Many students agonise over creative writing and believe they aren’t good writers. Some believe, for example, that they can’t have good ideas. Some students believe that they can’t be good writers because they get low scores in spelling, and some students have been crushed when their entertaining story has achieved a C-grade. How do we help students overcome these doubts, creating well-rounded narrative writers?
How can we create well-rounded narrative writers?
There are some key teaching and learning strategies that need to take place for students to write successful narratives (or complete any assessment really!), and they aren’t always obvious when we have a unit of work in front of us.
1. Explicit teaching of each component.
Each component of the task needs to be explicitly taught. Every.single.one.
For example, students do not know how to brainstorm or generate ideas.
Professional writers don’t just have great ideas. They seek inspiration, they storyboard, they build characters slowly using words and images – there is an entire process that helps set writers up for success. Sometimes it takes writers weeks to come up with ideas.
Students are no different. We need to explicitly teach this process, model it for them, and allow them to practise it. Repeatedly.
2. Students need to be assessment-literate.
They need to understand the learning intention of the assessment, and they also need to know the success criteria they need to demonstrate to be successful. Just knowing the success criteria can help students to identify their strong and weak points, and what they need to work on. This awareness alone, can improve student success.
Understanding success criteria (and unpacking them within the assessment rubric) helps students to understand that while they may not be the best speller in the world, they can be successful in other success criteria. Good writers aren’t always good at everything!
Being assessment-literate also helps students to understand that they can’t just write a great story – they need to use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation as well.
How can we ensure that we are doing these two things to create well-rounded narrative writers?
Backwards mapping assessment.
By starting with the assessment piece, identifying every piece of success criteria, and building that into our planning, we can make sure that we teach everything the students need to know.
We do students a disservice when assessment doesn’t match what students have been taught.
Using learning walls – also known as working walls.
Using a learning wall helps students to see each component of the task, and gives them clarity on the learning task.
It also helps us as teachers to see what has been taught, and what we may need to teach and reteach.
Well-rounded writers are assessment-literate writers, understanding what success looks like. As teachers it’s up to us to ensure that our students have the skills and knowledge to meet the demands of the assessment, and we meet our gaol of creating well-rounded narrative writers.
More teacher tools for narrative writing can be found here
More teacher tools for learning walls can be found here
You can also find our narrative tools on Teachers PayTeachers here
Do you ever attempt the assessment pieces that your students need to complete?It can be a really hard thing to do!
It’s also very powerful. Sometimes you might notice that a question is really unclear, or that there is a typo that makes a maths problem seem like a riddle. Sometimes you realise the Science test is too literacy based and you need to change it.
Completing the assessment yourself enables you to be a better teacher and write better assessment pieces.
In writing, completing the assessment to an ‘A’ level can help you to unpack all of the elements that your students will need to succeed – maybe they are going to need specific vocabulary on their Learning Wall, or maybe they are going to need to nail adverbial phrases, but even you’re not sure if you know what they are!
I encourage you to try writing an ‘A’ for your students’ next assessment piece!
It can give you clarity on what really needs to be taught, and help your students to understand the task more clearly.
Co-constructing texts with your students is a very important part of using Bump It Up Walls and Learning Walls. We talk a lot about co-constructed success criteria, but co-constructing texts is hugely important for your classroom.
How do I co-construct texts in my classroom?
1. Immerse in the genre
I like to start by engaging my class with a range of different examples of the text genre. For example, if we are writing procedural texts, we look at a range including recipes, how-to manuals, YouTube videos, directions etc
I have a range for explicit teaching and modelling, a range for our classroom bookshelf, and copies to display on our Learning Wall.
I also like to take poster-size photocopies of texts so we can annotate them and add them to our wall.
2. Modelled reading/annotating/notetaking
I think aloud as I read the texts to my class “Here’s the title”, “Oh, here they have used sequencing words”, making note of the elements we notice in the text.
If I’m using a copy, I highlight language features (eg command verbs) and write a list of these, colour-coding them as I go.
3. Brainstorm – what does a good one look like?
As a class we brainstorm what a good text looks like. A-ha! We have some success criteria! Add these to your Learning Wall.
4. Use Success Criteria to model how to write an ‘A’ sample
Model how to write an ‘A’ using the success criteria. Make sure you choose a different topic to your assessment piece. I like to do this on my laptop on the projector, so that I can make changes as we go. Some teachers like to do this with butchers paper and coloured markers. You can even do it on your whiteboard, and take a photo on your phone to project later.
Encourage students to make suggestions, debate on changes, and have input into the text. Make improvements, edit, refer to the Learning Wall and marking guide to ensure the text is meeting the success criteria for an ‘A’.
