One Literacy Journey

For a while now, I have been typing away and planning a blog post from a literacy teacher perspective about the successes and failures of literacy learning in the studio model. This year’s literacy learning road has been long and complicated, and I find it pretty difficult to put into words… A inadequately recounted blog post will be done eventually!

For now, an example of what has been going on and the effectiveness of studio model for literacy learning might be seen in my thoughts about how we are supporting one student in her language journey.

The studio model is designed to break educational molds in order to support learners in our changing world as the “old way” proves more and more inadequate in preparing critical thinkers and intrinsically motivated learners. As the studio model is planned to allow students driving their learning and to feel intrinsically motivation to learn, the whole teaching team has spent a lot of effort in setting students up with the ability to plan and execute learning. To be real… it has worked very well often but also has been a big fat mess at times. This example may show some of the successes and failures in studio 5 at creating literate critical thinkers.

In my role as s a literacy coach/specialist, I often work with students across the school based on recommendations and concerns from classroom teachers. In studio 5, I sat with one student recently to reflect on her image of herself as a writer. I’ve known this learner for a few years and have worked with her in classes and outside of classroom walls. I’ve known her as creative, funny, strong-willed and outgoing. In grade 3, new to English, she was writing shape poems using mathematical patterns to design the shape and having animated book talks in a group. This sounds like the perfect candidate for the studio model… You know what you want to learn, how you learn it best, and what you’re doing with the learning.

For a few months, she has been building her student driven unit around writing. She spends a lot of time writing.  Initially that sounds like an automatic recipe for successful literacy learning, but we have also  seen some stumbling blocks. She’s spending so much effort to collect a bunch of different pieces of writing. Her homeroom teacher is concerned that in all this time she doesn’t seem to show much growth in writing anything with depth, interesting words, refined structure,or detail description. She also appears to have a hard time taking onboard suggestions or making improvement to her writing.

Is the studio 5 model working for her language learning? Then, why isn’t practice time making her a skilled and artistic writer? Why has she not been growing as a language learner? Why do all her pieces, old and new, show similar faults? Does she see a need to improve and get support? What has she done about it until now? Why has she just been content to keep writing and writing? SO MANY QUESTIONS!

Thanks to blogger and author and educator Pernille Ripp, I surveyed the student using her “How Are You As a Writer.” What interesting answers she has given:

When asked about her speed: “Average because when I have ideas I start putting them on paper but I am not always sure what to write.”

When asked about her ability: “Average because I forget adding things or deleting things that aren’t supposed to be there.”

When asked about seeing herself as a writer: “I am a writer because I am passionate and with writing you can do nearly anything.”

Together we also looked at a piece of writing she has been drafting. Using a rubric designed for teacher and writer, she put on a critical eye. The student easily says that her word choice is a key area of need based on the descriptors on the rubric.  She easy pointed out that she could not find any complicated sentences or precise language, and she also knew that certain sentences were very important for the kind of writing she’s creating. She also could see that her voice as individual and unique to her. What she wasn’t able to do was identify how she could use her strengths or improve her areas of growth. She has not figured out what tools and resources she needs.

Studio 5’s student driven unit central idea says, “Success hinges on motivation.” This student is clearly passionate and motivated about writing. She does it ALL THE TIME. Why is she calling herself average? Why is her classroom teacher noting a struggle to put into action suggestions and ideas? Why does her writing lack interest and detail? Where is the success? What are we not doing to help her? MORE QUESTIONS.

This is how studio 5 works. She is not responding or changing right now even with the help she has been getting, so now we are looking for more help. That is a success for her, but it is April! She’s been writing for a long time without a lot of change. There have been many missed opportunities to attend workshops, build writing strengths, read great books and discuss the writing, and work with others to get ideas. She has been doing a lot alone without knowing what is working.

On the flipside of the coin, are we being impatient?  Is three month enough to expect her writing to show massive growth at ten years old?  Is the fact that she is making decisions to write and seeing the value  creating the place for learning?  She clearly sees herself as a writer and loves it. She should continue to grow and add words and experiment. Seeing herself as a writer will surely help her learn throughout life.  Isn’t that what we are looking for. Maybe she doesn’t need to show massive growth right now. After our meeting, she was identifying the need to improve. I’ve given her some suggestions and asked her to send me more work. I am going to be looking for what she does with it. She was able to say what she wants to improve. Saying that is a big step. Her teacher also says she recently asked for help with a story that she didn’t like the ending of, and she took suggestions from others.  If we’re in it for creating literate critical thinkers, we must continue to allow them time and space to grow, change, mess-up and succeed. I don’t mean doing that in isolation. We still will check with them and support them, but the perseverance they show can be bigger measure than the actual products they produce.

Thus is the struggle of studio 5. Not enough hours in the day and so many balls in the air. We’ve figured out many things in language and have had many successes as we built the model during the school year, but there were also lost opportunities and students who just slide along. Many students are producing authentic and thorough pieces of writing by going through their writing processes as well as seeking support to write evaluations of learning.  Many students have found time everyday to read and some are joining book clubs to have deep thinking chats and conference about books. Some students are not doing all these things YET. We continue to work on providing opportunities and reaching them all in different ways and seeing all the small successes like saying “yes” to a conversation about improving writing or asking for suggestions. Most importantly, we continue to allow them to persevere and find paths in order to come to solutions as thinkers and problem solvers.

It’s not that we’re not doing something better than the “old way”  but we are still looking for how we can do this way even better.