Bunthorne's Blog

Stewart McGowan's blog

Archive for the tag “Writing”

An Area of Study quickie

I’ve written about this before. At my place, we do a task where students read aloud 300 words of their own writing then relate it to ideas about Discovery and their texts.

Here’s the latest version of our task: HSC_AoS_Task_One_Asst_Notification_2016

There’s a couple of differences from our past task. Most notably, we’ve built in some concepts, some possible visual stimuli and insisted on third person writing. I’ve left this in Word so that people can make adaptations for their own context. I know that there are other people out there using other models – the viva voce, for example – but this is the one we’ve settled on here. Because it values the creative we think it’s a worthwhile addition to the course as a whole.

And would this be a good time to mention that getting rid of the Area of Study might not be the best idea in the world?

Dystopian SF revised, with activities

I’ve made some small revisions to Come Unto These Yellow Sands. The new version is here: Come unto these yellow sands revised
I also had a request for a version without f-words. Yes, I know, there were only two. But fair enough. So here’s the no f-word version: Come unto these yellow sands no fs
Lastly, just because I’m planning to use it with my Year 9, I went ahead and put together some Literature Circle activities to support group reading and responses. I’ll leave this in word rather than pdf’ing it so that it can be more easily chopped about – but please respect the copyright on this. Yellow sands activities
I’ve had some really interesting responses to the play – that’s where a couple of the changes came from – and it’s good to see it getting some use. Have fun. Let me know how it goes!

Dodging the ‘essay on legs’. The speaking task question.

I’ve stolen the phrase ‘essay on legs’ from Sam Schroder, who used the term on the ETA facebook page. I like it because it’s a great summary of the problem: since the introduction of the new senior syllabus at the turn of the century we’ve been looking for decent alternatives to the highly formalised, analytical speaking task.  

Even as someone who has spent a lot of their career as a public speaking and debating coach, I have to say that I’m glad to see teachers looking for a range of engaging and relevant ways of delivering speaking tasks. I don’t have all the answers here. I see value in the live presentation and in the recorded one, the one with audiovisual support and the one without, the collaborative and the individual…

What I can do, though, is share my school’s response to the speaking task question. At our place, the speaking task is part of the Area of Study. This gives us the opportunity to assess the formal presentation at the end of Term 4, when there’s more flexibility in the timetable.

The task we do gets students to read out three hundred words of their original writing and then comment on how it reflects their learning about ‘Belonging’ It’s a common task across Advanced and Standard, delivered in panels of about eight students. Visual presentations – PowerPoints, Prezis – are recommended as a strategy to increase audience engagement. Students not only get the task, they get a model presentation. Here’s the task: AoS Speech Belonging Creative HSPA

How do they go? Well, here’s a sample. English sample AoS creative speech. This student chose to do a PowerPoint with their speech and it was a particularly good one. It’s here: Imp writing Belonging speech pp. Lastly, when I worked with this student we talked about what he needed to do to lift this work towards a top band response, so here’s some ‘feed forward’ work: Feed forward practical example English. (This was written with a view to working with staff so it includes a copy of the task and my notes as well as the improved response.)

I’m looking forward to Sam’s presentation at ETA to see what else is happening out there in terms of moving speaking tasks into this century. But in the meantime, there for your consideration is what we do. We have found this much more engaging than the former ‘essay on legs’ practice – and much more engaging. Students seem to enjoy hearing each other’s writing! Who would have thought, eh?

Advice on first entering into study of the science fiction genre

I was asked about teaching science fiction on the ETA facebook page by someone who was teaching it for the first time so I put together this reply. I’m thinking others might find it useful, too, so I’m publishing it here.

Dear Santhe,

I’m assuming you’ve already seen Barbara Stanners’ Exploring Genre Science Fiction book. If you haven’t, here’s the link to Phoenix Ed who publish this: http://www.phoenixeduc.com/shop/item/exploring-genre-science-fiction

 I’m a big genre fan so I read a lot of Australian Science Fiction and Crime. The SF can be a little harder to find but it’s out there. A good starting point is the Australian Science Fiction Society’s Ditmar Awards. All the winners are on Wikipedia. What can be particularly interesting here is the criticism. For example, this is the winning article from the 2013 awards: http://www.tor.com/blogs/2012/12/historically-authentic-sexism-in-fantasy-lets-unpack-that. This is Tansy Rainer Roberts’ look at ideas of history and sexism in fantasy – but the issues are very much the same for the science fiction genre.

