As the lock-down started late March 2020, I was about to get on a plane to fly to Sweden for a two-month working stint at Stockholm University, working on literacy issues with teachers of students with intellectual disabilities. I’ve been doing this for four years now and this was to be my fifth visit. But alas, like everyone else in the world, I had to cancel.
I didn’t know how I was going to cope with the lock-down, especially Level 4. I wasn’t by myself, but we were just a bubble of 2.
Making writing videos
On the first day of the lock-down I had an idea. I love working with kids at writing in the classroom and I have a repertoire of writing lessons that I can call on, so why don’t I record some of them in front of a camera at home and see if teachers might like to use them with their kids at home? It would just be my little way of giving something back to the profession that’s been so good to me for such a long time and maybe just helping a few of us through this period of craziness.
So my partner and I set to work. I chose and obviously taught the lessons – using ‘think alouds’ to model writing lessons by calling on whatever resources I had at home – and he filmed, edited and worked at setting up a YouTube channel that was to be the outlet for my work. The blind leading the blind on all counts.
Well, it seemed to work – 14 videos later; 2000+ subscribers; between 3000-8000 downloads of lessons; and lots of appreciative messages from teachers and other educators. I heard from teachers I hadn’t heard from for years, from teachers who were strangers to me, from teachers who I once taught as trainees at Ako Pai/Wellington College of Education, from parents and grandparents who had found the work useful, and even from one teacher who I’d taught as a Year 7 boy in 1983! I thank you all for your kind words of support.
When making the videos, I tried to make sure they were on topics that would motivate a majority of kids, I tried to give sufficient scaffolding for students so that they could undertake writing tasks independently if necessary, and I tried to model ‘good practice’ for teachers, especially new or inexperienced teachers. Some teachers sent the videos out their students as they were; some sent parts of them out and interacted with their students about other parts; some used the videos for developing their own ideas for interactive teaching.
Without sounding boastful, I’m really proud of this work and really pleased that I did it.
Working with Swedish teachers
I mightn’t have been able to get to Sweden but I was still able to lead lectures and workshops with groups of Swedish teachers via Zoom. Like so many others, I had never heard of Zoom before the lock-down and am now really enjoying it and seeing its potential as a PLD tool. In my work over several weeks with 100+ teachers, I even learnt how to model ‘shared writing’ via Zoom.
Will it be what I actually use for PLD more and more in the future rather than physically going places? In a way I hope not because nothing (in my mind) substitutes for the intimacy and fun of face-to-face teaching. But when it’s not actually possible…..
Researching writing studies
I was also lucky to be part of an Auckland University team (led by my wonderful mentor Professor Judy Parr) that was contracted by the Ministry of Education to look at international and New Zealand research over the past 15 years on the teaching of writing. That was fascinating, and my task during the lock-down was to locate, analyse and synthesise all the studies that had merged quantitative and qualitative data on the teaching of writing and to summarise all that they were telling us about the best of current practice. Maybe as a way of making changes to our current sets of directions?? Locating 53 studies in all (with more than a quarter coming from New Zealand), I was amazed and delighted to discover the rich variety of studies that are out there.
Because I had so much time on my hands – and that’s often not the case – I was also able to co-author (with Judy) the first draft of an article on ‘the importance of modelling’ as a teaching tool for writing; a topic that’s that’s long fascinated me.
So, although my income dropped dramatically – as it did for so many Kiwis – the lock-down period proved to be professionally very very rich for me. Silver linings hey….
What’s next for Murray’s YouTube channel and videos?
As I write this, I’m getting ready to spend my first full-time day back in a school tomorrow, and then it’s full-steam ahead. It’s like the beginning of the year all over again, as many of you will know.
Now that the lock-down’s mostly over, I’ve decided to remove the videos from public access and I’m currently planning to release them again under a commercial license – and to add more as soon as possible.
Coming Soon – Subscription Based Service
My plan is to add all of the recent YouTube videos and create more – perhaps 3 new lessons per term, and these will be complemented with the release of additional new resources for teachers.
Instead of Ted-talks, maybe “Murray-talks” on the teaching of writing?? Well, a boy’s gotta make a living and we’re certainly working on the plans and as soon as we have the details fixed, I will update the website with more information.
We are planning to release the subscription based service within the next 7 ~ 10 days (est. July 2020). The subscription service will be an annual membership and you will be able to purchase different numbers of “license seats” according to the size of your school.