Remember, the intention is to teach students where to focus their attention when writing their text.
Clearly cover text structure, language features, grammar and punctuation – whatever your marking guide is assessing. If spelling isn’t being assessed, don’t make it a big focus of your modelling.
Learn through doing
Both you and your students learn through this process.
Bbeing a ‘learner’ you identify where students need skills and knowledge and where you need to reteach or teach differently. You also understand what students neeed to do and how much effort is going to be required of them.
You students learn through watching you ‘do’. Listening to your thought processes, watching you interact with the learning wall/bumpo it up wall, cross-checking and making mistakes.
Co-constructing texts is a teaching and learning activity that can have huge impact in your classroom – I encourage you to give it a go!
There are whispers that some educational bodies are discouraging the displaying individual student goals in the classroom, as part of a broader push for student data privacy.
Our own philosophies may play a part in how we feel about this, but the reality is that there are ethical and legal reasons why displaying student goals in your classroom may not be acceptable going forward.
What does this mean for you in the classroom?
Keep student goals out of plain sight
Firstly, ensure that student learning goals are not in plain sight. This means a rejig of traditional student goal mats if you are using them. You can do this by adding a flap that can cover the goals, while keeping them in close proximity to the learner.
You could also keep goals and goal mats:
in a portfolio folder accessed by you and the learner
in a student’s personal learning device or in their diary
‘Flipping frogs’ goal mat provides privacy to students.
Anonymity is key
Secondly, de-identify any student work on display in your classroom, and ensure your Learning Walls and Bump It Up Walls are anonymous. This doesn’t stop the comparison game – hopefully you are having constructive conversations about student work, identifying what students have done well, and how they can improve or ‘bump up’.
You could also:
Include a space, such as a blank square in the top corner, on student work for them to draw an identifying picture or icon
Assign students an identifying number at the beginning of the year that they write on their work instead of their name.
Ensure that student work samples used as practise feedback/editing are de-identified
Over many years we have all argued that students know each other’s abilities – they just know. However, today more than ever, teachers have a responsibility to protect student privacy, from those not involved in their learning, including their peers.
So how do we celebrate learning goals when they are achieved?
We can still celebrate student goals through goal achievement, either as individuals or as a class.
Students can still have their success recognised, even in front of the class. I like to give small vouchers for my prize box or extra computer time when students achieve one of their learning goals.
I also love showing my students my de-identified mark book that shows how they have grown as a class across the term or semester – I use my trusty orange and green colours to show this and it is always so amazing to see how the class has achieved success criteria AND their reaction to seeing my mark book.
Protecting your students, protecting yourself
We know that displaying student marks for everyone to see is the wrong thing to do, but increasingly school districts are seeing increased ethical and legal issues when student data of any kind, including learning goals, are displayed publicly.
From student confidence in the classroom, to gossipy parents, there are a range of dangers inherent in displaying this information for schools and us as teachers.
I’d love to hear your thoughts or even your personal experience with student privacy in your classroom, and let me know – how are you displaying your student learning goals?
My freebie, Student Goals Venn Diagram, comes with a box for students to draw an identifying picture, instead of writing their name.
Do you know how to make your learning walls interactive, so that all students can access them easily?
This is an important question to ask yourself when planning for the learning that is going to take place. Will your students come up to the wall and then mentally take information back to their desk? Are all of your students capable of doing this? Are you capable of doing this?
Memory is a really tricky tool to rely on and doesn’t support your learners at all – especially those who have trouble processing information before it is used. Instead, could you provide ‘take-aways’ in the form of vocabulary cards or checklists? Or another tool?
These are important questions to ask, as it’s one thing to display the information, but if it’s not truly accessible to all of your learners, then your learning wall won’t be used to its full potential.
You wouldn’t teach a normal writing lesson without differentiating for students that have additional needs – for example, providing printed copies of your PowerPoint, or digital text, so it’s important to think this way for your Learning Wall.
First steps? Well, interactive elements are my go-to! Not only are they an easy way to differentiate, but they add an element of fun and can turn a flat, boring wall into a vibrant learning centre.
So how can you make your learning wall interactive? Some of my favourite ideas include:
Printed copies of information on the wall that students can take back to their desks: text examples, checklists, how-tos, diagrams, mini-anchor charts. You can print these much smaller so they are mini-versions
Pockets that hold information, such as question stems, vocabulary, sentence structure
Hooks to hold rings of common words, sight words, adjectives, superlatives
Hooks to hold copies of books on rings
Post-it notes readily available to pose questions or add examples
Highlighters to highlight important information
Clipboards to lean on at the wall
Puppets/story rocks for story retells
Interactive flaps on wall, displaying sequential information, or with questions on top and answers underneath
QR codes to digital resources
Using student drawings as examples
Finally, we talk about levels of ability – think about literal levels. Make sure your shortest learner can read all of the information on your wall – if they can’t reach it, it’s not interactive.
