Writing is how we send our own voice, hopes, wonderings and opinions into the world.
– (Pam Allyn 2015, ILA Conference)
Each year, teaching teams throughout the CBE system are mandated to create a School Development Plan. It is intended that this plan is read and understood in correlation with the school’s annual results report. Both documents focus on continuous improvement in student learning through planned and intentional responses to evidence of achievement and data about the learning conditions that support student success.
The various sources of assessment information and feedback that inform the school development plan are unique to each school. At Chaparral, our considerations include:
- Report card marks,
- Provincial assessments like Provincial Achievement Tests (PATs – Grade 6) and Student Learning Assessments (SLA’s Grade 3),
- Observations of student learning patterns, accomplishments and needs,
- Accountability Pillar Survey, and
- School process goals – the impact of previously identified goals and strategies.
Analysis of this information has revealed incredible strengths in our students and our program. At the same time, it has led us to discover an area in which we can refine our instructional practices to assist students in meeting with even greater success.
This year, teachers will participate in a collective focus on learning and implementing high impact strategies for teaching young writers. Our intent is that these strategies will help more students feel like writers. Our young writers will know what they are working on. They will understand how to produce an effective message that will be shared with a real audience – not just the teacher. In our supportive writing environments students will look forward to writing and become absorbed in their writing because it is personally meaningful to them. Teachers will provide short, targeted interventions, directly coaching, and ensuring additional instruction via student groupings and peer feedback.
As I move from class to class on instructional walks, I expect to observe students collaborating with one another, seeking feedback, and willingly revising their written work. They will compare their work to writing exemplars for the purposes of refining content, organization, voice, and vocabulary. In their planning, teachers will strategically link writing outcomes to sample readings, mentor texts and predefined arenas of content. They will teach strategies, provide effective writing tools and ensure access to anchor charts.
Finally, and in many ways most importantly, teachers will also write because we know that our passions have a tremendous impact on students. As teachers model and think aloud, they will share their progress as writers, demonstrating perseverance and empathy for the challenges that are sometimes faced as ideas are transformed into written text. (Edmonton Regional Learning Consortium: Comprehensive Literacy Guide: Writing, Jan. 2017).
The instructional approaches I have described are taking place at our school. On Nov. 1, Ms. Gilson provoked her Grade 3 students with a fictitious scenario in which Mayor Nenshi proposed a ban on Hallowe’en. Recalling their recent fun, the students were tasked with writing a letter to the mayor convincing him that he should definitely not follow through with his idea.
I joined Ms. Gilson and her student writers as they reviewed a previously crafted list of reasons for keeping the Hallowe’en tradition alive in Calgary. Ms. Gilson then modeled her own letter, soliciting ideas and feedback from the students as she progressed. Ms. Gilson showed the students how to circle words she was unsure of spelling and continue writing so as not to interfere with the flow of her ideas. She also showed students how she could revise her writing by adding new thoughts, words or descriptions as they came to her.
After Ms. Gilson modeled her writing process, students proceeded with their own writing, taking their seats at tables or on the floor mat. I joined the students in the writing, and found myself quickly becoming engrossed with memories of my past Hallowe’en adventures and what they meant to me.
Finally, the students and I had an opportunity to share the writing we had produced thus far. How delightful it was to hear students celebrating the efforts of their peers, pointing out those aspects of the writing they felt were most effective, and connecting with each other’s ideas.
I will close this message in the best way I know how as an educator, with student voice and evidence of learning. Please enjoy reading the excerpt from Letters to the Mayor on “Not Cancelling Hallowe’en”. Following Tayler’s letter is a montage of images snapped during our school’s 2017 Hallowe’en celebrations.
Dear Mayor Nenshi,
You may NOT ban Hallowe’en It is a time for kids to dress up. Hallowe’en is very fun for getting creative costumes, like mixing a witch hat with a Zombie and getting a Zombie Witch!
You may also NOT ban Hallowe’en because kids get free candy. If you ban Hallowe’en everyone will leave this city. You don’t want that, do you? If that happened you will not have anything to be the mayor of.
Writing on with joy and confidence,
Chris Buhler, Principal
See more in our November Newsletter.