Let’s Get Writing

If there is one thing I am really passionate about, it’s enabling students to become independent writers. Giving them not only the skills but in the belief in themselves that they can do it.

It’s very easy with the most challenging students, to avoid challenges and the behaviours that come along with those challenges. No teacher and no parent wants to see students upset. However, we also have to ask ourselves what our purpose as teachers is? And if ultimately one of our purposes is to prepare students for real life after school, we have to ensure not only that those students who are cognitively able to read and write do so, but also that the are able to face challenges head on and deal with those challenges, believing that they can.

Over the past few years, in two different locations, I’ve encountered students who have come to me as non-writers. Some at 11 haven’t yet been able to form letters, some haven’t had the phonetic knowledge to create sounds and others have the skills but have simply refused to write in their previous placements. All of these students have learnt to write and learnt to write confidently. They have learnt to believe in themselves.

I don’t have a magic wand, but I do have a lot of perseverance. I believe strongly in the fact that it’s worth going through the tough times to come out the other side. I believe that all my students can do it. And most of all, I believe that a small amount of independent work is worth a page full of work that has been done by someone else.

Scribing can be really harmful. All too often it’s used as a way of covering material, a way of differentiating for students who have no way of keeping up. And I understand that, I understand the why. Content, especially in today’s exam driven world is important. But, we need also to look at the bigger picture. We need to ensure that students have the basics. We need to be flexible enough to stand up, be counted, and change the lesson objective for that child. We need to allow them time to write, to develop their skills. Whether that be through handwriting, or through the use of technology – we need to give our students independence. We need to give them belief in themselves.

So next time there is a student in your room who can’t keep up, stop a minute and think. What does this student really need? Do they really need all the facts of the industrial revolution recorded in their book in year seven? Do they really need to write a full page story? Or can you use this time to build their skills, build their independence and belief in themselves?

It’s only by doing this that we will see true progress. If we scribe for a student throughout year seven, we will still be doing so in year eleven. If we promote independence in year seven, who knows where that student will go…

Push Your Own Boundaries

If there is one thing in the classroom that terrifies me, it’s technology. It’s something I know I need to get better at; I mean apart from anything else, if I can master it the differentiation possibilities are endless. My students love anything technology related, it instantly motivates them and I have no doubt that when my lessons include it they produce better work and learn more.

So this summer, my self-set mission, is to improve my knowledge and work out creative ways to include more technology in my room. Yesterday, the perfect opportunity came along. Whilst I was sitting totally in my comfort zone at home cutting out pieces of paper for the interactive notebooks I’m making for my GCSE group, a suggestion was made to me by a fellow twitter user (well worth getting onto if you haven’t already – the teaching community on there is amazing). The suggestion: Why don’t you add QR codes? QR codes, I thought – what on earth are they?

Anyway it turned out the QR codes are those little picture links that you scan which take you directly to websites. After the initial ‘There is no way I can do that’ panic subsided, I followed the link sent, to http://ictevangelist.com an amazing blog full of wonderful tips, downloaded the recommended app QRAfter (only £1.49) and started to play.

Much to my delight, it was ridiculously easy. Pick a website, type the web address into the app, press a button and hey presto, you have a little picture link. The app emails the link directly to you, meaning you can immediately print it off. I’ve stuck mine directly into the interactive notebooks I’ve made, so they’ll lead straight to links about what it was like to be a cotton picker in 1930s America, and what racial segregation at the time of Maya Angelou’s childhood looked like. But, for larger classes you could just as easily print the link out and put it on a poster in the room.

We have access to two iPads in the unit and I’m going to download the scanner onto them (totally free of charge), but I’m thinking I may also let students use their own phones. The excitement in my KS4 group would be literally palpable if I TOLD them to get their phones out in a lesson. It would be a sure fire way of guaranteeing engagement, even in an early morning lesson.

This app is differentiation at its best. It allows you to incorporate visual content into your lesson. It promotes engagement from those students who find traditional methods of taking information on-board challenging. It even provides a way of allowing students who are unable to read and/ or write to access online video content independently.

This is technology that anyone can do. Trust me. If I can do it, you can. What are you waiting for? Give it a go today….