If you can imagine it, you can add it to your wall. I think the most important thing to remember is that not all of your students are going to access your wall at the same level, and interactive elements can support those learners and bring your wall to life.
One of the most challenging parts of using learning walls, for me, is co-constructing success criteria.
I used to plan my wall thoroughly, and even wrote the success criteria for my wall. This worked well until I realised that my students were demonstrating skills that should have been on my learning wall, but weren’t, because I had given students no input into the creation of the success criteria. None at all!
I avoided it because I had never seen co-construction of success criteria modelled by another teacher, and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to lead my students to the success criteria I wanted them to find (another mistake).
Unfortunately, the day I noticed a glowing omission from our wall, very evidently demonstrated by one of my students in their writing, I knew that I had to bite the bullet and co-construct the success criteria – not only giving my students ownership of them, but ensuring that I wasn’t limiting my students.
I chose to co-construct all of the success criteria in one lesson, because we were already a few weeks into our unit, but you could choose to do this for just one section of your text/concept, or choose to co-construct one success criteria at a time (eg when teaching verb groups).
I was a bit worried how this lesson would work, but it was a fantastic foundation for my students, and still I use the same process now. I hope that you will find the following sequence useful!
Teaching Sequence for Co-Construction Success Criteria – Narrative example
You will need:
A-level sample (previous student work/teacher written or sourced) Pre-qualify the sample to make sure it includes elements required.
Cards to write I Can success criteria statements on
Learning Wall with marking guide/rubric
Revisit learning intention and marking guide
Brainstorm as a whole class, What makes a good narrative? If your marking guide is organised into headings such as Language features, Structure, Punctuation etc, organise students’ brainstormed ideas into these headings. Use colour-coding if you are going to continue to use it throughout the unit.
Provide students with an A-level narrative sample. What makes THIS a good narrative? Students should read through, highlighting different elements that make it a good narrative. They can write notes and use highlighters/colour coding.
Place students into groups to discuss the narrative and to write ‘I Can’ success criteria statements on cards.
As a whole class, read through each I Can statement and ‘think aloud’ with your students – carefully select the most precise I Can statements and sort under the headings used previously. If students have missed any success criteria, teacher should ask leading questions.
Organise the selected I Can success criteria statements on Learning Wall. Organise under headings and colour-code. Use string or ribbon to connect success criteria statements to marking guide and to examples on the Learning Wall.
There you have it! My teaching sequence for co-constructing success criteria with your students. You could also do this for just one element (introduction, climax) noting all Success criteria used; or you could introduce one at a time (e.g during a lesson on capital letters for proper nouns).
Anyone who has ventured into creating Learning Walls knows, Learning Walls, grow and grow and GROW!
They can literally spill out over whiteboards, walls, and windows. One of my Learning Walls even spilt out onto floors in the shape of baskets filled with resources!
This is all well and good, until you literally have no space in which to grow – maybe you are confined to your whiteboard space, and you just have to stick with that. Maybe you have changed classrooms and your new classroom doesn’t have the wall space you are used to, or extra windows (I am not a fan of covering windows – natural light in a classroom is so good for keeping students calm and alert).
If you are faced with these challenges, then I have some tips for you!
Reduce the size of your Learning Wall printables so that they are 50% of normal size. This makes it easier to fit everything, but also helps your students to see the connectedness of your wall elements.
Use vertical Bump It Up Walls. No need to spread across your Learning Wall, you can go UP a much smaller space (sometimes the wall space between your whiteboard and the corner of the room is the perfect wasted space). (You can find vertical Bump It Up Wall displays here)
Move some of the interactive components to your students’ desktops. Success criteria checklists, student goal mats, mini work samples all work well on student desks where they can refer to them frequently.
Make room for resources on the wall by using hanging hooks. Checklists, mini text scaffolds, and mini word walls work well on key-rings.
Include pockets on your Learning Wall – plastic clear document slips, or clear manilla pockets work well with drawing pins or staples in the corners. Pockets are great for worksheets, printed scaffolds, picture books or readers relevant to the Learning Wall, even puppets or story rocks for the Early Years.
Finally, what about a digital Learning Wall? An interactive Learning Wall that students can access digitally is a huge help during distance learning. You can create a learning wall, updating and sharing with your students, or they can co-create their own with your help for differentiated learning.
If you are limited on space, I hope these tips have given you some ideas! Learning Walls can be created ANYWHERE, with a little imagination and creativity.
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