Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.11.23Rebecca Sloots: Building Ratio…and Great Writers in Queensland

Writers in the Making…


The newest clip in the TLAC library is one that’s really worth watching.

It’s of Rebecca Sloots’ grade 4 class at Fernbrooke State School in Redbank Plains, Queensland, Australia.

That makes it some of our very first classroom video from Australia. But more importantly it’s an outstanding example of how to build a high ratio classroom via strong academic routines and especially intentional and deliberate writing.

Here’s the clip.


At the outset Rebecca cues her students to answer the question—”How do we know this is a poem?”—in writing. This causes every student to answer the question and to answer it well- writing being more challenging and precise than mere speaking.

She cues the writing with the phrase “silent solo” and as you can see the room bursts to life. With a strong routine like this there’s no lost time and no hesitation and students are happily and busily at work straight away. This has the added benefit of reinforcing the perception among students that Rebecca’s classroom is an orderly, productive, positive place.

Even though her routines are crisp, Rebecca circulates to reinforce the silent solo expectations, interacting briefly with students to let them know what they write and that they do their best writing is important to her.

Next she cues another routine: Turn and Talk. Again students are familiar. We know this because a mere phrase and a non verbal gesture is enough to cause the room to crackle into conversation.

After the Turn and Talk Rebecca asks for volunteers and practically every hand in the class goes up. Of course it does. Everyone has thought deeply about the answer. Everyone has rehearsed their thoughts with a peer. They’re prepared and confident.

Rebecca then sources four or five answers from students and makes perhaps my favorite move: she goes back and asks them to write their answers again, improving them. “We’re not going to write more,” she tells students. “We’re going to write it better.”

I love this because it shows how powerful writing in short deliberate bursts and then revising to improve can be. As Judith Hochman observes, teachers assign a lot of writing but they don’t always teach it that well. Here, by having students write in small amounts she instantly allows students to revise and improve.

She’s also adapts one of my favorite tools for classrooms the front the writing template. The idea is to have students write before they discuss and then revise after so that they are caused to listen carefully and harvest ideas from their peers.

And you can see what a great job Rebecca’s students do of that. They write much-improved sentences and do a great job of using each others’ ideas (and identifying what makes their sentences better).

We love what Rebecca and her students have done here and note that she’s set the bar high for further video from Oz. Australian teachers, we can’t wait to see more!!!

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