Research clearly states that teaching children the writing process in an explicit way is the best way to improve their writing outcomes. So how is this done? As we have discussed briefly here, Frank Smith describes the two roles involved in writing as being: the author and the secretary.
When children are in author mode they are concerned with generating ideas, organising thoughts, and arranging selected words and sentences appropriately and effectively.
When in the secretary mode, the child is more concerned with the transcription of the writing (e.g. using correct spelling, capitalisation, handwriting and punctuation).
Process Writing – The Writing Workshop – Real World Literacy
The Real-World Literacy approach recognises the importance of both the author and secretary roles. In our approach, children nearly always choose their own topics, write for real audiences and purposes. It is this motivation which makes children want to develop the skills needed to write effectively, conventionally and creatively.
This Process Writing approach originated from the work of Donald Graves and has been moved forward and exemplified by The Writing Workshop model popularised by Nancie Atwell.
Here is a beautiful interview with the master, the legend, the original writer-teacher, Donald Graves:
The Real-World Literacy approach emphasizes writing fluency, including techniques that improve a student’s ability to get words down on paper. It promotes frequent writing in contexts that are meaningful and authentic to the children. The intended reader is emphasized as both peers and teachers provide feedback, either in writing or in Pupil Conferences.
Our approach encourages the use of the students’ or your own writing as mentor texts for the teaching of composition and conventions. In the process approach, a teacher cannot teach writing without use of a student’s or their own writing. Research consistently shows this to be vital in terms of children’s writing process.
The stages of the writing process are:
Due to the nature of writing, children quickly learn and can be taught that these stages may overlap.
- In the generating ideas stage, students consider what will interest, motivate and stimulate them and their readers.
- In the planning stage, students plan and organise their writing (e.g., brainstorming, drawing or boxing-up).
- During the Vomit Drafting stage, students create drafts of their writing pieces -potentially many.
- In the revising stage, (the often forgotten stage) teachers encourage their student writers to make substantial improvements to the piece (i.e., thinking about the reader, using certain linguistic and grammatical features and genre-features). Peers and others often provide feedback to the author during this stage.
- The apprentice writers in your class then assume the secretary role during the editing stage, focusing on correcting mechanical errors such as punctuation, spelling, and capitalisation.
- The publishing stage can take many forms ranging from: contributing to the class library, entering writing competitions and sending it through the post to other interested and relevant readers.
Again, students may progress through the stages linearly or they may return to
previous ones (e.g., even after “publishing,” a piece could go through revision again), alternating between the author and secretary roles fluidly, and, through our Real-World Literacy approach, independently.
I’m sure you already do most, if not all, of these stages in your classroom but research shows that actually taking time out of lessons to teach aspects of the writing process is the way of improving your children’s writing outcomes significantly.
This is because newly acquired learning in writing can only ever be maintained and developed if children connect it with regular free-writing opportunities. If new writing skills are given the chance to be reinforced in a variety of genres and situations, increased application and transformation of these new writing skills is likely. This basically means regularly teaching an aspect of the writing process and then allowing children to apply and use it in their (regular) writing time. This forms the basis of Real World Literacy.
Each stage of the writing process gives teachers an opportunity to implement instruction that will increase the likelihood of excellent writing outcomes.
Consider this: according to Baer (1999), “no one learns a generalised lesson unless a generalised lesson is taught“. For example, a student who successfully writes a short-story in October may not maintain that ability through June – not without deliberate efforts to provide opportunities for regular practice. This is why our Genre-Booklets are so important.
These are booklets which children take from the class library whenever they want to and which show them how to write in a specific genre. All children are given time to practise writing in these common and popular genres every week. As a result, their ability to write them well and independently increases vastly.
Building into your classroom strategies for promoting generalised outcomes such as this is what Real-World Literacy is all about. It provides children with specific strategies for generalisation and application of all the skills a writer needs. They can be used quickly, often, independently, at school or at home and for pleasure. We have built these strategies into each stage of the writing process: generating ideas, vomit drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.
Some of which we have already shared on this blog:
- Generating ideas independently,
- Vomit Drafting,
- Memoir Genre-Booklet: Writing a memoir independently,
- Independent spellers/proof readers.
Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction & Improvements In Our Children’s Writing.
The Self-Regulated Strategy Development model can help teachers incorporate self-regulatory training into their writing pedagogy.
