Friday, 27 April 2018

Learn - Research - Literacy from 2017 COL Inquiries

The Achievement Challenges and focus on literacy is not a new phenomenon in 2018. In fact, last year's COL teachers had a similar focus as they completed their inquiries. After a year's trying, failing, learning, improving, trying, and sharing, these are the ideas relating to literacy I could take from their inquiries :)

This blog post will focus on literacy strategies shared by 2017's Tamaki College COL teachers.

SOLO hexagons to support concept mapping
This strategy is used by lots of teachers in the school, and is useful to start students discussing key vocabulary and the relationships between the words. Dot used the same vocabulary hexagons repeatedly across three weeks to build her student's confidence and then after three weeks asked students to collaboratively write what they had understood from the activity. You can read about it here.

Reciprocal reading
This is a strategy shared by Aaron Wilson that Dot employed in some of her classes last year. It involves group reading, once the members of the group have been assigned the certain roles to contribute to the reading.

In this post Dot asked shared how she asked her year nines to identify 20 keywords from a text, then select the six most important, and then write a summary using those six words.

Using SOLO taxonomy to structure 'summarising' blog posts
In another post Dot shared how she asked students to recall all the information they could from a visitors presentation the week before, and wrote all their ideas on the board. Then the class cut that down to eight key ideas. From there they formulated paragraphs that met the criteria for multi-structural, relational and extended abstract-level writing.

Group brainstorm and sense-making
Dot visited a classroom in Panmure Bridge and observed students "free writing" down any and all ideas they had learnt in the last few days about a topic in groups, on their own corner of a shared A3 sheet of paper. Then the three or four group members compared what they had written and together identified what the MAIN key points were. Students then worked together to reach the common goal of summarising a key point. Dot also noticed that expectations around writing - such as sentence structure, writing frameworks, and word banks were really visible around the classroom.

A writing framework created by our literacy coordinator Marc Milford
Dot implemented Marc's writing framework with one of her classes and found it more effective at helping to motivate the boys in her class to write than the girls. She also noted that boys responded best to digital feedback while girls seemed to prefer having it explained in person.

Noelene uses chunking in her algebra unit to help students break questions and tasks down into manageable pieces.

Three level reading guide
Another tool that proved useful (a student articulates the strategy here) is the three level reading guide, where students read 'on the line' at Achieved, 'between the lines' for Merit and 'beyond the line' for Excellence. Reading on the line involves substituting to solve equations, between the lines requires comparing and explaining, and beyond the line is forming their own equations.

Early on in the year Karen identified a lack of vocabulary as holding her students back from being able to analyse, or even just describe, objects. Vocabulary was her major focus. 

Using vocabulary to analyse
Karen planned four lessons focussing on improving the understanding of design vocabulary; first students analysed a poster using these words, then they located different level SOLO words (e.g. describe, analyse) in a reading and turned them different colours, then giving them time to research difficult word definitions on google and select the correct one/ones that made sense in a design context, and finally made a display of the most important subject-specific vocabulary to display on their class wall.

Playing 'Articulate' with vocabulary to practice 'describing'
Karen repurposed the idea of the brilliant boardgame 'Articulate' where people must describe a word or object without saying the name of it.

Reading and highlighting using SOLO levels
Students were instructed to read a text about the Chrysler building and follow instructions to highlight words at different SOLO levels, so students were both reading and also thinking about the structure of their readings.

Getting used to form and sound first
Karen visited another teacher's class and observed the teacher introducing new vocabulary at the start of the lesson and just getting students used to seeing the words and saying them out loud to each other. Later in the lesson, after they learnt the meaning of the words, they were encouraged to use them immediately in context, as often as possible. The teacher also used a '25 word summary' at the end of the lesson, for students to summarise what they had learnt in the last hour.

Collecting prior knowledge and prior vocabulary using SOLO hexagons
Pretty much exactly what it sounds like, see an example of student work here.

Reading more before writing
Karen got students to read model answers and identify key vocabulary before moving on to writing. See the example task here.

Testing comprehension with Kahoot; competitive motivation to read
Before and after reading assessment information Hinerau got students to answer questions on a kahoot and then challenged them to beat their scores by the end of the lesson.

Collaborating on a Google Doc
Hinerau got students to enter questions they had about their upcoming Achievement Standard on a Google Doc and in pairs collaboratively research answers to their own and classmate's questions.

Sorry for my explanations getting shorter at the end there, it's late and it's been a long day!

I forgot to mention Wide and Deep literacy units!
These units were designed by Aaron Wilson and Naomi Rosedale.

The idea behind them is that students engage in reading to gain a deeper understanding of a concept, rather than quickly learning surface information. When they first told me about this I thought "ok, that's cool, but we have rather a lot of content to actually get through each year" (this is still true, I'm already behind with Year 9, but I'm telling myself that it's better they properly understand less different concepts but understand them well rather than meet a lot of concepts only a little as we rush past them).

These reading units involve the selection of a simple scaffolding text, a text that elaborates on the idea, a complimentary text or two, and then a contrasting or controversial text presenting an opposing viewpoint. Students are also encouraged to select and share their own text around a topic. There is also a clearly listed wordbank, so students know what the keywords in the topic are.

Students engage in reading using the group roles mentioned above; this involves a lot of two-way conversation and discussion between students but can be very scary for science teachers, as nothing gets written down and we can only be in one place at a time! It's hard to hand the power over and trust that they will indeed engage with the text and stay on track the entire time. At the end of the unit students ARE required to create and share a DLO to their blogs, demonstrating the depth of their new understanding.


  1. This is a goldmine! I am thinking of focusing on literacy strategies as a mini inquiry next term, as it will be the first time I need to prep students for an exam. Thanks for sharing such an array of ideas, and linking in places for further info. Any suggestions on what may be useful for me with Senior Health? Ka Pai

    1. Hey! Glad to help :) From this list I think the reciprocal reading roles can be useful if you can get the whole class to buy in to the roles. Reading out loud in pairs seems to work for my seniors. And in terms of writing, I think the 20:6 strategy can be really useful as a tool for summarising, but I still know a lot less about supporting writing than I do about reading.. Health might be quite similar to senior science - I have a few extra science literacy strategies to write about later, send me an email and I'll forward them to you :)