Friday, 26 October 2018

Learn - Research - Professional Development

Improving Boys Literacy PD with Joseph Driessen


First we read this piece of ‘boys writing’ to start with and then we discussed what made this appealing to
boys in particular;

The content involved risk-taking and misbehaviour.

It was humorous and self-deprecating.

The writing was active and fast-paced; not many wasted words, quite honest and blunt.

Similes were basic but effective - easy to interpret.


Next we discussed how would we develop a piece of writing like this; encourage students to write like
this and then develop their writing.

Boys preferences and strengths need affirmation.

Boys can be great writers if they feel welcome (a culture of respect); they will resist and disengage if
their efforts feel unwelcome.

Boys ‘like’ conflict, action, overcoming challenges, humor, the unexpected, irony or an alternative
viewpoint.

Boys discussions are different to girls’

Boys enjoyed being coached how to write ‘edgy’ things.



I talked to two primary teachers about how they ‘coach’ boys writing and whether they agree with boys
liking conflict and action..

One recommended reading Des Hunt novels that link to science; a male, humorous writer with science
embedded.

Another said that choosing contexts for boys is absolutely key to writing (the teacher chooses images
she thinks they will find most interest) and just gets them to write about it.

A small problem; in science we have the contexts given/laid out by the curriculum - in junior science
there is some flexibility to use current events or twist contexts, but senior science is quite limited.

The two primary teachers also mentioned they try not to mark too closely against rubrics like e-asTTle
does because that shuts down creativity.

Another small problem; in science there are stringent marking criteria, sometimes down to the actual
individual phrases that must be included in the writing to achieve a certain grade, such as “reaction rate
increases as there are more successful collisions between particles per second” in the year 11 Acids
and Bases exam. Meanwhile in senior Biology there are lots of different ways to say the same
information, and the best writers know the content well enough to “freestyle” in an exam rather than
freeze when they can’t remember the exact wording of a definition.



Next we discussed what the features of a good writer in our class are:

I said “they just start - they’re not hung up on the PERFECT words or way to write to impress the teacher.”

Vaughn said “some prefer to write plans at the start though and that’s just their style.”

Vaughn added that the best senior writers all re-read and edit their work.


Next we learnt that boys need a learning journey with milestones and accountability.

Introduce a challenging task/journey.

Give learning journey/outline of task with timelines.

Use milestones to set short term tasks; every milestone can be given a tick and celebrated.

Use grids (tick) to get detailed work.

Be supportive yet demanding.

Not meeting targets needs to be a big deal.

Endorse the progress and final destination.



Then we went through some recent literacy research. Research showed that the socioeconomic status
of families correlated with the total amount of words spoken to their children (lower SES = lower words
spoken), and another study found girls are spoken to a lot more often that boys by their parents. Well,
actually, mothers speak more to daughters and fathers speak more to sons BUT mothers speak more
in total so girls hear a lot more words than boys by age 5.


The recent LENA study (2018) found that children who had more two-way conversations correlated
with higher language scores, comprehension scores and school achievement. The conclusion of this
was that engaging children in two way conversation is the most powerful way to develop language
and stimulate cognitive development. I wondered to myself - “could this link to having a reading buddy
like the one mentioned in the National Science Teachers Association article Improving Science Reading
Comprehension?”


Near the end of the session I had a bit of a chat with a teacher next to me from Henderson Intermediate
- she’s been recording herself read along with a text, so lower-ability readers can read along with her at
any time. An example of this can be seen here.



Strategies to include in class:  

  • The opportunity to write freely and safely (in pairs, with an audience they trust) for just 3 or 4 mins.
    • How would you parent your mother?
    • A list of class improvements for the Principal?
    • Let them try to write something funny in just two sentences, judge based class laughs.
    • Anything you would investigate or invent if you could.
    • Should we use genetic engineering to create more food for growing populations?
    • If we had the power with science to bring people back to life, who would you bring back?
    • Which extinct species would you bring back and why?
  • Other science topics they could “freestyle” about:
    • Everybody can do science.
    • Potential research subjects should be told about risks AND benefits of the projects.
    • New technology can change cultural values and social behaviour.
    • Any belief about the world is as valid as any other.
    • Animals should not be used as research subjects.
    • The international community should enforce laws to prevent further global warming.
    • Companies should be allowed to drill for oil in protected wilderness areas.
    • Cloning of humans should be allowed.
    • Funding for future space programs should be reduced.
    • Unwanted, frozen, human embryos should be used for genetics research.

Use STORIES in class!!! 

Real life stories and storytelling of real people, or real people in to tell stories, or get some men in to read out loud, or get people in to talk about how they read in their different jobs.

Give INTERESTING CONTEXTS for writing; one guy dressed up as a pirate and then was really gruff for 5 mins, told kids to get under the desks, and read excerpts from a slave trader’s diary from in history.

Give safe and respectful OPPORTUNITIES for writing.

Increasing two-way conversation (GENUINE, NOT teacher-driven, closed-answer questioning) is the most powerful way to develop language.

Boys need care and consequences; some need more than others. Be firm and fair for boys.

Build boys up and make them feel like being part of a winning learning team; “in our class we always” and “I expect.”

And those are all the things I learned during my professional development today, which I feel is quite a lot compared to some other sessions! 

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