Teaching Year 9 boys the skills of creative writing presents a number of challenges. As we know, by the time students reach Stage 5, their interest in reading has noticeably waned. Gone are the days when the teacher can ask their students to compose a ‘story’ and the power of the imagination clicks into action. Instead, we are generally met with the fear of the blank page and a newfound understanding of ‘Writer’s Block.’ More often than not, we must go right back to basics and break down the components of a short story, a paragraph, and a sentence. Thankfully, this year I had the assistance of Writer’s Toolbox, as well as two Ray Bradbury short stories, to help with some of the heavy lifting.
Our students always like to know how they can access those ‘extra’ marks. Recently, Writer’s Toolbox consultant, Mr Robert Tall, told the Year 7 boys that the student who gets the top grade will cast six to eight different sentence styles by the bottom of the first page they write. With this in mind, the ‘Sentence Builder’ feature seemed like the perfect place to start. This skill would be my main focus throughout the unit. While some sentence styles proved easier to master than others, students quickly got used to labels such as ‘Explore the subject’ and the ‘W start’ as a way of avoiding the much overused ‘simple’ sentence.
The most popular feature among the students was, without doubt, the ‘Feedback’ function. An analysis of the data reveals that collectively, the class sought feedback 1,388 times. More pleasing is the fact that 1,073 improvements were made. Revision is an integral part of the writing process. It is not always easy for our busy students to grasp the importance of editing their work. In response to the feedback suggestions in Writer’s Toolbox, the boys were all very keen to make the changes in an attempt to achieve 90% plus in their writing strength. Personally, my own favourite feedback feature is the ‘easy-to-read-for-English-Teachers’ sentence style graph.
Ms Ryan’s Observations
Reflecting on what worked well and what didn’t, I have made some observations on how my Year 9 class have responded.
Writer’s Toolbox removes the fear of the blank page. It supports students throughout the writing process and our students love that support. When the fateful moment came to leave Writer’s Toolbox and export stories to PDF form, I was reminded of the experience of removing bike stabilisers for the first time.
A quick glance at the students’ work reveals a noticeable improvement in sentence structure. While there are still some issues, I have spotted (among other styles) a number of ‘W’ start sentences to reveal thought and knowledge.
On a side note: The most interesting piece of feedback I received for this article was: “Time to toughen up what’s in your paragraphs and aim for 100-120 words.”
Expect better next time!