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Literacy in the Arts

image for blog

Just over a year ago, I started at a new school as the Head Teacher Creative and Performing Arts. I had been doing this position at my last school- but it was not a permanent position, so when this job was advertised I applied and was ultimately successful. Before I left my old school, I had a lot of people giving me advice – some of it was good, and some certainly wasn’t! But there were two pieces of advice that stuck with me

1. Stay true to what you hold important – don’t let your educational philosophy be changed to something that you don’t believe in

2. Don’t change anything at your new school for a year!!!!

So, now that I have been at my new school for a year, it is time for some changes! I have been in observation mode – looking and listening to how things are done and how things are not what they should be. At my last school we were very big on improving the Literacy levels of our students, but in my new school this has not been a focus for quite some time.

We have just started a new term this last week, and the first day was our Staff Development Day. This time at school with my staff and no students, meant that I could introduce my vision for the Faculty. I was honest with my staff about my observations, and surprisingly they agreed with me that literacy needs to be not only a focus, but a priority.

So where do we start? The first thing I started with were some past student samples of paragraph writing. My staff read them, and were surprised that they were written by Year 7 students, and also not by students in the top stream of classes! And that was my point – if writing is taught explicitly, then all students can improve and achieve. Below is the art image that the students were writing about. (This is included in the Mask-er-ade Visual Arts Unit of work available on Teachers Pay Teachers – link here)ivory coast mask image

When I teach paragraph writing, I use the Modelled/Guided/Independent teaching strategy. With this particular writing lesson, I was more interested in them writing a paragraph and using Visual Arts metalanguage than in them getting the wrong idea about what we were trying to write about. With this in mind, as a class we brainstormed the first part of the planning of the P.E.E.L paragraph together. Below is the page we used (this template is in the PEEL Paragraph writing for Visual Arts available on Teachers Pay Teachers – link here)

peel paragraph shape

On this first planning page, we came up with all the different shapes that were on the African Ceremonial Mask. The students could identify the organic and man made shapes and I encouraged them to add details to their planning to include in their own writing.

The second planning page they completed independently, as we had already written a paragraph before and they knew what to do. I have found that planning the writing is really an important step in the process – it sets the students up with good habits from the beginning.

peel paragraph planning shape

After they had completed this planning, and had shown me, they went on to write their own paragraphs. The samples below are from three different students, and there was one problem that was easily fixed in future writing, on these samples. The students kept leaving spaces between their sentences! I knew that the next time we wrote we had to make each sentence flow into the other without leaving lines between them! I apologise about the image quality, I had misplaced these and I found them with my papermaking kit and they had been water damaged 🙁

sample 1 art

sample 2 art

sample 3 art

After I had shown these samples to my staff, they were then curious about how we as a Faculty work towards a goal of improving Literacy levels for our students, and this in turn will improve our Year 12 Higher School Certificate results. We discussed several ideas and concerns about teaching writing. My staff agreed that they didn’t have the skills needed to explicitly teach writing in their classrooms – so that is my first step towards our goal. This term I will upskill my staff so they can implement the strategies in their own classrooms.

Until next time

Happy teaching

Julia from Jooya

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