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Independent learning for new entrant students

At St Josephs Catholic School in Orakei, new entrant teacher Rebecca McGarry discovered that if her students were to become independent learners she needed to clarify and model the steps for them to take. 

In this story Rebecca shared learning intentions, clearly modelled the learning and co-constructed success criteria with her students. Doing this with new entrant learners can be challenging, but Rebecca persevered and through trial and error she discovered what worked for her learners.

Shared clarity

"When I ask my students about their learning they can tell me, they can show me in their writing and they can talk about it with each other. I see that they own their own learning. If they are stuck, they go back and check the modelling book to see what we have done. They aren’t just adrift.

It’s exciting when I get new students and start this process with them on their very first day at school. It is great to see those children able to tell me ‘this is what I’m learning and this is what I need to do’. I hear them talking to each other about what they need and they’re starting to talk to other adults too. ‘I need these things to be successful’. They are reflecting on their own writing and they can talk about what they need to do tomorrow."

During writing time, I noticed a group of learners always stopping when they got stuck on a word and, as they were recent school starters, this was happening a lot! This kept them from writing fluently. I needed to model for my students some strategies to help them through this.

Sharing the learning intention and the relevance

“We know lots and lots of words that we can write. When we get stuck on just one word, we need to come up with ways to keep on writing or we won’t get all of our thoughts and ideas written down so that others can read them. So today that is what we are going to learn – how to keep writing when we get stuck on a word.”

I then wrote the learning intention clearly in their modelling book: “We are learning how to keep writing when we get stuck.”

Little chunks of learning

“Sometimes my learning intentions come from the curriculum or from an assessment I have done (e.g. school entry assessment). Often the learning intention comes from something I have noticed as a need for the group of learners. For new entrants the learning needs to be accessible to them. If the  learning intention is too broad then they don’t really understand what they are learning. I didn’t really have that understanding before. I used to have learning intentions that were far too big and made no sense to the children, like we are learning to write a recount. Over time I’ve made the learning intentions smaller and smaller, for example we are learning how to sound out a word or we are learning how to make a plan for our writing. It’s great to see the learning that’s come from that change. We go back to the bigger learning as we go, but the little chunks of learning get us there.”

Modelling the process and co-constructing success criteria

This group of learners already knew to plan their writing by thinking, discussing, and creating a quick labelled drawing, so I did the same. I told the group what I wanted to write about and I planned my story with a quick labelled drawing. I then said out loud what I wanted my first sentence to be: ‘I went in a plane to see my Mum and Dad.’

“I am going to write my sentence, and I am going to show you how to keep writing when you get stuck. I need you to carefully watch what I do and listen to what I say because I’m going to ask you, what did I do when I got stuck?”

In the modelling book, I started to write my sentence. I repeated it out loud a few times, wrote “I” and then I stopped. “I’m stuck. I don’t know how to write ‘went’. I’m not sure… ummm… I’m going to sound it out.” After slowly sounding out ‘went’ several times, I said: “I’m listening to myself and I hear the first sound. I think it is a ‘w’. So I’m going to write ‘w’.” After writing the ‘w’, I asked my group, “What did I do when I got stuck on that word?”

Success criteria

“Before the lesson I think about what the success criteria would be: How do you keep writing when you are stuck on a word? How can my learners show that they have learnt this? I then decide whether to model the process or show an exemplar to my learners. By seeing the learning the students are then able to co-construct the success criteria. Depending on the difficulty of the learning they sometimes co-construct the success criteria one at a time, like in this example, and sometimes all of the success criteria at the end. I also often use images or symbols alongside text to support my learners in using the success criteria independently. I find it helpful to think of the learning intention and then ask, ‘If they are going to learn this then they need to remember to...’ I often use ‘remember to...’ when recording the success criteria in the modelling book.”

They told me that I had listened to myself, and with some prompting, they got more specific and said that I sounded out the first letter of the word. I then wrote that in the modelling book as the first success criterion. I checked in with my learners by asking them to show me how to sound out a ‘w’.

Next, I modelled sounding out the word again and shared that I couldn’t figure out the rest of the sounds in the word; “But I know something that might help me … the alphabet/word card. I’m going to have a look on my alphabet/word card for ‘went’ or the sounds in ‘went’”. I did this and we saw that the alphabet card didn’t have the word we wanted this time. “What did I do when I got stuck on ‘went’?” They said that I used my alphabet/word card, and I then added that to the success criteria.

Finally, I modelled the last success criterion. “I know ‘went’ starts with a w but I don’t know how to write the rest of the word. My alphabet/word card didn’t help this time. I am going to draw a line beside the w. The line shows me that there are letters missing. Now I can carry on with the rest of my sentence – ‘I went in a …’. I know how to write ‘in’ and ‘a’ so I’m going to write them.” I drew a line beside the w and then continued to write more of my sentence ‘I w____ in a’.

I asked the group: “What did I do when I didn’t know what went after the w?” The students were able to tell me that I put a line instead of letters. When asked why I used a line, they said the line showed my letters were missing. I then added this to the success criteria.

I continued to model the success criteria with a second word later in my sentence – ‘I w___ in a p____ to see my Mum and Dad.’

Checking for understanding

To check their understanding, I pointed to each success criterion and asked them to share with their learning buddy what they need to do when they get stuck on a word. I listened to their conversations and prompted them when they were unsure. I then gave the students time to talk about their writing for today and do their plan/drawing. When they were ready to write, I took them back to the modelling book and reminded them of today’s learning intention and what they needed to remember to do when they got stuck on a word. While they were writing, I prompted them to use the success criteria.

Next steps

The children's next step is to work with other students and the teacher to fill in the missing words. Appropriate words can then be added to their alphabet/word cards as high frequency words to learn.

Rebecca worked with Selena Hinchco from Evaluation Associates, as part of the Leadership and Assessment PLD contract facilitated by the Consortium for Professional Learning, funded by the Ministry of Education.

A version of this story appeared as an article in The Education Gazette, Volume 92 Number 21. 25 November 2013.