Many children struggle to coordinate the multiple cognitive and self-regulatory demands
of the writing process. Below we describe how the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model of instruction, which combines the explicit teaching of writing strategies with instruction in self-regulatory skills has been used in our classroom this year to great effect.
Self-regulation can be learned:
- by being taught directly through instruction,
- through repeated practice,
- indirectly through sheer experience and observation of others.
What Has Been Given ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction’ In Our Writing Classroom This Year:
- Generating Ideas (using the 10-Ideas Sheet)
- Boxing-Up (using our Genre-Booklets)
- Vomit Drafting (Using our Vomit Draft rules – checking for ‘unsure’ spellings, punctuation and ‘sticky bits’),
- Revision Tips Sheet (using certain grammatical or linguistic features)
- Editing Checklist (proof-reading for spellings, capitalisation and other punctuation)
- Publishing (using The Cursive Script Examplar)
How The ‘Self-Regulated Strategy Instruction’ Was Delivered
- Discuss It (explain why authors use these techniques)
- Model It (show them how it is done)
- Support It (through Pupil-Conferencing)
- Independent Performance (give children the resources to carry it out on their own for the whole year)
- ‘Held’ understanding – adapt these resources in future year groups to make children’s transitions even easier. E.g. have ‘Boxing-Ups’, ‘The Vomit Draft Rules’, ‘Revision Tips Sheets’, ‘Editing Checklists’ and ‘Cursive Script Exemplars’ for every year group.
As a result of setting up these resources, the children can now see a piece of writing through from generating an original idea all the way to publish – completely independently. They will attend to all aspects of composition and transcription in the process.
If you have liked what you have read here and would like to read more about our approach to writing which we call ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow the link here. If you’d like to view our Genre-Booklets, you can follow this link.
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**By Phil Ferguson**
Teaching The Writing Process:
- Atwell, N., (2015), In the middle USA: Heinemann
- Bloodgood, J., (2002) Quintilian: A classical educator speaks to the writing process In Reading Research and Instruction, 42:1, 30-43
- Calkins, L. (1998) The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
- Casey, M., & Hemenway, S. I. (2001). Structure and Freedom: Achieving a Balanced Writing Curriculum.The English Journal, 90(6), 68
- Gardner, P (2011) The Reluctant Writer in the Primary Classroom: an investigation of mind mapping and other pre-writing strategies to overcome reluctance. Bedford: The Bedford Charity
- Graham, S., & Sandmel, K. (2011). The Process Writing Approach: A Meta-analysi In The Journal of Educational Research, 104(6), 396-407
- Graves, D., (2003), 20th Ed, Writing: Teachers & Children At WorkUSA: Heinemann
- Jasmine, J., & Weiner, W. (2007). The Effects of Writing Workshop on Abilities of First Grade Students to Become Confident and Independent Writers In Early Childhood Education Journal Early Childhood, 35(2), 131-139
- Levitt, R., Kramer-Vida, L., Palumbo, A., & Kelly, S. P. (2014). Professional Development: A Skills Approach to a Writing Workshop In.The New Educator, 10(3), 248-264.
- McQuitty, V., (2014) Process-Oriented Writing Instruction in Elementary Classrooms Evidence of Effective Practices from the Research Literature In Writing & Pedagogy6.3 467-495
- Porcaro, J. J., & Johnson, K. G. (2003). Building a Whole-Language Writing Program In Kappa Delta Pi Record, 39(2), 74-79.
- Taylor, M. M. (2000). Nancie Atwell’s “In the Middle” and the Ongoing Transformation of the Writing Workshop In The English Journal, 90(1), 46.
- Tompkins, G. E. (2011). Teaching writing: Balancing process and product. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill.
Writing As A Craft – Writing Everyday
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- National Commission on Writing (2003) The Neglected R: The Need For A Writing Revolution America’s Schools & Colleges
- Rogoff, B., Moore, L., Najafi, B., Dexter, A., Correa-Chavez, M. and Solis, J. (2007) Children’s development of cultural repertoires through participation in everyday routines and practices In J. E. Grusec and P. D. Hastings (eds) Handbook of Socialization: Theory & Research (pp.490-515) New York: Guildford Press
- Tomasello, M. (2003) Constructing a Language: A usage-based Theory of Language Acquisition Cambridge: Harvard University Press
- Tomasello, M. (2006) Acquiring linguistic constructions In R.S Siegler & D. Kuhn (eds), Handbook of Child Psychology: Cognitive Development (pp. 255-298) New York: Wiley