Many worlds collide when you interact with texts (texts used as a loose catch-all word for any kind of communication – movies, music, art) to gain meaning.

There is The World of the Writer – what experiences and contexts the writer draws upon to create meaning, for a certain purpose. Then there is The World of the Text – the authenticity of the piece; it’s ability to stand-alone and be genuine. And of course, The World of the Reader – what prior knowledge, experiences and purposes the reader brings into the fray.

These worlds jiggle and jostle together; combining and flowing into each other, creating meaning for the reader.

It’s our job as teachers to help scaffold the understanding of deep meaning by drawing attention to these different worlds. What is the author trying to convince us of? What knowledge claims is the author making? What is my own prior knowledge of this? What bias and assumptions do I bring to the reading? Why am I reading this? Am I learning anything? Is this changing me? How?

Every text has the potential to be a rich battleground of these competing worlds – one in which you can activate knowledge skills such as critiquing, creating, customising, interrogating, elaborating, remixing, and challenging what is put in front of you. Investigating the different layers of a text contributes to an understanding that the world is complex, and the more we can draw attention to that and analyse those complexities, the more students can unravel them and understand how to live more critically, fully, and actively in this world.

Ask students to share what they are thinking – they are being bombarded with texts day in and out seeking to manipulate their understandings. Advertising is a particularly pernicious one, but what meaning are kids absorbing from the 6:00 o’clock news? Cartoons? Pop songs on the radio? Magazine covers?

It’s imperative we help students become active, critical users of the world around them, not simply consumers. Examining the different worlds of context which are mushed together when interacting with a text can contribute towards a deeper, more active, critical understanding of the world in which we live.

After a bit of reflection and professional reading over the holidays, here is what I want each and every lesson / experience / sequence of learning I facilitate to include. They are my Rules of Thumb for Designing Good Learning Experiences, circa early 2015.

  • Rich, deep, meaningful, original tasks: PUZZLE, PROBLEM, PROVOCATION, EXPLORE, PLAY, CHALLENGE – students will “work the hard parts”
  • Integrate reading, writing and inquiry – all ‘modules’ pre-planned and available so
    • A) students have the responsibility of choosing their own pathway through the learning and
    • B) so they can see “the whole game” of learning – see how each piece helps them develop new understandings, skills, and knowledge and
    • C) So I know I have coverage of all the things I know are important: content knowledge + web/visual literacy + disposition exercising (The Magnificent 8) + knowledge skills + creativity
  • Designed to be tight enough to be focused (creative constraints), but flexible enough to be self-negotiated
  • Be designed for M.V.T.A (Minimum Viable Teacher Assistance)
  • A catchy title and an interesting, original task + an introduction video (ie, a Generative Topic)
  • A WALT (We are learning to…) and a TIB (This is because…)
  • Linked reading / audio / video resources + official reading objectives
  • Linked knowledge building workshops / Snappers + official writing objectives
  • Scaffold appropriately with examples / models / exemplars (for practice, play, imitation, imagination, and simulations)
  • Online / offline component with a bias towards leveraging the opportunities provided by digital tech
  • Each will have a S.T.A.R moment (Something They’ll Always Remember)
  • Offer autonomy, mastery and purpose
  • Have “checkpoints” for feedback (self, peer, teacher)
  • Have a “want to know more?” or further curiosity prompts
  • Each will be aware of what the assessment is that term and contain elements of practice (you gotta do what you gotta do!)
  • Outcomes will be defined across understandings, skills, abilities and dispositions (within the process and final product) and digital badges provided based on these outcomes
  • Each will contain a reflection piece based upon the overall understandings of the inquiry + reflecting on the learning muscles being exercised + the inquiry process

My role then changes to:

  • “a stream of highly contingent, situation, problem and person-specific interventions and provocations – not nuggets of truth” – Claxton
  • Pushing, prodding, tilting towards understanding
  • Providing the knowledge or guidance needed at that time
  • Questioning, facilitating discussions
  • Providing EXCELLENT feedback based on content, understandings, AND dispositions
  • Tracking quality learning, ensuring engagement. Following up / chasing up.
  • Modelling good thinking and learning dispositions

Designing these kinds of learning experiences takes time, but that’s the bread and butter of teaching; it’s the stuff we should be spending our time on, wading through these complexities to facilitate challenging, interesting learning for our students.

Now….to actually sit down and get to it!

[Friday Takeaways is a new series in which I sit through (and summarise) P.D sessions – so you don’t have to! What a brave and noble sacrifice…]
A couple of us attended a P.D session on Wednesday evening run by Jill Eggleton, author of the Key Links series by Scholastic. The brief was: “implementing small, simple steps, towards creating lifetime writers, keeping in mind the keys to a child’s progress.” She wrapped up with this quote, which summed up her key point nicely –  a point which we as teachers need to always keep in mind, and one which we would do well to pass on to our students:

“Write drunk; edit sober.” – Ernest Hemingway

Woah, let me re-check my notes! Ahah! Here is the right one:

“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the inner music that words make.” – Truman Capote

Writing shouldn’t be a mundane task, out-of-context, and painful to get through. It should be a passionate, thoughtful experience; a playful and rich process. This starts from you. Be wide-eyed and enthusiastic when reading children’s work. Model the joy in reading and writing.

How do you inspire a love of writing? (Also: see, look! We DO use pens and pencils …sometimes)

Here are a couple of takeaways from the course, tl:dr (“too long, didn’t read”) style:

  • The key to writing is oral language – if they can’t talk about something, they probably can’t write about it.
  • For teachers – be writers yourselves. Know what it means to get from the head to the page. Start a journal, record interesting personal experiences and characters. You don’t have to always read stories to children – tell stories too!
  • Provide opportunities to write daily. Practise is the best ‘instruction’ of all.
  • For youngins: write from personal, common experiences. Don’t introduce text-types too early. When you do though, make it purposeful: “I want to tell you a personal story, so we’re going to use personal narrative.”
  • Emphasise “putting a magnifying glass” over certain experiences (don’t waffle on about the whole holiday for example, stick to your most memorable moment).
  • Great writers don’t tell the whole story – encourage the children to “show don’t tell”.
  • Read poetry every day. It encourages children to be more playful and descriptive with their own writing.
  • When giving feedback / reading a child’s piece for the first time: make sure they know their message has been communicated (use a statement, not a question and do so using their own language). Then strengths, then next steps.
  • Don’t have them write too much! They can’t be bothered going back and re-crafting / editing. Quality over quantity. They can write long meandering rambles at home if they want to.
So these were the meaty chunks I was able to extract from the casserole of information at the session. Some of them may be common sense, but to a newb like me, I need to make a concious effort to keep these in mind.
Thanks Jill.
P.S:
Maybe I’m spoilt by attending Ignition 2012 and a few Ignite evenings, but jeepers creepers, we really need to change traditional teacher P.D. Sitting for 3 hours passively listening to a tumult of information in a hot fidgety theatre can be draining and just plain hard work. Mix things up, get us talking, be creative… practise what you preach!