In our world which is heavily driven by exams and assessment it sometimes feels difficult to find the time for anything else. But I’ve had a new experience this week and it’s really made me focus on how important it is to build up the confidence of our students when it comes to writing. This can be done with low-stakes writing.
I’ve wanted to do an MA in Education for over a decade and this year I have finally taken the plunge. Our first writing task was to write a reflection about our experiences in academic writing. After so many years at the chalk face becoming the student rather than the teacher has been an interesting experience. It has made me really think about what our students go through when we ask them to complete a piece of writing and the pressure that we can potentially put on them if we aren’t careful with their confidence. We were encouraged to play around with low-stakes writing in order to build our confidence. Although I’ve done this in my own classroom on occasion, on reflection and through my recent experience I feel it should be something frequently utilised in the classroom.
Low-stakes writing can be frequent, informal tasks in which students spend time reflecting on what they are learning. These could include:
• The 1-minute writing task (to include the main point and key ideas)
• Mind map
• Focused free writing
• Class notes
• Anticipatory writing about a new topic
• Topic blog
• Creative writing prompts
• Write a “Dear Absent Student” letter
• Why or why not?
• What’s your favourite line, sentence or word in this text, and why?
• Rewrite the end of a scene / act / story
• Track the change in a character over a certain period of time
• Write an e-mail to a character giving them some advice
The key thing is to keep the pressure off. Make sure the mark doesn’t carry much (if any) weight in terms of assessment. This makes sure that value is placed on thought, expression and learning rather than meeting the criteria for a high band response. This may sound counter-intuitive but it will give them more confidence when it comes to tackling high-stakes writing.
To take it a step further you might like to differentiate the learning through group work by asking students to share their low stakes writing with each other. They should then be encouraged to write challenge questions rather than giving a grade or success criteria. Challenge questions could include:
• Can you tell me more about?
• Why did you think this?
• Can I ask you a question about this?
If used well low-stakes writing can help to scaffold instruction, develop the student voice and cultivate critical thinkers. All of these things will help to develop their confidence in the subject and beyond.
Enjoy the rest of your week!