I had a great conversation recently with a primary school teacher friend who’s also a literacy specialist/enthusiast/guru. What quickly became clear through our lengthy couch meanderings was that a lot of the challenges students face at secondary school are not due to lack of effort and energy expended by our primary colleagues earlier on.
Primary teachers have amazing depth of knowledge when it comes to breaking down concepts for students, modelling skills and providing awesome opportunities for them to develop their writing. Here’s an activity my 9 year-old son did at his school last week using James K Baxter’s My Town poem as a starter. And here’s Harrison’s poem:
The town was usual enough; it had
A dairy,a bridge,a creek,a sky
Over it, and even a school that I never went to.
Me, my brother and Dad
Did what boys
Do best, made huts, biked
To the park, dodged the creepy old man
Who lived in our neighbourhood.
We jumped off the bridge,bought lollies
And chomped them down, scootered
To the beach
Doing nothing important.
Inspired by James K Baxter
Why then are so many of our students struggling with basic literary skills at secondary school? Are they simply reaching a plateau and stalling? Is the stagnation in written skills directly related to a drop off in reading? Is their inability to delay gratification a hand brake on truly engaging with the writing process? Did video kill the radio star?!
Among the many awesome suggestions my friend shared was The Literacy Shed website. I was drawn to the visual tasks available in the music videos “shed” and the animation “shed.” (Sheds being section on the site). A quick skim of suggested tasks yielded heaps of great ideas that we could use around novel studies, literary responses and tasks to inspire creative writing. There are also several sheds related to genre which could be helpful for secondary teachers.
While some of the content targets a younger age group, over the past three weeks I’ve been using clips and ideas from the music video and animation sheds as part of a unit on creative writing with my Year 10s. This group of learners is loosely referred to as “low to middle ability” but really, they are low – Level 1-4 of NZC currently based on beginning of year samples around writing, spelling age and reading. This prompted a complete rethink of several tasks I had planned to do with them.
The Literacy Shed has enabled me to implement differentiation in a meaningful way. For clips used, I have tapped into some of the suggestions on the website then developed them further for a Year 10 audience. I felt it was also important to tell the students that I don’t expect all of them to complete all the tasks – they are quite open with where they are at currently and a quick word in their ear is all that is needed to get everyone underway.
We start each lesson with our writing journals and a clear learning objective which is on the board and stated verbally. This has ranged from “Today we are going to look at good ways of describing how people feel” to using words with clear connotations etc. We watch the clip once and I ask 4-5 focus oral questions to ensure we all know WHAT happened. This in itself can be an hilarious exchange of ideas …
I then project a series of journal tasks ranging from straight forward identifying to retelling to describing to more sophisticated skills such as point of view writing or dialogue or continuing a narrative. My big objective is to prepare them for a creative writing assessment in Term 2 where their task is to describe a character independently. By the end of this term they will have been exposed to:
- Adjectives and adverbs
- Strong verbs and neutral verbs
- Synonyms and antonyms
- Connotative language
- Emotive language
- Show Don’t tell
This leaves me the first few weeks of Term 2 to work on sentence structure, sentence starters and types as well as some basic punctuation. I also need to get them concentrating on their writing independently for longer periods of time, a big challenge for kids with such a large range of learning needs. Even if they are making small gains in their learning progressions, they are certainly all coming to class with their journals, ready to go and feeling as if they have achieved something. And hopefully, they are gaining some enjoyment out of the process.
Below are a couple of sample “lessons” you are most welcome to use:
David Guetta – Titanium
In your journal DESCRIBE the opening scene, use show not tell. Do a OR b OR c:
a) draw and label scene
b) create a word bank
c) write a paragraph
2.Discuss with a partner. At the end:
Who is to blame?
Is the boy acting in self-defence?
Can he control his powers?
3. In your journal, do one:
- If you could have any superpower what would it and why?
- You wake up one morning and find you have incredible physical strength. What would you do? How would your life change?
- Draw, design and label your own superhero. What power, name and costume would they have?
- Write a newspaper report of the events that happened in the video. Include interviews with the teacher, parents and police-officers.
Don’t Go – short animation
- Use adverbs to describe Pinky’s actions E.g: Danced vigorously
- Use adverbs to describe the cat’s actions E.g: Sprang menacingly
- Write a set of instructions as a list of bullet points on how to avoid being caught by a cat
- Retell the story from the cat’s point of view. Use strong verbs and adverbs to describe how events unfold….
I was minding my own business when suddenly, Pinky dashed in front of me…
Emile Sande – Free
- Make an emotion graph to show how the boy is feeling at different points in the video
- Summarise by writing a sentence that explains how the boy was feeling at the start and at the end
- Create an adjective bank to describe the boy’s feelings
- Create your own similes and metaphors for the boy’s actions
Eg: He flies like a bird. He is as free as a bird.
- Research 5 facts about Jokke Summer