Encouraging High Quality Writing

three cookies with a bit of chocolate meltin on the heater

  Image: “How to melt bits of chocolate on cookies at the work place

Better Blogguing with Students Course – Week Four #edublogs

I

      Taking the risk to be trivial, I would start by remembering the fundamentals: 

      I really believe you must love deeply both the unique students you have the privilege to serve and the creative and somehow amazing process of writing. Otherwise it just won’t work; as Christian Bobin so vividly puts it: “To write and to love are the same.”

II

a small girl writing

Image: Writing in our tiny Workshop

     Then, I will share just what I live, in my daily context: our Writing Workshop doesn’t take volunteers; on the contrary, kids are sent to us through a process that involves both language teachers, “responsible for the classroom teachers” and our wonderful staff of Educational Psychologists.

     Thus, my young “clients” usually struggle with at least one of the main abilities and skills that writing implies, such as low fine motor skills, dyslexia, dysgraphia, emotional fragility, PHDA, or any sort of hidden obstacle that is blocking their creativity or their effective learning.

     Concerning technical difficulties, the internet connection remains slow on the third floor – where we work – and my kids haven’t been immersed, yet, in the culture of typing, although I suggest them to download a typing software and try it by themselves, five minutes a day. As the young students of Mrs Yollis so clearly explain in their video: “Typing Matters”.

     The other feature that characterizes our work background is the lack of stimuli and training concerning reflection. One could expect that it should flow naturally from young minds, but within our traditional learning environment, it seems to have turned into a hard task, painful to accomplish, due to the load of subjects to deliver. Of course you also find those amazing teachers that master the art of reaching beyond the short horizon of the curriculum, to support their students in the quest for raising the questions that ignite the sparkle of reflection.

III

an empty nest

Hopefully, young writers will be leaving the nest of their confort zone and fly away…

     Finally, students must be helped to discover that they have something unique to say; that they are sent into this exciting mission of conquering their own voice. They don’t have to become professional authors or published writers – although some do, indeed. Their goal should appear like an inner adventure, slowly discovering their own orignal strengths and unsuspected possibilities to create, elaborate and reflect that only come to light through writing.

IV

tthree students bowing so we can't see their faces

Image: Three young heros of the writing quest

     After these foundations are settled, students are empowered to aim for high quality writing and we may build upon this solid base by trying a wide variety of strategies to inspire and enhance their writing:

  •       Letting them choose among several hypotheses, the first one being always their own idea. The freedom to choose opens their imagination and is a powerful solicitation to their free will. Then we may brainstorm with them to gather and organize the first draft.

 

  •     Keeping different kinds of prompts ready-to-go, related with a wide range of subjects. For instance, some will prefer to write about their favourite sports, or to discuss the “value” of the month – our global theme for this year – or even share what they are building in our brand new “Makerspace” – “The inventors”; others will choose to recount their birthday party, to speak about what they love to share with friends, to invent a story of action and danger, or of love and phantasy, just by looking into a map or an image, or just remembering a videogame they enjoy to play.

 

  •      Using prompts made by other students: two kids, for instance, elaborate a list of questions about a thrilling subject for others to write about. By taking photos of their drawings and digitizing them, the prompts are decorated, digitized and then plasticised:  kids get easily used to be surrounded by a beautiful appearance of the writing stuff they or their peers created and have been embellished as the content deserves.

 

  •       Children’s books, with simple but deep poetic text or amazingly illustrated, may become a source of relentless inspiration; creative exercise books as “Quero Ser Escritor” and “Setenta e Sete Palavras” always provide us with challenging ways of writing along together: by changing our notebooks at regular intervals; by following a rule that prevents to use a certain letter along a short text of 77 words and so on.

 

  •    Although it may seem a useless duplication of their work, young writers always receive a printed coloured copy of their posts or a printed coloured postcard of their poems. In some cases, they will lose the sheets of paper; in some cases they will be carefully collected in a binder by themselves or by their Mothers. I’ve seen many students who arrived at the writing workshop without a scintilla of enthusiasm who finished fiercely with a binder full of pages.

 

  • Our Writing Workshop is also the tiniest room in the school: up in the attics, 60 steps above the ground, pressed between the Laundry and the Library. It’s open from midday until half past six, where most of the older kids go just to prepare for tests, to learn a better management of time and to train strategies of study.

