28 September 2013

Scaffolding Writing: Authentic Audience

For the past few weeks I have been working on scaffolding my IGCSE Second Language English class. These lessons arose out of the start of year assessment we conducted to determine levels and needs. This is pure assessment for learning.

The writing was very weak and in reality, way below the prerequisite for success at this level. However, as I am a big believer in self-fulfilling prophecies, I told them what a great start they had made and proceeding to dig deep to form some solid foundations to allow them the success they deserve.

The IGCSE exam requires learners to write two essays of between 100-200 words each, depending on the level of paper they sit. One requires formal register, and one, informal register - normally a letter. AfL dictated that a letter was at present out of reach and so, my little unit on postcards was born.

Previously, I have written about the first two weeks of this plan which involved:
  • labelling an image of a beach to provide and expand vocabulary
  • completing cloze sentences using the vocabulary
  • writing their own sentences using the vocabulary
  • scanning and skimming postcards for language patterns
  • drafting postcards to someone in the room
  • writing responses to these drafts
  • searching for relevant images
  • note making about personal experiences
  • recording descriptions orally
  • listening to peers aurally
  • questioning peers about their descriptions
You can read about these two phases in my posts Scaffolding Beginner ESL and Fotobabble.

This week I used an authentic audience to encourage and engage my class.

We are lucky enough to have a sister-school in Malaysia where I also used to work. A colleague there found out about this unit and offered up her Year 8 class as an audience to send postcards to.

I prepared for the week by accessing the Year 8 website my colleague shared with me. On here, there is a clickable image created using Thinglink out of photographs of each learner in the class. Each link takes users to the blog for each learner where an introduction has been posted. Most are Vlogs, some are Glogs.

I paired up each of my learners with a Year 8 learner. For those who are ready to be pushed slightly more, I paired them up with two penpals.

Lessons leading to the writing of the postcards continued from prior lessons, as outlined in my previous posts Scaffolding Beginner ESL and Fotobabble

I provided the list of penpals and the link to the Year 8 website. My learners had to locate their partner and go to their blog to learn about them.

I provided a sheet with prompts asking them to write down at least three things they learned about their penpal, though provided space for more to challenge those working at a more advanced level. I then asked them to think of three things they would like to share with their penpal and at least one question they would like to ask them. All these had to be based on the notes they had made and the understanding they had about their penpal.

They really enjoyed learning about the Year 8s and were excited about having someone real to write to. The prospect of getting a reply really motivated them and this strengthened my belief about the positive impact authentic tasks have on learning and engagement.

Following this, I asked them to decide how they would greet their penpal and how they would end their postcard. They also had to decide on some common phrases they were going to use. All this required them to transfer the learning they had done in prior lessons from identifying language patterns in postcards.

They then drafted their postcards and had them checked over. Finally, they chose a postcard from a selection I had brought in (found and collected free from bars and museums around Singapore) and copied their messages neatly onto them.

Some of my most challenged and reluctant writers completed the writing without any input, prompting or support from me AND with minimal mistakes. This was a real breakthrough as these learners were loathe to string even a single sentence together five weeks ago. 

I posted off the postcards at the end of the week and look forward to receiving some replies.

My next stage will be to develop this into longer pieces and letters of 100-200 words. I do believe they will get there.

I am so proud of their progress and work. I can see tangible improvement that makes all the hard work and planning I have put into this unit totally and utterly worth it.