Waikowhai Intermediate School, Marshall Laing Primary School, Lynfield College, and Chaucer Primary School (TLIF2-043) - Accelerating writing progress through learner maps Publications
The four schools in this project had groups of priority learners from year 1 to year 10 who were achieving below the National Standard in writing or were not on track to achieve NCEA level 2. They wanted to turn this around to accelerate the students’ progress in writing.
Author(s): (Inquiry Team) Leanne Smith, Katherine Bhimy, Claire Hart, Sharyn Hunt and Sharon Haywood
Date Published: March 2019
The project teachers were inspired by the success of drawing techniques used by several of the learning and change networks. Learning maps were only one of several techniques used by these networks, and their direct contribution to students’ achievement was not obvious. However, from their research, the project teachers had a hunch that students’ drawing their learning environment would create a context for identifying and developing practices that would boost students’ writing achievement. Their puzzle was to see if they could improve students’ writing by using learning maps as the primary tool.
Spelling (first goal) is way too easy. Commas and full stops – I’m getting better at them. My new goal is better words instead of “then”, like “also”. I can do more writing now and I know where to put full stops and commas. And I know where to put speech marks when people say something.
Year 4 student describing their increased confidence from achieving their goals.
The big learning for the project teachers was from the value of using the students’ learning maps to identify five areas of practice to support writing: family/whānau/‘aiga involvement, collaboration, promoting wellbeing and agency, supporting students to learn, and personalising writing activities to be responsive to students’ culture and personal preferences. Focusing on these five areas of practice resulted in a significant and rapid increase in the primary students’ writing achievement and they had made, on average, a higher rate of progress by the end of the year than teachers expected of all students. However, the high school students did not make any progress in their assessments, despite producing better quality writing and being more enthusiastic about writing when working with the younger students.
The inquiry team included teachers from all four schools:
- Leanne Smith — Waikowhai Intermediate (Project lead)
- Katherine Bhimy — Waikowhai Intermediate
- Claire Hart — Marshall Laing Primary
- Sharyn Hunt — Lynfield College
- Sharon Haywood — Chaucer Primary
They were supported by Dr Jean Annan from Positively Psychology.
The inquiry story
Four Auckland schools, which are all part of the Lynfield Community of Learning, collaborated at every stage of the inquiry: Waikowhai Intermediate School, Marshall Laing Primary School, Chaucer Primary School, and Lynfield College. Five teachers from the four schools took part, along with 56 students and their family/whānau/‘aiga.
What was the focus?
The project aimed at improving the writing of students across the four schools. All participating students were achieving below National Standard or expectations for NCEA in writing at the beginning of the project. The project sought to answer two questions:
- Did the students’ writing improve?
- What changes in practice or action did participants implement to make these changes?
The project explored the context of students’ writing and ways of improving writing through a collaborative inquiry method. From the outset, the project was intended to engage people from students’ broad learning environments and, in the process, build sustainable connections with family/whānau/‘aiga. The teachers assumed that students did not learn in isolation but through their interactions with significant others and that these ‘others’ were not limited to friends, teachers or family/whānau/‘aiga.
What did the teachers try?
At the start of 2017, the teachers collected writing achievement data using year-level appropriate means. They then learned more about students’ writing through learning maps students drew about their writing environments. Students used the Infinity Learning Maps method, which is a formative process through which both students and teachers gained an in-depth understanding of students’ multiple learning environments and how to develop culturally and socially appropriate new writing environments.
Students drew maps three times: at the start of the project, mid-way, and at the end of the year. Students discussed their first map with their teachers and peers, and with their family/whānau/‘aiga.
The teachers organised an initial learning maps hui/fono where students, teachers and family/whānau/‘aiga discussed the settings, tools and practices associated with the students’ writing, using the maps as a focus and starting point. The students took a lead role in this discussion by explaining their maps and their learning, after teachers had coached and scaffolded students to ensure their explanations were clear. Students suggested writing goals and strategies they could use to achieve these goals. They then recorded their explanations of their learning map, goals and strategies in a personalised online database, and also videoed explanations of their maps. Teachers and parents discussed the changes they could make to how they support their child or students’ writing. This was the first of the practice changes teachers made — ‘family involvement’ — foreshadowing the principle they later identified that children write best and most willingly when the family and school exchange cultural, social and personal knowledge and the student has a support system outside of school.
The teachers identified the five principles of practice from their subsequent analysis of the Infinity Learning Maps and changed their writing programmes accordingly. They met regularly to compare their experiences across schools, to look for patterns across each school and identify themes of practice, and to review their teaching strategies and their impact.