        Finally, a word about the meaning of the first photo on this post: this minimal place in school also works as a shelter, a cosy spot for a halt: that’s why we may listen to some sweet music and enjoy three cookies and 4 bits of chocolate while we learn to create and to reflect, in an always renewed astonishment, through the wonder of writing.

Ines

“Let the Children Reveal Themselves To You”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R03zw6FIoQc&t=16s

Image: Céline Alvarez You Tube

#Edublogs Club    Prompt 21

“Take a Look, it’s in a Book”

    While I was visiting several different sites belonging to “Dynamic Schools” and “Democratic Schools” in France, all drawing inspiration from the American Subdury Valley School, I stumbled upon a young French Author – Céline Alvarez – who achieved a unique experience, along three years, with kindergarten children. 

    “The Natural Laws of the Child” (downloadable in free pdf) is not only a vivid description of an outstanding educational adventure, but also a clear exposition of the principles and values that framed and guided the unfolding of the learning experiences actually carried out by the children.

    Céline’s site is now accessible in English and a growing number of teachers, all over the world, are participating in this approach;  in french, they are also freely sharing in the forum  different kinds of didactic material.

    Although I have also been reading some critical reviews on this powerful book, I would like just to present some valuable and inspiring messages it unveils. The work of Céline has been built upon the heritage of Dr Montessori, which she has enriched with the modern discoveries of neurosciences and cognitive psychology. All her way she has been supported by prof Catherine Gueguen, prof Stanislas Dehaene, and “The Center of the Developing Child” at Harvard University.

   27 children, aged 3, 4 and 5, issued from humble families, in a suburban public school, Genevilliers, have shown a deep enthousiasm and real commitment to deal with the learning activities that were individually presented to them by Céline and her assistant Anna Bisch.

     They were invited to exercise these activities freely and whenever they wished, all by themselves, in pairs or in small groups – the older children spontaneously taking care of the youngers and helping them. Most of the children learned to read and to count, among many other subjects; the older learned to write and to use the four mathematical operations; at the end of the experience, they were all in advance concerning school standards for their age.

     Both adults acted as facilitators and supporters, by presenting the activities and by creating a learning environment permeated by reciprocal kindness, respectful tolerance of differences and a cheerful tranquillity. In the video we may appreciate the relaxed concentration and the calm joy of the kids in action: they seem to feel secure, happy and actively engaged in their learning.

     According to the author, we can’t really teach, but we can and must accompany and support a child’s natural strong will to learn; and he will only learn trough his own free commitment into a chosen activity in accordance with intrinsic motivation. And the Author invites her readers: “Let the children reveal themselves to you”.

Ines

Effecting Change: the Power of Free Will

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Image: Stencil

# Edublogs Club Prompt 3

    While having always taught and tutored students in the realm of the traditional learning system, I, as well as so many colleagues, have been constantly worried about the central role our free will plays in the process of learning and the different ways to challenge it, to configure a valuable interpellation to students.

    Yesterday, I found this same concern in the deep reflection of David GuerinIs it possible to teach Grit?”:

“Kids with willpower habits do better.“

“Sometimes, I think we simply tell students to work harder or to persevere, but we aren’t giving them tools they need to learn these skills.

We aren’t teaching the behaviour we want to see.”

“Could we be doing more to explicitly train students how to have willpower?”

      Some of my older students are being introduced to the inspiring book “Make your Bed” by Admiral William Mc Raven – in Portuguese version – just hoping they will feel the power of the injunction to act by self-determination that goes through all the chapters as a burning fuse.

      Earlier, I had found this kind of vital inspiration in the approach of Team Couching proposed by the author Jeff Boss, ancient Navy Seal, in whose work the values instilled emanate from the power of free will as from a burning nucleus.   

    Many of my older students that struggle at school are deeply engaged in boxing, jujitsu, surfing, sailing, tennis… where they may be brilliant and feel empowered, thanks to their total dedication and relentless training.

    However, although these extra school activities allow them to win self-esteem and discover the deep joy of confronting obstacles, we don’t know how to help them to transfer these new competencies and skills to the inner – and only apparently more abstract – realm of academic subjects.

     Angela Duckworth – the author of “Grit, the power of passion and perseverance” – would say the gap between both is due to the fact that the former have been freely chosen, while the latter have been imposed upon students.

     She gives us some strong hope to be able to help our students to  “effect change” by stressing that “there is a surprising parallelism between teaching and parenthood” [1] and she describes how the communication of genuine affection, respect and high expectancies may arouse, in students that struggle in school, a more refined motivation and a stronger resilience in the adventure of learning.

