I teach in Ontario, Canada where we have a standardized literacy test requirement that the students must complete before they can be granted their diploma. The usual means of completing this requirement is by passing the OSSLT (Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test) in their grade ten year of high school. Unfortunately, there is always a small percentage of students who do not pass the test and must rewrite in the following year. If a student fails the test for a second time, he or she is automatically registered for the OSSLC (Ontario Secondary School Literacy Course) whereby upon successful completion of the course, the student is considered to have achieved the level of literacy to graduate as required by the Ministry of Education in Ontario.
At my high school we are very fortunate to have a fairly high passing rate on the OSSLT, but unfortunately, we still have enough students to warrant the OSSLC. I have taught the OSSLC for the past four years now and in coming to the end of the semester, have been reflecting on my work with these reluctant readers and writers. I have been attempting to use the IWB in my lessons frequently as they are very tactile learners and was very satisfied with the outcome of yesterday’s lesson.
One main focus of the OSSLC is on teaching the students to write an information paragraph. This task is extremely challenging for these students as it means that they need to read a text, decipher what it is saying, break it down into bullets of information and rewrite it into a paragraph it based on a single main idea. It’s a pretty challenging task for the average reader and writer, and a very daunting task to a student who has very little self confidence in his/her writing ability. To help reinforce the idea of selecting pertinent information and organizing it into a coherent form, I had the brain wave to type out some bulleted phrases about a general topic [wind energy] (each in their own text box) and randomly arrange them on the whiteboard. From there, I gave the students four possible topics for a paragraph [Costs Related to Energy, Locations of Wind Farms, Environmental Factors, and General Wind Turbine Information] (also each in its own text box) and had the students move the phrases to sit on top of the appropriate paragraph topic. It was quite interesting to see these 18 year olds up at the IWB arguing over where each phrase belonged. The really exciting element to observe; however, was how engaged these students were in moving the phrases around on the board and they didn’t realize that they were learning! It really pleased me as these students are usually quite disengaged from anything that involves reading or writing.
To extend the lesson and model what I want them to do on next week’s final assessment, I put the IWB on dual page display and as a class, they chose one of the four topics in which to write an information paragraph. The students selected the bullets they found most applicable to the topic (critical analysis) and then as a class, we wrote the practice paragraph. It worked out quite well as in the process of writing an information paragraph, I reiterated the importance of using introductory/concluding sentences as well as transitional words or phrases. The students were proud as they essentially wrote the paragraph (with very little help from me) and even paraphrased the original bulleted phrases I had provided. As we all know, seeing our students have pride in their work and a high level of engagement in a lesson truly fosters a strong learning environment.
Overall, it was a really wonderful class and my only regret is that I didn’t think of this idea earlier in the semester!