 Here’s a good pop culture sf site that your students might enjoy exploring – I know I do: http://io9.com/tag/books. For example, there’s a very interesting article on one of the favourite talking points about science fiction – predicting the future – here: http://io9.com/how-to-measure-the-power-of-a-science-fiction-story-1334642372. This is Annalee Neewitz’s take on this. Here’s her conclusion:

 Predicting the future is a cheap parlor trick. Giving people a way to understand their lives is the true gift of the storyteller. The better we understand our world, the easier it is to think beyond the confines of the present and change the future.

 Nice. I can see an activity that involves just exploring this site and tor.com to find key contemporary ideas about genre.

 Now, something specific: I worked with Denise McKinna at Dungog High on this: https://stewartmcgowandet.wordpress.com/2013/02/12/better-writing-in-extension-english/. This is the reference to my blog post where I published the results of our work. The challenge here was to take a fairly average piece of work and make it better so this is a good practical activity for later in the course.

 Anyway, there’s my thoughts. Hope this helps. If you see or find anything else that’s fabulous, please pass it on!

Revising Area of Study Section 2

Yesterday I was working with a school revising Paper 1,Section 2 of the HSC. In the presentation I tried to address the particular problem that students don’t know specifically what to do to ‘study’ for this section. I’ve put all the resources from the workshop into this post

There’s ideas from a range of sources in here. Tony Britten is big on building scenarios, so I’ve included that as a preparation strategy. Lizzie Chase’s Raft, River, Rainbow resource (available here: http://www.raftriverandrainbow.com/) is intended for junior years but I’ve found that it’s excellent for explicitly reinforcing knowledge about the craft of writing with Year 12. The graphic is from the Whitlam Institute’s What Matters site.

For the workshop, I prepared a practice paper that had texts but no Section 1 questions. It’s here: AoS Section 2 Practice

Here’s the PowerPoint: AoS Writing Workshop Regular readers will notice that it’s adapted from ones I’ve delivered in the past. This one’s specifically AoS focused.

Just to make life a little easier, here’s the Writing Craft cards from Lizzie Chase’s Raft, River, Rainbow resource.  Raftriver Writing craft

As usual, I’m putting what I do out there so that it can be used and improved. Let me know how it goes.

Have fun!

Improving Students’ Extended Writing – the Work So Far

This is largely a rehash of what I’ve written about elsewhere in the blog but it’s worth going over, mainly because I’ve had a few requests lately for resources.

A big part of my work as a consultant has been to work on later years literacy. The course I put together as part of this work is called ‘Improving Students’ Writing in your KLA’ – it’s designed to be relevant acros a range of subject areas.

It’s built around some key ideas in literacy. The really central one is that students’ writing won’t improve unless we explicitly teach writing. Sounds like a no-brainer but in the context of the HSC, with busy people intent on delivering content, it’s easy to lose sight of the need to build on what students can do and show them where to go next.

Central to the course is the idea of feedback. If you know Karen Yager’s work, or you’ve read John Hattie, you’ll know how powerful feedback is – but what does effective feedback look like? I’ve proposed a structure based around a six-point diagram that’s designed to give teachers a framework for providing feedback. I’ve borrowed from Karen the idea of feedback and ‘feed forward’ throughout. Telling students what they can already do, then where they need to go next, is a key strategy.

In short, when we’re looking at a student’s extended writing, we typically find a range of problems that we want to ‘feed forward’ to them about, including:

  • that they really don’t know the content well enough
  • that their writing is unstructured
  • that they aren’t writing enough
  • that their writing lacks complexity
  • that they’re not ‘answering the question’ in a precise way
  • that they’re not dealing with the big ideas

In the course, I suggest that these six points are points on a cycle. If we build knowledge, then structure, then elaboration, then complexity, then cohesion, then concept – then we’ve built quality writing. I came up with this approach in particular because, while everyone uses high-end work samples, there’s not to my mind much teaching about the steps on the way to composing high-end, academic, conceptual writing of the kind valued in the HSC.

Here’s the diagram that I use as the centre of the course:

The Writing Cycle

Try it out: have a look at a few work samples and see if you can ‘track’ the sample to the diagram. It’s supposed to help make the ‘feed forward’ conversation with the student easier: ‘Look, you clearly know your texts well, your essay’s well organised and you’re writing a longer response, but let’s work on your sentences to see if we can get more complex ideas into your response.’ That kind of thing.

When I’m working individually with students I often take them around this cycle in an effort to build a quality paragraph. There’s an example of this at the back of the course handout.

