Writing in the primary classroom

In this case study, Cassey Williams, Assistant Headteacher at New Wave Federation, shares how collaboration, with the help of technology, has supported her pupils’ writing skills.

As an English coordinator, I wanted to drive an improvement in how our children collaborate and map out their ideas for writing. We found that children would plan pieces of writing, but when it came to writing they wouldn’t use these plans. We also found that teachers spent a lot of time listening to children’s ideas and that this was eating into time that children could spend on independent writing. Additionally, many children had struggled to decide what to write. We needed a way to collect each child’s ideas, to assess their understanding and to share writing stems that would aid all learners.

The approach

It was clear that some of the barriers our children faced could be overcome by implementing teaching strategies that promote collaboration and create opportunity for increased engagement with the different stages of the writing process.

In order to make the planning stages more engaging, we investigated ways to improve collaboration and purpose in planning. We used evidence from the Education Endowment Fund Toolkit and endeavoured to create structured approaches with well-designed tasks, as these have been found to lead to the most effective collaborative learning.

As part of our improvement strategy, we also looked at research into the pedagogical approaches that have proven effective in improving pupils’ performance in writing. In 2012, The Department for Education published: ‘What is the research evidence on writing?’ This was a paper reporting on the statistics and research evidence around writing. It was clear that technology could be utilised within some approaches. For example, engaging children in pre-writing activities wherein they collect knowledge relating to a specific topic, encouraging collaborative writing, and teaching a variety of strategies for the various components of the writing process.

We decided to use Padlet to design collaborative planning documents, which could be shared between groups and individuals. Padlet is an application that enables users to create an online ‘bulletin board’. Multiple users can be invited to add to the board by scanning a QR code or through link sharing. Information can be added in a number of ways. Users can draw, type, and add audio, photo and video. The range of media options means it is accessible to every learner. The application is web-based, so it can be used both on mobile devices and on desktops.

Creativity is often part of the learning process. As our young learners are competent users of technology, we knew they would be able to use Padlet, and we hoped they would be motivated by the thought of being able to share their ideas with other classes.

Teachers were able to design Padlet ‘boards’ to which the children added during the planning stages of writing. When it came to drafting their own pieces of writing they could view the Padlet board, select ideas, and combine sentences from it.

What’s involved?

The opportunities for how the boards can be used are plentiful. I read and tried out ideas from a range of blog posts detailing how Padlet had been used successfully in primary classrooms. I then collected evidence of how I had used it with writing classes so that I could share examples with teachers.

As I wanted all teachers across the schools to use Padlet, it was important that they had time to familiarise themselves with the application. Teachers began by adding to Padlet boards created by others, which provided ideas for how to put it to use in their own classrooms. The use of Padlet became integrated into our staff meetings as a way to share ideas, so that teachers saw the benefits and became confident in using it. Once teachers were confident, they began introducing Padlet into a range of lessons with children. Experience has taught us that it is important to teach children the technological skills needed before embedding this into lessons. By taking the time to teach the children how to use Padlet, and exploring how to upload a range of media types, we were able to ensure that the children had the skills needed to use it as a tool for learning across a range of subjects.

As an English coordinator, I had to ensure that the staff had the pedagogical knowledge and content required to plan well-structured, collaborative tasks for English lessons. Through planning meetings and INSET, staff learned about effective strategies for teaching different stages of the writing process and then were able to combine this with their technological knowledge of how to use Padlet.

One way to plan productively is to teach pupils techniques for writing effectively for different purposes. This can be as simple as teaching children how to use their senses to describe. Giving children a photo or video stimulus or an immersive experience as a starting point often evokes the senses. Time to articulate this is then given to the children. They can do this in a number of ways: Children can use their iPads to take photos of one another conveying different emotions They can write ‘show me’ instead of ‘tell me’ sentences on whiteboards and take photos of these They can film one another, or use ‘selfie’ mode to film themselves articulating their ideas. Children can use websites such as relatedwords.org to explore new vocabulary

Once children have been given time to articulate their ideas in groups or pairs, they can then add these ideas to a Padlet.

You can access Padlet boards as a guest via a link or QR code, or you can login to join a board. In order to access the Padlet, the children scanned a QR code. On an iPad they are able to do this directly through the camera app.

It is important that children are given time to read, listen to and watch one another’s ideas, so that they can truly gain from shared knowledge. It is also important that teachers allocate time to assessing the posts. An advantage of Padlet is that as the designer of the board you can edit, remove and add posts.

Once a board is completed, it is available for all to use to support the drafting of their own writing. The teacher models how to use collected information from a display of the Padlet on the interactive whiteboard, whilst writing on large lined paper. iPads are set out on children’s desks so that they can view the Padlets while writing in their exercise books.

Evaluation

When the children used Padlet to plan, they were better at getting started on their writing. They knew their ideas were evident and useful for others. This increased their motivation to articulate and form ideas in the planning stage, which meant they were better prepared when it came to drafting.

Collaboration encouraged pupils to articulate their thinking orally before adding to the Padlet. This enabled lower attaining pupils, and those for whom English is an additional language, to make excellent gains. The motivation and purpose to the planning meant that they orally rehearsed their ideas more frequently. If they were adding video or audio to a Padlet board, they wanted it to be used by their peers. The power of playback was advantageous for these learners.

Without the structure and teacher model of how to use the Padlet, it has limitations. If the information is not organised appropriately it becomes too difficult for the children to extract anything from the Padlet. A way around this is to prevent an overload of information by organising the Padlet into columns.

In conclusion, Padlet offers a great way to collaborate and collect information. The fact that it can be revisited, duplicated and exported makes it even more useful as a learning tool. It allows children and teachers to collaborate on student led resources for learners, which is empowering and time saving. It motivates learners to articulate and think carefully about what they are sharing which leads to better outcomes in writing.

Padlet - a collaborative online pinboard

Example Padlet 1

Example Padlet 2

Example Padlet 3

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Using Technology in Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning

Chartered College of Teaching

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