While my Year 12’s geography class’ writing had significantly improved since term 1 with the focus on structure; in particular topic sentences and evidence. As noted in post 4 (term 2) the class were still lacking skills to link and focus their key points. While after marking their research assessment I felt their explanations were a lot stronger than they had previously been this showed me they perhaps had a better level of understanding. However, after completed there 3rd assessment I noticed their explanations were still lacking significantly. I reflected on why this might be the case.
As the research assessment reuqires students to summarise their explanations may have been stronger in this context because this was their own data and information they were drawing from. We had collected the data in Glen Innes over 2 days and since the context was familiar students may have had a lot more confidence in writing about this environment. This pointed me to look at the level of reading comprehension for the Year 12’s. Perhaps a lack of understanding was coming through in their written expression. While students seemed to be able to give good examples or evidence the why seemed to be missing.
This lack of explanation linked to reading comprehension made complete sense to me. I thought about my own writing experience. If I don’t know about a topic I struggle to write on it but if I feel confident then the words seem to flow a whole lot better. This reflection is further supported by literacy data at Tamaki College with a significant number of students being well below the national average. I was teaching some Year 9 students (13 year olds) where a reading age of 7 or 8 was pretty common. Even if these students just went up a minimum of one reading year per school year level (without our accelerated reader program) by the time they reached Year 12 it was possible a number of students in the class were reading at a 12 year old level. Although this may not be entirely representative of the students in my geography class it was a useful rough guide to help me think through what I may to change within my teaching practice. A lot of the text I was providing this class were adapted from a text book aimed for Year 12 students – this meant that there were likely to be some issues with comprehension for a number of students in the class – this made sense as to why they were struggling to explain ideas in their written expression.
Next steps from here – I needed to change what I was doing in the classroom in the way I was providing content. I needed to adapt to suit the learning needs and literacy levels of student in my Year 12 class at Tamaki College.
As discussed in my previous 2 blog posts (1) and (2) I wanted to improve the detail and clarity of writing in my Level 2 Geography class. I felt students lacked evidence, linkages and detail required in Level 2. As noted in my 2nd post – I attempted to give structural feedback to students but felt this may have been an intimidating approach and may have deterred some of the less confident writers.
Admittedly I had seen some improvement when I asked students to write an essay and asked them to focus on structure compared to their first assessment. However, I wanted us to keep working on the structure. As we had done a couple of solid weeks on essay writing at the end of term 1 I decided to take the focus off a little bit while continuing to reinforce the points. I tried a number of approaches. As the class was now finishing up their writing for the research assessment I felt it was important to have frequent class discussions about paragraph structure. At times this meant just reminding students about TEXAS (topic sentence, evidence, example, analysis and summary/link). I would regularly stop the class to discuss this during their assessment write up and continued to provide feedback focused on structure (however, I got rid of the highlighting and simply left comments on students work).
I felt this approach was useful for a number of reasons. Firstly, I had already established the framework I would be feeding back to students based on the traffic light system (see post 2) this then meant my comments could be less specific (without breaching the conditions of assessment). For example, I would comment “Link back to the question” or “Include more evidence” “Topic sentence” and students would know I was referring to the structure of their paragraph. I still continued to reinforce the importance of strong essay structures and would often provide students with examples of topic sentences, links and specific evidence and examples through class based discussion.
As mentioned in my previous post after reflecting on students lack of explanation in their written expression and the realisation this may be connected to low- literacy which meant that some students in the class may be struggling to understand the content I had on the level 2 geography site . The majority of this content had been adapted from Year 12 geography text books aimed at students who had reading levels that aligned with the national average- as many of our students at Tamaki College did not read at this level I really needed to adapt the way content was delivered.
We were beginning our Urban Pattern assessment based on Detroit and I decided to adapt my teaching style to suit my students. I did this in a number of ways;
- Although I still wanted to encourage students to read I decided to “chunk” this. I would get students to read sections of text from the website, followed by a class discussion. This worked well as it let students clarify their ideas and it meant students that hadn’t quite understood particular points could get this information elsewhere. Here is some notes from a student led discussion:
- I continued to discuss paragraph structure with a focus on key points to deal with issues around clarity and linking back.
- I provided audio visual alternative to text – as a class we watched a number of documentaries that focused on particular points – once again followed by class discussion
- An added benefit was that as the teacher I could check student understanding through discussion and questioning and clarify points that students didn’t get. This provided more teaching opportunities than simply getting the class to read information in their own time.
Students responded well to these strategies and keenly took part in class discussion and in fact started to ask for this more frequently. I asked the class whether the discussions were helpful and the majority of students felt this was a useful approach.
In conclusion, alternative strategies are necessary for teaching and learning. This provides multiple platforms for students to engage with content and therefore deepen understanding.
As discussed in blog posts 1, 2, and 3 I have been working on improving the writing structure of the Level 2 geography class. Initially, I felt this was an issue of students viewing their subjects in silos and not transferring skills from other subjects such as English into geography. However, after spending a lot of time in term 1 placing emphasis on the importance of writing in geography I felt I was starting to see a dramatic improvement from the bullet point structured assessments I had read at the beginning of the year. However, I continued to reinforce this point using various strategies such as feedback, feedforward and class discussions.
I continued to do this but felt I could re-visit the traffic light system mentioned in post 2
However, I decided to adapt this so it was less confronting and use examples from the NZAQ website to unpack other students work. As a class we used the traffic light system together to identify topic sentences, evidence, examples and linkages. I felt this was a useful way to model good writing and also point out problems and issues without students feeling like their work is being ripped to pieces.
This lesson was productive and allowed assess how much students had learnt or hadn’t learnt about writing structure over the course of term 1.
In Week 2 of Term 2 the second assessment for the year was due and I noticed a significant improvement with writing especially with their explanations which had been a problem before. However, a number of students were still having problems with linking their ideas back at the end of the paragraph which meant at times their key points were a bit hard to decipher. I almost felt that students were just throwing in a whole lot of detail in the hopes that something would be the “right” answer.
Next steps – I wanted to work on addressing the question, summarizing key points and linking ideas together. These skills are crucial for students working at an excellence level!