Now I mentioned earlier that improving writing should be explicit – and that’s what else is in the handout that you can download here: Improving Writing Support booklet. In it are a range of strategies that I’ve used in English and other KLA’s to explicitly build students’ writing skills. There’s activities that encourage students to learn about what they’re studying through writing, scaffolding proformas, suggestions for encouraging elaboration, activities on building complexity through sentence-based activities, passages that demonstrate high-level cohesion and suggestions for building complexity.

I thought of editing this all back so that it only included English examples but I’ve left the other KLA examples in there just to make the point: every KLA is responsible for the specific, subject-based literacies in their own area.

I’m hoping this is useful for the people who asked. Some of you will no doubt be sick of the mantra – ‘explicit, systematic, balanced, integrated’ – but there’s a solid, practical focus in this.

Ultimately, academic writing is no easy thing and many of our students will need help to get there. This is my model for doing that.

Improving Writing 2013

I’ve been running the Improving Writing in your KLA course again this week – for about the nineteenth time. Last week I ran the students’version that I put together for Hunter River again as well – this time in Maitland. Naturally I can’t avoid tinkering with this course and of course it’s going to change according to audience but here’s the latest version of the PowerPoint Improving Writing in Your KLA May 2013 and the course handout Improving Writing in Your KLA May 2013 Improving Writing May 2013 Handout.

For those who haven’t seen these before, please note that I’m happy for you to use them – but please respect copyright by acknowledging the creators. That’d be the consultants who contributed to the project – and me.

Given the way that the Improving Literacy and Numeracy National Partnership initiative suddenly consumed my time in the first couple of weeks, it was nice to get back onto familiar ground. I particularly enjoyed working with the students at Muswellbrook. Maybe I’m starting to miss the classroom!

Better writing in Extension English



What I’ve collected here is something that I’ve been working on with Denise McKinna from Dungog High. We were looking for a strong work sample for students studying Science Fiction – and ended up collaborating on this project

Below is one student’s response written for a trial examination. It’s been transcribed but it was originally written in around an hour. If you’re familiar with the Notes from the Marking Centre, you’ll spot straight away that this is an average sort of answer.

What I’ve done here is to write the ‘feedback/ feed forward’ notes after several of the early paragraphs, then re-write the paragraphs in a way that I think would demonstrate a higher range answer.

This is intended to be a resource for students and teachers studying the Science Fiction elective. I haven’t worked through the whole essay, but if you’d like to work on a paragraph with your class and send me your version… I may return to this if i get some time and work on the Neuromancer paragraphs but I’d need to do a significant re-read first. There’s people out there better qualified than me to work on this.

Imp writing sample ext SF v2

Oh, while I was digging around, I found this interesting site: http://io9.com/books/. A good popular culture style site for people still new to the genre.

‘Feed forward’ in practice.

At the end of last year I was visiting my school to talk about plans for 2013. While I was there, the staff were dealing with appeals on the just-completed Year 12 speaking task.  I took the opportunity to deal with one appeal, from a conscientious student who’d received a high B but thought his speech deserved an A.

If we’re serious about student voice, then we have to see appeals as being a legitimate part of the process; annoying as they are, they are a part of our communication with students and should be seen as an opportunity to build relationships. So, in consultation with the staff, I put some time into preparing some very detailed feedback/ feed forward for the student. 

I’ve included everything from the assessment task through to the feedback/ feed forward here. That’s partly because I’m particularly fond of this task. Krystal Bevin at HSPA had a big hand in re-designing the old speaking task so that we had one that valued students’ creative writing. But it’s also in the interests of transparency: here is the entire context. Depending on your own context, you’re likely to find different points of interest.

Here’s the original assessment task: AoS Speech Belonging Creative HSPA

Here’s the document with the example and response: Feed forward practical example English

Here’s the student’s PowerPoint: Imp writing Belonging speech pp


More of the same

On Thursday I’m delivering my Improving Students’ Writing workshops to teachers in a couple of schools. The latest version of the workshop’s PowerPoint is here.

And here’s the new version of the handout. Improving Writing Workbook Dec 12

This is the ‘compilation’ version of the workshop, designed for two hours. There’s a lot of material from a lot of different subject areas so I’m hoping this will be useful outside of English.

I’m planning to run Improving Writing – the full day version – again next year, now that my contract’s been extended. Oh, and there’s a whole range of work samples uploaded on the edmodo group that goes with the course. The group number is at the end of the PowerPoint,  if you’d like to join.

All the best for Christmas!

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