Nicola Blight’s Year 1 classroom at Newton Central School (a multi-cultural inner Auckland school) is a wonderfully creative and vibrant space in which colour, movement, shape and wonderings abound.
Nicola – who has been teaching for more than 20 years – continually seeks artifacts and experiences that will challenge her students, deepen their natural curiosity and enable them to express themselves as unique individuals.
A few weeks back, Nicola was gardening at home when she uncovered a worm in spiral formation. She shared this discovery with her students the next day and they excitedly brainstormed all the spiral shapes and artifacts they could think of: a yoyo; a clothes drier; a worm; a tornado; some apple peel; a whirlpool; a spinning top.
This inspired Nicola to think further about the concept of spirals and she googled for some ‘spiral writing’ that might be inspirational for her students. She consequently discovered the following text (with a pattern of ‘I feel like…. It’s like a…. I hear the…. I see the….’) presented in spiral form:
She introduced the spiral text she had found to her students, undertook a shared reading of it with them, and got them to notice the text pattern (‘I feel like…. It’s like a…. I hear the…. I see the….’) that she had noticed.
Each student then selected a spiral shape or artifact of their own and discussed what it ‘felt like’, ‘looked like’ and ‘sounded like’ with the teacher and each other.
As guided by Nicola, her students then used all their processing and phonemic awareness knowledge to draft their thinking into texts that followed the pattern they had uncovered. These ranged from texts created by emergent writers through to texts created by writers with some independence. As examples:
Baxter, recently arrived at school with minimal literacy skills, could articulate his idea but sought Nicola’s help in recording words that were not in the model text as he created his own beautiful text: ‘I feel like I’m a yoyo spinning fast on a finger. It’s like a spinning tornado’. Note that Nicola recorded most of Baxter’s words to give him a sense of achievement. Baxter himself recorded ‘I feel’ and ‘It’s like’ from the model he’d seen.
Eva and Harriet’s Writing
Eva and Harriet, both reasonably independent writers and with good literacy skills even though they’d been at school for less than a year, took many risks with word formation as they created a myriad of vivid images in their sentences.
Eva wrote with some assistance from Nicola, ‘I feel like I’m a tornado spinning until everything lifts up. It’s like a car zooming around a roundabout. It’s like a camelion’s tail swirling up tightly. I feel like I’m a star spinning around and around. I hear hooves of a horse bumping and twirling. I see peels of a mandarin flicking droplets of moisture which swirl up to my eye’. Because she tired toward the end, Nicola recorded the last beautiful sentence that Eva had created.
Harriet, requiring limited assistance from Nicola, wrote, ‘I feel like I’m a drier tumbling the clothes around and around. It’s like a worm curling up like a spiral. It’s like an apple in an apple machine that can make an apple into a spiral. I hear a whirlpool spinning around and gurgling down the drain. I see fairies flying around in a spiral fluttering their wings like crazy’.
Nicola then published each student’s writing in spiral form to give them a sense of pride and achievement in their work. As an example, here is Harriet’s published text.
The published texts were consequently displayed on a ‘publishing tower’ in the centre of the classroom where they remained for a week before being placed in the students’ portfolios and sent home for sharing with parents, caregivers and whanau. Every student’s ‘spiral writing text’ was represented on the publishing tower.
This is but one example of Nicola’s creative approach to the teaching of writing with her Year 1 students. Another example is a student writing a recount of how he (as guided by the student teacher Piripi) had constructed a whare manu/bird house: ‘First we put the bottom in place. Then we put the front piece in place. We put on the side pieces’.
Piripi, as modelled by Nicola, had articulated what the group was doing as he helped them construct the whare manu, and encouraged the student to write a text that was meaningful and purposeful to them.
Yet another example of Nicola’s creative approach emanated from an abstract painting that one of the students had done. Nicola heard two students talking about the painting with one remarking to the other that she could “see buildings” in it. “It’s like our city,” she noted.
So Nicola gave her students access to some felt-tip pens and invited them to delineate and describe the buildings they could see in the painting along with other city features such as the plants and the helicopter. With the original artist’s permission, the painting was subsequently titled ‘Our City’.
Students were also invited to write about ‘our city’, what they could see in it or what it meant to them. Tommy wrote about the helicopter he could see in the top left-hand corner and what its purpose was.
Harley wrote about riding his skateboard in the city and what he could do with it.
Grace wrote about the fairy house in the centre of the painting. She described it fully and talked about the importance of working as a team.
It is a delight to be in Nicola’s highly creative classroom, watching and listening to her students interacting with her and each other through play and forming ideas and language from this play.
This story illustrates how some of these ideas subsequently came to be recorded in beautiful writing.
Your Classroom Story?
Do you have a classroom story that you’d like to share with us and the world ? We’d be delighted to hear from you! Get in touch for more info.