This is how you learn to write with science but without textbooks


Received by music playing in the courtyard, the children are entering their classrooms. Start the day at CEIP San Isidoro de León.

This public center is a kind of “irreducible Gallic village” in which the textbooks have been shot like Roman soldiers thanks to the strength that the project work potion provides its teachers. They resist bravely in the midst of the empire of instructional teaching practices, inspired by their director, druid and tribal chief at the same time. In other words, abandoning the metaphor: it is one of those few Primary Education centers in which what and how is taught are dictated by the learning needs of the students and not by the publishing market.

San Isidoro was, just four years ago, a “ghetto” center on the brink of closure. Today it has seven times as many students and welcomes children from all sociocultural strata, some of whom have landed there because their parents were dissatisfied with the more traditional methodologies used in their centers of origin.

From the theory to the practice

Armed with the Guide for the Observation of Writing Practices that we prepared a few years ago at the University of León, I went into the Gallic village to see if the practices that their teachers use to teach reading and writing are effective, that is, based on on the evidence .

My first stop is the classroom of the 1st year of Primary Education group (hereinafter, Aula1EP, with boys and girls aged 6 and 7) that today is going to use the time of the Spanish Language subject to write a story.

A conducive environment

Research indicates that the most effective teachers in learning to write know how to create an environment conducive to practicing this skill. This environment is evident in Aula1EP: the teacher presents the task as an activity of a certain complexity that requires reflection (“before writing, let’s think”).

In addition, throughout the class he attends individually to the guidance demands of the children and reinforces them positively but without suffocating their criteria and autonomy.

The previous scaffolding

It is a classroom in which scaffolding processes are applied widely and well.

For example: before starting to write, the children listen to a story that the teacher reads to them. This exposure to models is another of the practices that has been shown to be effective .

On the other hand, the feedback offered to the students has the characteristics that have been seen to have the greatest effect on learning: while the children are writing, the teacher approaches each and every one of them, but not to solve their doubts. but to give them suggestions and to make them think. When they finish writing, he stops to read the stories one by one and gives them particular indications on where they should introduce changes or improvements.

In addition, with some of them he comments on content aspects that make it difficult to understand the meaning of the story, that is, he delves into the more complex processes of textual production and, when the children read their stories to their classmates, he tells them if they are It deals with the introduction, the middle or the denouement.

Acceptance of diversity

The CEIP San Isidoro is a center where a climate of respect for diversity is breathed and this translates into an acceptance of all forms of writing that occur during learning, something that has been found to be much more effective than searching without respite. of alphabetic conventionality: until a boy or a girl is capable of translating all the sounds they hear into their corresponding spellings, they can resort, if they are given the opportunity, to unconventional writings (scribbles, primitive graphisms) or syllabic writings ( one letter per syllable).

However, the teacher does not ignore the questions that children have when translating sounds into spellings. Therefore, the effective practice of instruction on orthographic notation is also appreciated.

Paragraph Construction

The next stop is the classroom of the 3rd grade group of Primary Education (hereinafter Aula3EP, with children of 8 and 9 years). As one of the tasks of the project on the oceans in which the whole center is immersed, the children have to write a piece of news that they will read to the rest of the school groups.

The task that they have to carry out today is an intermediate preparatory task whose objective is for them to learn about paragraphs, since the teacher has noticed that the drafts they have written show deficiencies in this regard. They have to reconstruct a text that is fragmented into clippings.

It amazes me that children embrace such a complex task with enthusiasm, but I soon understand that what excites them is enjoying a new opportunity to be autonomous in learning.

What I see is a development of self-regulation and cooperative learning whose effectiveness on learning there is extensive scientific evidence in experimental situations but very little practical evidence in authentic contexts like this.

Thus, I see how the teacher divides her students into small groups that settle how and where they want (on the table, on the floor, on the carpet) and develop different strategies to solve the challenge.

Different strategies

One of the groups chooses to arrange all the fragments in view and then try to order them; in another they begin by putting a single fragment on the ground and then they read the rest of the fragments aloud to place them where they think they belong; in another, a spy member is appointed who moves around the class to observe what strategies the others use.

Before the children start working, the teacher reviews the concept of a paragraph. But, while the task is carried out, her speech is not instructive but regulatory: she indicates how much time they will have, remembers the time that has elapsed, repeats the objective from time to time or suggests some organization strategy.

For their part, while they work, children also display their own regulatory discourse to make decisions, to consult each other’s doubts and resolve them or to make decisions about the ordering strategies they are using, but they also intersperse valuable metatextual manifestations (about what paragraphs contain the main ideas, for example).

Evaluation and self-assessment

This perfect example that self-regulation and cooperation processes are possible in schools, even with populated and diverse groups such as this one, culminates with a few surprising minutes during which the teacher asks how they have worked and the children respond by evaluating their execution. of each group with successes and difficulties.

They all agree that what has been the most difficult for them has been the identification and arrangement of the intermediate paragraphs, which are also the paragraphs that they have been the worst at composing in the drafts of their texts. A perfect circle of significant learning is closed.

The ‘teaching broth’ or magic potion

I have been able to witness exceptionally how you can teach and learn to write with meaning. How the secret that explains the resistance of this Gallic village is cooked: no textbooks, some instruction, a lot of application and action, but all of it in a juicy broth of evidence-based teaching.

Author Bio: Maria Dolores Alonso-Cortes Fradejas is Professor of the Area of ​​Didactics of Language and Literature at the University of León