! Astoundingly many children would go away and do this and I imagine that there are some successful and sophisticated authors out there who started out in early schooling this way.

Teaching children to write from a young age can be an arduous task. It can feel like you are having to write each line with every child: identifying spelling mistake after spelling mistake in each un-punctuated line; marking the sentences where exciting vocabulary needs to be inserted into the sentence to raise the level of the piece; and then asking them to write 'a little bit more'.

Here at 'House of Teacher' we believe that young children can write but must start of doing so in a highly structured way. When talking about structure we may refer to scaffolding. Scaffolding is put up while a the foundations are laid for a new building. Once it can stand on its own , the scaffolding is taken away. Scaffolding writing takes many different forms from resources and pedagogy to active learning and traditional repetition. Whatever the strategy, the aim is always to produce a happy writer.