Gail Loane at Seifrieds, September 2015

With a turn out of over 40 teachers, from as far away as Greymouth and the Rai Valley for our holiday course by Gail Loane, there are going to be some very inspired students during their writing sessions in term four! Every time I see Gail present there is more and more to reflect on and teaching practices to adapt, making some simple modifications to truly meet the needs of the students and move them forward in their learning.

I'm amazed at how much Gail manages to pack into a day, but here are some of her key concepts, as I have interpreted them-

* Work 'backwards by design' in your lesson planning; be conscious of your students' needs, and confident about your lesson objectives, but get your students to 'discover the learning' by examining quality writing by established authors. This gives opportunties for 'student voice' and gets them actively involved in their own learning.

* Using the techniques of established writers, e.g. 'Let's write Gavin Bishop sentences', model these with your students incorporating a richness of language, and then encourage them to use those techniques in their own writing; move your students from doing this via explicit teaching of skills, to automation of the skills.

* Inclusiveness- Use the writing of established Maori writers in your lessons to engage Maori students, for example Patricia Grace and Witi Ihimaera.

* Writing is a problem solving business, so pose questions such as, 'What if we started this sentence with...?' or 'What if we moved this here...?' I'm pretty sure it was Gail who I once heard say, 'Writers are lucky, because unlike a brain surgeon, they don't have to get it right the first time'. Teaching students how to reorganise their sentences can enhance their writing.

* Understand your students' experiences, and that they all have something to say. Have high expectations for all students in your class, and expect 100% engagement. Choose texts to share with your class carefully, and asking yourself, 'What does this text have to offer my students and myself?' BELIEF=IMPACT

* Gail refers to Jeff Anderson's book 'Mechanically Inclined' in order to develop a better understanding of sentence structure and punctuation in order to be able to teach it well.

* Use students draft writing books as a record of their progress. they need to be marked regularly and feedback given. Respond to student writing in a way that shows if their writing has allowed the reader to relate and connect on an emotional level; writing is a creational activity, not a correctional activity.

* Gail suggests teachers, in their teams, each week bring to their syndicate meeting a sample of writing to share; analyse it and pull it apart. Gail uses Gavin Bishop's 'Piano Rock' as motivation for writing 'memoirs', so this could be a good starting point. I like the way this could be incorporated into reading groups, making better reading-writing connections ('Read like a writer, write like a reader').

* Gather writing from each class, and look at the 'top' writing from each class or level. Decide if each piece gets better as you go up the school or not, and identify where more professional development may be required in order to strengthen the teaching of writing, helping students move forward.

* Gail referred to a 'helping circle' to aide students in the editing process; more about this will be in her new book out soon.

Thank you Gail for an invaluable day; you are so knowledgeable and passionate about the teaching of writing.

Gail will be back in Nelson in 2016 leading a day of professional development for literacy leadership and the development of writing programmes.

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