For too many years I’ve been complaining about the standard of my students’ writing, the lack of effort they put into it (some don’t even bother to do it such is their lack of effort!) and the disregard for the personalised comments I painstakingly write on each and every writing task (I teach 12-16 year olds by the way.) I have been known to make clear my resulting feelings of frustration and disappointment quite vociferously, none of which makes for a positive classroom atmosphere…
Enough was enough! After speaking to my students I came to the conclusion that a lot of them don’t write well in English because:
- They find it difficult
- They find some of the topics uninspiring
- They take shortcuts and don’t follow my “steps to success”
- They don’t reflect on the writing process
- They are only interested in knowing their mark
So, how to ensure they find it less difficult, more engaging, follow the
necessary steps, reflect on the task and my comments to get better at writing? How to set them up for success?
Anyone who read my recent blog post Why flipped learning as got me excited will know that I am as much a newbie to flipped learning as I am an enthusiast. Since participating in the EVO sessions back in February, I have been trying to incorporate (little by little) flipped learning into my teaching practice and the “writing dilemma” seemed to be a perfect opportunity to try out some flipping…
This is how it used to go before I (kind of) flipped it:
- Students read the model writing task in the text book and completed questions related to it in class
- Students did the preparation (plan), draft and final version of the writing task from the textbook at home
- Students handed in (or not) their writing task
- I corrected their writing task and handed it back with comments/suggestions for improvement
- Students looked at their mark, maybe complained (because they had written more than X and X got a better mark, just not fair!) and then it disappeared, never to be seen again, except perhaps in the bin! (Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little but you get the picture…)
- Teacher pulled her hair out…
- Students repeated steps 1-5 including all previous errors
- Teacher pulled her hair out (again!)
This is how it went when I (kind of) flipped it:
I say “kind of” because we watched the vídeo in class as my students didn’t have access to it outside of class. Ideally they would watch the video at home and we would have more time in class for the higher order skills work.
The task was to watch a 2.30 minute video about a teenage African girl’s typical day and write a summary of her day.
- Students engaged in a pre-task discussion about schools in Africa to arouse curiosity and activate prior knowledge.
- Students watched the video and answered true/false questions and discussed in what way the girl’s day was, not similar/quite similar/very similar to theirs.
- Students watched the video again (x2) and made notes about the girl’s typical day.
- In their cooperative learning groups, they shared their information and made a plan for the writing task, using paragraphs to organise their summary. I, meanwhile was free to monitor and guide students.
- When happy with their plan, they wrote a first draft.
- I collected the drafts and highlighted problem areas.
- The next class they revised and edited their draft together before writing the final version.
- Students consulted a checklist before the next stage.
- Have you included all the information?
- Have you organised your work in paragraphs?
- Have you used linkers (and, but, because)?
- Have you used time expressions (in the morning etc…)?
- Teams shared their summaries, and using a very basic rubric, assessed them. After reading the other teams’ summaries they assessed their own before handing them in for correcting.
- I returned the corrected summaries to the teams who read my comments and corrections and copied their objectives for the next task (use more linkers, use a dictionary to check spelling, position of adverbs of frequency use punctuation! Etc.)
- Finally, after looking at my corrections and comments, teams predicted their mark which I then shared with them.
Although not perfect, the end results were pretty good and students had engaged with the task, helping each other, discussing and explaining vocabulary, spelling and grammar etc. Working in their cooperative learning teams, the task hadn’t seemed so difficult. As well as peer support they had my support, as I was free to monitor and guide teams in the right direction. Did they follow my steps to success? (plan, draft, revise, edit, publish) They had no choice as the classes were staged that way 😉 Did they reflect on the writing process and pay attention to my comments? Again, they had little choice. This stage was built into the lesson and as they didn’t get their mark until the very last moment, it didn’t distract them.
This first writing task I (kind of) flipped was based on a video taken from the textbook rather than based on one of the model writing tasks, however, the second writing task I flipped was based on a model text from the textbook. Rather than consign the textbook to the bin (it’s had a lot of bad press recently) I think we should treat it as we do any other materials and resources we have available to us, pick and choose what is relevant for our classes and use or adapt as we see fit.
This is how it went when I flipped the writing task using a model text from the textbook:
- Students engaged in a pre-task discussion about the topic to arouse curiosity and activate prior knowledge.
- Students read the model text and answered the questions about it at home, at their own pace. The kind of questions students have to answer, draw their attention to relevant content, linguistic structures, cohesive devices…
- In their cooperative learning teams, students compared their answers and had an opportunity to discuss, reach a consensus and change their answers if necessary. Using the cooperative learning strategy numbered heads together students shared their final answers with the rest of the class.
- Students did the preparation (plan) together in class in their cooperative learning teams, while I monitored and provided guidance.
- When students were happy with their plan, they began working on the first draft .
Steps 6-11 were the same as above.
So far so good, results have been encouraging and our next step is to complete a writing task individually but still do the hard part (the writing) in class with peer and teacher support. I am also on the lookout for short videos on YouTube or similar platforms (easily accessed outside of class enabling a full flip!) which reflect my students’ interests and can provide the inspiration for future writing tasks…
Flipping writing might just be the way my students become better writers and I manage to keep my hair!