A Passion for Writing

“my boys so enjoy listening to ‘Shadow’ by Michael Morpurgo that they are willing to write about it ..over 3 days!!!! Hurray!”

So….in the grand scheme of things a piece of writing around 60 words long may not seem a big deal. But these pieces are treasure!

One was written by Dani with very little support from me because, at last, he is having a go at working out letter patterns for himself. When I met him first – not so many months ago – he told me he couldn’t read and he couldn’t write. I assured him we would do our best to change that! He looked at me with a rather sceptical look and I thought ‘I hope it works!’ The other piece was by Sam, who I’ve known for longer.

Sam and Nick both enjoyed books having come with me to a new class setting. They had experienced the pleasure of reading together but I felt very sad at the initial response to my invitation from the others. We started off in the cushion corner…..all huddled together, very close, and I got them hooked! Some weeks later we had to move as they had all grown and it felt crowded, but now they had learned to listen and were ok with the book corner seat/chairs or round the table.

We started with ‘The Butterfly Lion’ by Michael Morpurgo. I had skimmed it but we learned a lot together. I love his stories. I love the fact that they include real events and challenging emotions that move us to the core at times. And as I read to them they loved it too. I met Michael Morpurgo at a conference 6 years ago – an unforgettable spring day – and heard him share his own story. When you meet the author your perspective on their work changes and the fact that I had chatted to him added its own magic for my group.

We moved on to ‘Billy the Kid’, to ‘Jo-Jo the Melon Donkey’, then to ‘Cool’ and as we were reaching the end of it Dani produced a copy of ‘Shadow’.

“Can we read this next?” he asked. “ I have it on my Kindle and can listen to it too. But I’d like to hear it again and some of the others might enjoy it!”

So we began. And each day for 15 minutes before / after break, that is where you would find us ………all engrossed in a good book. It was a godsend on days when frustrations and challenges, from within or beyond the group, fragmented our focus – one day we read for 45 minutes and they didn’t want to stop.

Our reading and writing activities over the months have included different scaffolded approaches, with significant adult support much of the time. Writing has so often been something of a chore for Dani, Sam, Nick and the others in our group.

Last Tuesday I said:

“OK – I want you to write about Shadow. What you enjoy, what’s interesting, what you want to share about feelings. Just write, and draw a little too, and let’s see how we get on. Have a go and I don’t mind about spelling. Just try!”

And they did! And it took perhaps an hour, but they were writing. Thoughts shared, ideas verbalised, questions asked, wow words included, life linking, illustrating, summarising, connecting with other texts! But we had to stop at lunch time.

“Can I do more tomorrow?”

“Yes of course you can!”

And they did! And the next day they went back to their notebooks again and wrote more and added more detail to their pictures. There was no scaffolding this time, but so much had been modelled over the months, the formats we used in literacy contexts and dialogue based approaches had impacted on their sense of authorship and some personal ‘quirks’ were included in their work.

For me it was a joy!

I’ve had my own professional challenges recently but, in spite of them, the learning and teaching has been positive, the encouragement and growth mindset focus has paid huge dividends. To see evidence that my ‘little strugglers’ were now showing resilience and confidence in writing was more than I could have asked or thought!

And they are so proud of their work. And they are still enjoying ‘Shadow’ very much in spite of some of the tragic details in that story.

I don’t think they’ll forget Mr Morpurgo, and when I think of him I have no doubt I will remember the positives of their writing treasures!

The names have been changed to protect the identity of the children!

You may have come across ‘Book Detectives’ along the way – a dialogue based approach to developing reading skills that was developed in 2003-4 by a team I was seconded to.

In the process my own interest in developing a love of reading became something of a passion, so it is fantastic to find that the principles behind it can be so effective with learners who find reading and writing a challenge. http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/sharingpractice/b/bookdetectives/background.asp

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