Well, that title sounds like a pun, but in fact it’s quite literal. If you’ve known me for a while, or you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you will know that for the last 7 years I’ve been writing textbooks. My oeuvre (lol) consists of the Standard HSC English Study Guide, Year 9 NAPLAN Revise in a Month, Year 9 NAPLAN style literacy tests, three chapters in Language Investigations (on the Language of Orwell, the Language of Video Games and the Language of Involvement: Fan Fiction, Blogs and Social Media) and the latest book (and what this post will be about) Years 7-8 Writing and Spelling Workbook. It’s probably surprising to some that I write books like this, but I’ll be 100% honest when I say that I put my heart into writing those books and do my best to be as forward-thinking in them as I try to be with this blog and in my classroom. The focus of this blog post is to present you with a way in which a textbook (the Years 7-8 Writing and Spelling Workbook, in fact) can support literacy across the school whilst also helping to support and even strengthen project-based learning in your school. I’ll just let you know right now, my position is that literacy (and numeracy) are NOT the sole responsibility of one faculty – all faculties require and desire highly literate students. I’ll acknowledge that often it may seem hard to incorporate literacy lessons into your non-English classroom – to be honest, it’s often hard for English teachers to do this as we are responsible for teaching much, much more than just reading and writing – but it is essential that all teachers do this at some point. You’ll note that my book’s title is not ‘English Workbook’ – that’s because it’s a literacy book and can, and should, be used by all faculties.
If you look at the preview of the Years 7-8 Writing and Spelling Workbook here, you will get a sense of how it is structured. Essentially it is a book designed to support students as they work through the process of writing 12 different types of texts. I love the word process and I love that this book focuses on the process more than on the end product – aligning beautifully with my vision for project-based learning. The 12 different types of texts fit under a category umbrella – either persuasive, imaginative or informative. These categories are those outlined in the Australian Curriculum and thus the NSW English Syllabus, but what they do is they allow us to see which texts may be more appropriate for different faculties. I will argue here that English shouldn’t be the only faculty that engages in imaginative writing – I imagine that this would be helpful for History, Geography and even Science.
Each chapter poses a question for the students to answer and in doing so they must compose an extended piece of writing – very similar to how PBL works in my class. Admittedly, the questions aren’t PBL questions, they’re not meant to be. They are designed to lead students through the process of writing a type of text (including blog posts, research reports, narrative poems, persuasive speeches and argument essays) including the planning, looking at the relevant language features, learning the spelling rules of words relevant to the type of text and engaging with work samples, both at an intermediate and an advanced level.
So how would this work as a cross-KLA literacy program? Simple. Each faculty would take on the responsibility of ‘teaching’ a particular type of text. There are 12 in the book, as I said before, and because it is a stage based book (years 7-8) it could easily be assumed that each faculty only needs to be responsible for one type of text per year – pretty easy! So, for example, Science might choose to use the research report chapter with year 7 and the procedure chapter with year 8. History might choose to use the persuasive speech with year 7 and the biography chapters with year 8. Maths might choose the blog post with year 7 and the description with year 8 – why can’t students use figurative language in Maths to describe the beauty of a triangle or a parabola? PD/H/PE might be keen for year 7 students to write a narrative poem about a game of volley ball or eagle tag or year 8 might write a discussion essay about health-related stuff. Note, I’m no pro at PD/H/PE, or any other subject, can you tell? lol.
I think the reason I’m passionate about this book (like, I really actually am – have I written about any of my other books on this blog before this day?) is because it has the potential to transform how literacy learning is viewed in a school. The book is broken down into accessible parts with all of the spelling rules explained and with straight-forward activities. I don’t take any credit for the structure of the book and the nature of the activities – that was all designed by the amazing series editor, Kristine Brown. There is an answers section at the back for teachers who may be less than confident with the different between a connective and a conjunction or an adjective and an adverb. That’s totally fine – we can’t all know everything, except that we are all responsible for literacy and if we took a team approach to teaching it, I reckon our students would be so much better off.
Finally, what the heck do I mean when I say that this book can strengthen project-based learning in your school? Most projects end with students presenting their ideas to an audience – usually persuasive or informative in nature. These types of presentations are enhanced by students understanding and applying the language features and structure of a number of types of persuasive and informative texts – there are eight in my book. Projects may require students to create a real-world product such as a research report, short story, poem, blog post or review – all of these are in the book. So when students are working on the ‘discover’ phase of learning in a project, teachers can make good use of a specific chapter in the book. Teachers may prefer to use a chapter in the ‘create’ phase, as students begin to focus on the process of creating their product for their audience. The chapters in the book DON’T give students a real-world audience or a real-world problem – that’s the teacher’s job (or the students’ job if you’re planning projects collaboratively as a class team). For me, it’s easy because my students are frequently composing products that reflect the real work of literary artists – writing and publishing stories and poems, reviewing films and video games and novels, writing weekly blog posts etc – and therefore this book fits seamlessly into how PBL functions in my English classroom. I can see a lot of very creative teachers – from all subject areas – using this book in the same way, to really support an embedded approach to literacy learning throughout project-based learning.
OK, so that was a first for me – flogging my book to my blog readers. It feels weird, but also good because, you know what, that book took me 18 months to write and I’m damn proud of it. I’ve used it with year 7 and they responded so well. Their appreciation for the writing process has improved significantly! One last thing, if you want to get a copy and see what I’m on about, you can probably get it from your local newsagent or bookstore (definitely from educational bookstores like Dominie) and of course you can buy it online, here. If you do buy it and use it with your students, let me know by commenting below. If there’s anything that needs to be improved, tell me, because I’m writing the years 9-10 version right now!