Students drew a second map (or amended their first one) in the middle of the year to show the changes they had made. They discussed these with their teacher. The teachers reviewed and shared the successful changes they had identified in these discussions. Each term, students, teachers and family/whānau/‘aiga had an opportunity to share new learning through a selection of channels, such as hui/fono, three-way conferences, the SeeSaw sharing website, or email.
Students drew their final map at the end of the year. The teachers interviewed them to capture their views on the changes they had made, and everyone completed a survey about the changes they had seen to the students’ learning environments.
Changes to teachers’ practices
Collaboration: The schools worked in pairs (Waikowhai Intermediate School with Chaucer Primary School, and Marshall Laing Primary School with Lynfield College) so older students would be ‘buddies’ with younger ones to help them with their writing. Friends featured prominently in the first learning map, and teachers encouraged students to take part in shared writing and peer review.
Well-being and agency: Students had more freedom on where and how they did their writing. Teachers encouraged them to use the people, places and tools they identified in the learning maps. They tried to create an environment where students felt safe to share their work and were encouraged to do so.
Knowing how to learn: The initial maps tended to include few resources and tools students used in writing, and some students had difficulty identifying their learning goals. Teachers encouraged students individually to identify ideas for writing and their next steps. Teachers made more tools and resources available to students and encouraged them to be reflective in their writing, to set goals and self-edit their work.
Personalised learning and culture: Students were given a lot of freedom in whom they worked with, how they worked, and where. They had the choice of using digital tools or physical ones, depending on their preference. They could also listen to music if that helped them write.
Family involvement: Parents saw how important students thought family and home life was for their writing when they featured prominently in their learning maps. This importance was reinforced in the three-way conferences. Students shared their work with their family through tools such as SeeSaw and videos, and their families were encouraged to exchange comments on students’ work. Some students were encouraged to translate texts into their own language, with whānau help.
The Infinity Learning Maps were associated with an increase in the rate of improvement in writing for the primary school students. The year 1–8 students on average made the same progress as that expected of all students, despite their histories of achieving below or well-below expected standards. The high school students did not demonstrate improvements in writing performance in the eWrite assessment for high school students, despite the observation that they had engaged enthusiastically and independently in writing activity with their younger writing partners and that the quality of their writing was better when completing tasks when in a different setting.
Teachers measured writing achievement using a variety of age-appropriate tools in terms one and four in 2017.
Thirty-nine students at Marshall Laing Primary and Waikowhai Intermediate were assessed using e-asTTLe. The mean score in term 1 was 6.77, which had increased to 8.79 in term four, a mean increase of 2.02. All but one of the students had gone up at least one scale level.
The writing project at Chaucer School involved five year 1 students. Four of the five students attained the National Standard for writing within the year. Concepts about print and the hearing and recording of sounds in dictated sentences, alphabet letter/sound and sight word knowledge improved for all the students with all but one student knowing all their letters or words.
At Lynfield College, 13 year 10 students’ eWrite scores were compared between the beginning-of-year and end-of-year. The students’ scores showed a mean band score difference of -0.39, indicating a drop in writing achievement. All the students’ scores had either stayed the same or dropped by one or two band scores.
What did they learn?
Through their analysis of the students’ learning maps, the teachers identified five specific principles that guide their practice for supporting students’ writing. These principles describe the situations when ‘children write best and willingly’:
- Family involvement.
- The family and school exchange cultural, social and personal knowledge.
- The student has a learning support system outside of school.
- Collaboration. They have positive learning relationships, including friends and across age groups.
- Well-being and agency. They feel safe, confident and have the self-efficacy about their ability to write.
- Knowing how to learn. They know what the next steps are and how to get there.
- Personalised learning and culture. They are in an environment that reflects and accommodates their personal styles.
Across the four schools, teachers observed the changes and progress they, family/whānau/‘aiga and students made in the practices. At the end of the project, teachers surveyed the students on the changes they had seen, and their responses aligned closely with the above practices. Students reported positive changes in:
- family/whānau/‘aiga involvement in their writing;
- new learning relationships associated with writing;
- awareness of the tools and learning environments that supported their writing;
- newfound confidence in writing; and
- increased attention to the various features of writing.
For the primary students, the Infinity Learning Maps resulted in a sudden rise in their learning trajectory in writing by supporting their acquisition of writing skills, knowledge and attitudes that will support them to be successful in writing.
The project team believe that the environment of a high school, involving multiple teachers and students who may need to focus on one-off assessments, presented some challenges for students struggling to the extent of the participants in this study. The students taking part included those who spoke English as a second language and others who experienced social challenges, making it difficult to develop, across their entire school day, the types of relationships required to lift their achievement.
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For further information
If you would like to learn more about this project, please contact the project leader Leanne Smith at email@example.com
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