    Yet, the question raised by David Guerin remains actual and urgent as ever:

“Could we be doing more to explicitly train students how to have willpower?”

Ines

[1] – My translation from the Portuguese version.

#EdublogsClub: Giving and Receiving Feedback

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Image: Stencil

#EdublogsClub Prompt 10 (Catching Up)

    Presently, the sort of feedback I give to my students is adapted to my work of mentoring their studies and enhancing their writing skills.

   I usually give feedback to my students through short writing prompts, questionnaires, conceptual/idea maps and oral interviews that I quickly transcribe and post later.

   On the other hand, I only receive informal feedback from my students, through their specific suggestions or if I ask them to address me a informal evaluation both in writing or orally.

      As I support their effort to achieve autonomy concerning time management, work organization and study strategies, these issues also constitute the object of my feedback. The final purpose remains to empower students to ask themselves metacognition questions, in order to monitor their own learning process.

    Usually, I use a questionnaire as a basis to provoke an oral discussion with both some wide open questions and some very specific topics that aim to allow students to become aware of the” mental gestures” that facilitate attention or memorization, thus enabling comprehension, according to what  I’ve learned from the French Author and Pedagogue Antoine de la Garanderie.

     I try to make very sensitive students feel at ease: they don’t have to share their classifications with precision; but they are invited to indicate their “strong points” as well as their “points in development” (we don’t say “weak points” any more, thanks to our school team couch Nuno Ribeiro). Then the student receives my help to formulate two concrete and feasible objectives for the next seven weeks. (This generally coincides with a school half-trimester and assessment “seasons”).

     Then, and exactly as it happens with every other student, he must be able to answer some questions to clarify and to concretize how he must proceed to achieve his goal. For instance:

  • Where, when and for how long is he going to dedicate to the subjects he chose?
  • With whom will he be studying? (Parents, mentors, older siblings, friends, all alone)
  • Which subject-matters will be under evaluation at the next assessment season? According to which criteria?
  • Which methods will he put into practice? (He may, for instance, prefer to read aloud each paragraph, outlining the main ideas, turning them into questions, writing short summaries or drawing a map of concepts, training with practical exercises…)
  • How precisely and distinctively can he listen to his own thoughts or how fine grained are his mental visual images of what he is actually studying?
  • Is he aware that only then his comprehension skills are set in movement by reasoning over these visual or auditory learning images? To become aware of what is actually happening in their own heads it’s a safe ground to build self-confidence and motivation, even if the student remains a very highly sensitive person.

     My older students ask me to study with them for tests belonging to subject-matters I don’t master – as they don’t belong to my own professional background studies. Thus, they lead me through their own paths as they already master some work strategies. Along this process of sharing the building of knowledge, my older students give me precious tips that enhance my abilities to help the younger ones.

Ines

#Edublogs Club: Celebrate and Reflect

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

Photo by Anthony DELANOIX on Unsplash

#EdublogsClub Prompt 40

  • Goals: What are your blogging goals and how have these changed over the year?

    I would like to try to post more regularly, since I reactivated my old blog in English; I would love to post the texts I write along with my students, in alternate paragraphs.

      I would love to push my Portuguese blog to the next level, and that means to have parents and students commenting on their posts although I know it’s very hard to create the whole infrastructure when there is no school time reserved for students blogging.

  • Achievements: What are you proud of?

I’m proud of translating some of my student’s texts so I can post them here, where they can reach a larger audience at Edublogs Community. (They aren’t published yet)

  • Benefits: What do you see as the benefits of blogging?

  Blogging becomes exciting when it is shared, not only through comments but also through anonymous reading. As we are sitting at an invisible table with writing companions, it is easier to make a more sincere effort to reflect with rigour upon subjects we treasure.

  • Has it been worthwhile for meta-cognition?

I strive to bring my young students to the frontiers of this wide domain of meta-cognition:  we, educators, know there lays a crucial tool for achieving success in their studies and to reach a level of autonomy that will enable them to manage their own progress.

     From my own experience, I can say that the more I train reflective writing the more clearly I see how to correct, to improve or to innovate my practice as a tutor or at the students writing workshop.

  •  Building community? Gaining new insights?

