Every teacher has stories about a student who suddenly makes great leaps to success. When they talk about these students, their face lights up. That glow is what makes teaching so special.
Carly Brien, a teacher at Henry Kendall High School, NSW, wrote to us recently to share an entire classroom of success!
Her story touches on something we firmly believe: that by giving students the skills and confidence to write effectively, persuasively and with power, we improve their future prospects – in education, careers and life.
Leaping to success
Carly shared how her students’ ‘engagement skyrocketed’ in a short time after rolling out the Seven Steps to Writing Success. She first learned the program in a Seven Steps Professional Development day and went on to complete the two-day Coaches Course.
She writes: “Here are some of our before and after samples from one of our year 7 classes. I have not changed any of their grammar, spelling or punctuation. The samples were taken before they completed a 6 week Seven Steps program where they completed approximately 8 hours of Seven Steps per week.”
These kids are unlocking the power of words; finding their own voice.
Remember that glow? When we saw her students’ writing, and heard that it came from those who just hadn’t previously engaged with writing – we contacted Carly and asked if she would be willing to share her experience to help others.
We all know that it is sometimes difficult to motivate students, particularly teenagers. But if you do – wow, what magic!
Just like a sports star: learn the skills and repeat, repeat, repeat
We wanted to know more, so we contacted Carly and asked her if she would be willing to share her experience to help others.
Seven Steps: What changes did you make to your writing classroom?
Carly: “I started teaching writing in chunks. The kids started having FUN as they were learning to write. I started using rapid recall and the students practised their skills over and over again!
“I integrated Seven Steps of Writing Success into a Project Based Learning environment and my students’ behaviour problems disappeared, their productivity increased, engagement skyrocketed and the students demonstrated huge growth in their abilities in such a short time. My teaching became student-centred and my students rewarded me for it.
“I moved from a typical teaching structure (teacher stands out front, delivers lesson content, student do an independent or group activity) to a structure where:
- It’s all about creating – not copying notes or practising essays.
- Chunk, chunk, Chunk! Teach writing in parts.
- I dedicated TIME to the Seven Steps program and taught it thoroughly (what can be more important than learning to WRITE?)
- I use engaging and attention-grabbing multimedia resources.
- Students had flexible seating (no seating plan, beanbags, ottomans, tall stools, stand up desks, wiggly stools).
- Students have choice (what will I write about today?)
- I do short, fast activities, lots of times over (students maintain attention and can SEE their improvement).
- I ALWAYS publish student work (so they care, they are proud). (Seven Steps: and we asked students for their permission to share their work here, so they are getting external validation and positive encouragement.)
- Students can work together (so they can help each other).
- I use Google Apps so that students can collaborate using technology.
- Students have given feedback on the program and I have improved how I teach it each year.”
Seven Steps: What has been the greatest change you have seen in students since implementing your changes?
Carly: “The amount that they can write! I asked my students to write a book review the other day and I had year 7 students producing over 1000 words of QUALITY writing in just two hours!
“Student perception of their abilities changed. I surveyed the students before the program and MOST students said they were not good writers. Now they all have confidence in their writing and believe they are great at writing. My lowest student who would not write a sentence at the beginning of the year is on the twelfth chapter of his novel!
“Writing quality. ‘Ban the Boring’ has to be one of my favourite tools and something my students hear over and over again from me. They are now excellent at monitoring their writing to ensure it is engaging. I really enjoy reading my student work because it is quality and it makes sense!”
Seven Steps: What one or two things surprised you most about the change and students’ reactions?
Carly: “I knew that I loved the Seven Steps program from my first professional development, but I never expected my students to love it so much … They all use the same dialogue and say to me, ‘Miss Brien, what do you think of my Exciting Ending, should I put some Six Senses in it?’ It does not matter which text type I ask them to write, I can SEE evidence of Seven Steps to Writing Success all the way through it. It WORKS, the kids LISTEN, and EVERY STUDENT demonstrates improvement.”
Seven Steps: What do you believe is the ‘secret’ to engaging students?
Carly: “Each of the Seven Steps must be taught as their own skill and then at the END students can combine all of their skills to create a written task. Short, sharp, engaging activities and the teacher can’t talk for more than 5 minutes at a time!
I think the MOST IMPORTANT thing is practice, practice, practice. My key to success is rapid recall. I want my students to be able to write on cue, anywhere, anytime, about anything (very helpful for NAPLAN tests!)”
Seven Steps: What would you like to do next (to engage students, or to continue to refresh your writing classes)?
Carly: “I want to spread the word and show people how this program can really produce amazing results! I want to continue to produce great resources that apply to an even wider range of text types – so far I have used Seven Steps when teaching narrative, persuasive, reflective recounts, book reviews, poetry and even critical responses. In the future, I want to gather data which demonstrates specific strengths and weaknesses in my students’ writing and use Seven Steps to target these skills.”