How to teach your students to demonstrate a thinking skill through writing

How to teach your students to demonstrate a thinking skill through writing

The teaching sequence that you'll find in How to write what you want to say... in the secondary years: Teacher's Guide is based on the teaching-learning cycle.

There are four stages in teaching the skills needed to demonstrate writing for a purpose.


1. Deconstructing a text that is an example of the skill. 
Deconstructing a text means pulling it apart to identify the key components. This means you will look at the text structure and the language used, including sentence starters and the connectives within and between sentences.

Before you use a text for deconstruction, you should ensure your students have all read it several times. To do this, you should set up a whole-class reading activity.


2. Modelling a text that is an example of the skill.
This step is done by the teacher and shows students have to construct a piece of writing that demonstrates a skill. You should walk students through the whole process, thinking aloud, to demonstrate how it is done.

By making an implicit process explicit, students can see how writing is created.


3. Jointly constructing a text that is an example of the skill.
This step can be the teacher working with students or students working with other students to complete the activity. This is part of the process of gradually releasing responsibility of the work. 


4. Independently constructing a text that is an example of the skill.
This is where students have a go at demonstrating the writing skill themselves.


This learning cycle process can take some time, particularly if the skill is a difficult one. For instance, we could probably move through the teaching-learning cycle quite quickly for a skill like Describe, which isn't particularly difficult cognition. But for the cognitive verb or skill Analyse, which is a lot more complex, we need to take more time to work through this cycle. In particular, we would need to linger a lot longer in the joint construction phase.


I do it. We do it. You do it. 

The teaching sequence is based on the gradual release of responsibility model, and the keyword here is gradual.

When teaching challenging skills, or cognitive verbs, we can't introduce a new skill, model it once and then expect the students to demonstrate the thinking skill on their own successfully. I do, We do, You do, is a way of reducing your students' cognitive load as they tackle new skills.

As the teacher, you start with the I Do, by showing an example and verbalising the thinking that is going on in your head. 

The We Do is working together. So it's gradually assigning more responsibility to the students. Remember gradually is the keyword here. You do not want to pull the rug out from underneath your students and hoping they'll be able to cope. Instead, gradually take away more of the teacher's roles and responsibilities and transfer that over to students.

Finally, the You Do step is when the students can demonstrate the skill on their own. This process is not lockstep. You don't have to start with an I do it. For instance, if your students have deconstructed plenty of texts in the past, you might as well start a deconstruction activity with a You Do It. You may go back and forwards between the three stages until your students have mastered the skill. 

I do, we do, you do concept has been around for a very long time and is based on the old apprenticeship model. It's taking away, each time, a little bit more of the teacher's input so the students have more involvement in the demonstration of the skill. You're not asking them to make these massive leaps to mastery. They have baby steps to complete. That works because it gives your students the confidence to persist and to keep going. 


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How to teach your students to demonstrate a thinking skill