Although I joined Edublogs Club at “the last hour”, I could participate on building community, as I met some awesome bloggers as Melanie Ruiz, Alicia, Nina, not to talk of the tireless help and encouragement I received from Kathleen Morris. In all their articles I discovered new insights or new energy to reinvent dayly life at school.  

  • The future: How would you like your blog to evolve?
  • I would like to progressively catch up with all the other prompts I missed, to visit and comment the blogs where they have been sparkling inspiration.
  • My older students could become my guest bloggers: I’ve already talked with some of them who liked the idea.
  • When I read a chapter or an article about something essential to educational life, as, for instance, some strategies taught by prof Maurice Elias on his great book “Emotional Intelligence Parenting”, I would like to share my own reflections upon it, as doing so turns to be a great help to put into practice the precise and reasonable strategies I just read.

 A Final word: Thank you for your generosity, Edublogs Club Staff.

Ines

Three Challenges in the Heart of Summer

Imagem: Oficina de Escrita

 I chose to answer to “Challenging Situations“, as I subscribed to the #EdublogsClub, in my old personal teacher blog, that I had left in rest for quite a while.

    The reason of my coming back is simple: my beloved school is on the edge of taking the path of innovation: this leaves me free again to share whatever I may be experiencing in the immense new world of 21st Century Education.

    And, as usual, the simple fact of sharing it, through blogging, in a rich Educators Community as Edublogs, is a strong motivation to reflect upon what I’m learning or which challenges are obliging me to take some steps out of my confort zone.

     Actually, I’m working in at least three completely different projects that may be considered as “challenging situations” not to speak about  having to think in English, even if I may eventually choose to write in French, for a break.

        First, and most difficult to me, I’m taking a course on Arduino “for absolute Beginners” with the precious help of instructor Michael James. I’m supposed to write down my learning in a notebook divided in four sections and even to keep an online portfolio with the slow steps I need to fulfil in order to conceive and build a project.

     Secondly, as I’m a Tutor and my School is working on “Living Values” as the global theme of the school year, I’m trying to relate what we are studying about SEL and Emotional Intelligence – mostly through Prof. Maurice Elias writings – with the curriculum of Philosophy about Values for my 10th graders. I have already read the thoughful post of Mélanie Ruiz and found wonderful information about emotional intelligence.

    “Last, but not least” I’m working on the divulgation of a book for youth written by an ancient student of mine, Filipa Sáragga, that it is in itself a mine of different and essential values: there is a Blue Princess that must overcome the fact that she has been born different in order to forgive bullies, accept herself and allow to be loved.

    So, these are the three “Challenging Situations” dwelling in the heart of my holidays and making me come back to blogging. 

Balance of School Online Activities

The beautiful Santana Hospital

Inner terrace at the beautiful Santana Hospital

Well, as it has turned out to be already a classical excuse for being away from blogging activities: I underwent knee surgery once again.

Since Easter I had to return to physiotherapy and finally got operated the 1st July, this time to the right patella, so that I’m back to walking with crutches again, waiting for the inflammation  to go away – and it will, for my doctors are great!

Hopefully, I’ll be ready to face the brand new school year – starting the 8th September – but meanwhile, all along these last months I barely had time to perform my duties regarding school, let alone be creative online. I really just used our wikis in a very plain way.

However, I was happy to see my kids creating their own pages on our 5th grade wiki to study maths or sharing a glossary; Mariana, a 6th grade student, took charge of our classblog almost by herself,  posting her own writings and profusely commenting all her colleagues posts; 5th grade Joana also revealed to be a heartwarming writer and 6th grade Max, although with no patience to fiction, offered some practical instructions about how to build a wooden box or to settle an aquarium, for instance.

As for the great Mars 2010  Challenge we couldn’t possibly participate, as our students still don’t have access to our internet connexion and teachers are still not allowed to share blogging activities in the classroom. However, some 6th grade students accepted to be in charge of our international blog Bringing Us Together, for about a month, as Andreia and Francisca did.

As Sue Waters and Sue Wyatt included me in the Google Wave created to organize the Challenge, I could subscribe to be a helper, getting thus to know young students abroad, like Yummy, an enthusiastic  ballet dancer and Soccergirl, that revealed to be a great writer. Some time in June, I was amazed to hear from Sue Waters herself that I was one of the helpers that had won a prize: a whole year subscription to my primary blog!

Now I’m very excited about translating Sue Waters great post about Online Jargon, but I’ll leave my short term projects for an upcoming post.