Murray Gadd: What Is Critical In The Effective Teaching Of Writing?

At a recent UKLA conference, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr Murray Gadd, a writing teacher and educational researcher from New Zealand. A few years ago, he published What is critical in the effective teaching of writing? This is a fantastic addition to the growing picture of what is considered in research as effective teaching of writing. There is now a core of consistency to be found across a variety of studies in several different countries. From critically reading research literature on effective writing instruction, Gadd (2014) defines eight dimensions of effective practice and instructional strategies. They can be read in more detail in his original thesis here.

  • Learning Tasks
    • Select or construct writing topics that students can identify as purposeful.
    • Involve students in selecting and/or constructing their own writing topics.
    • Devise open-ended learning tasks that can be undertaken over an extended time period.
    • Promote the purposefulness of the writing topic at the beginning of lessons.
  • Lesson Learning Goals
    • Involve students in the development of future lesson learning goals.
    • Set a clear learning goal for the lesson that is generally related to a stage of the writing process.
  • Expectations
    • Have a clear vision of what most students can reasonably be expected to achieve within the lesson. Communicate expectations clearly through displays and resources.
  • Direct Instruction
    • Demonstrate clearly what students are expected to do. Either through ‘active demonstrating’ (constructing an exemplar or part of an example live) or ‘receptive demonstration’ (provided a pre-written exemplar). Active demonstration is said to be far more effective however.
    •  Build on what the students have practised already.
    • Look out for and take advantage of ‘teachable moments’ during the lesson to provide instruction that is clearly linked to the learning goal.
  • Responding to Learners
    • Ask high-level, meta-cognitive and text-related questions of the children whilst they write.
    • Indicate ‘next steps’ to students when commenting (verbally or written-feedback) on their writing.
    • Get children to address any verbal feedback there and then.
    • Use a range of ways to respond to students’ efforts.
  • Engagement and Challenge
    • Attend to learning needs through individualised or small group instruction. Ensure students understand how their current lesson links to the future lesson(s).
  • Organisation and Management
    • Break writing into easily identifiable stages.
    • Set manageable time allocations during lessons.
    • Provide sufficient opportunities for students to practise writing during lessons (on average 2.5 hours a week).
    • Make contact with as many children as possible during the lesson.
    • Ensure that the classroom operates to regularly repeated routines and clear behavioural expectations.
  • Self-regulation
    • Encourage students to use resources to plan, write, revise, edit and present texts independently.
    • Give time and opportunities for students to write on self-selected topics.
    • Encourage students to write outside writing time (through a home/school writing notebook).
    • Provide opportunities for students to look at their writing collaboratively.
    • Students to set personal learning goals after each piece they complete.

Analysis from Gadd (2014) suggests that effective teachers of writing employ all dimensions in strategic combination with each other. The effectiveness of each dimension is contingent on its inter-connectedness to other dimensions within the same pedagogical context. We’d like to add that it is not only Gadd’s work which acknowledges this either – see our references at the bottom for others.

This research makes clear that instructional writing actions and activities are effective if regarded as purposeful by learners and if they include meaningful opportunities for learner involvedness (Behizadeh, 2014, Cremin, 2011, Grainger et al, 2005, Myhill, 2005).

Through his research, Gadd (2014) makes it evident that what is suggested here as effective pedagogy for all learners is a particularly effective pedagogy for low-achievers. What is good for some is infact good for all.

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  • Behizadeh, N. (2014). Adolescent perspectives on authentic writing instruction. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 10(1), 27-44
  • Cremin, T., (2011) Writing Voices: Creating Communities Of Writers London: Routledge
  • DfE (2012) What is the research evidence on writing? Education Standards Research Team, Department for Education: London
  • Education Endowment Fund (2014) Using Self-Regulation To Improve Writing EEF: London
  • Education Endowment Fund (2017) Improving Literacy In Key Stage Two EEF: London
  • Gadd, M., (2014) ‘What is critical in the effective teaching of writing?‘ The University Of Auckland
  • Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). What We Know, What We Still Need to Know: Teaching Adolescents to Write In Scientific Studies of Reading, 11(4), 313-335.
  • Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007) Writing Next: Effective Strategies To Improve Writing Of Adolescents In Middle School & High Schools Alliance For Excellent Education
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Mason, L., (2014) Improving the writing performance, knowledge, and self-efficacy of struggling young writers: The effects of self-regulated strategy development Contemporary Educational Psychology Volume 30, Issue 2, p. 207–241
  • Grainger, T., Goouch, K., Lambirth, A., (2005) Creativity and Writing: developing voice and verse in the classroom London: Routledge.
  • Ings, R., (2009) Writing Is Primary Esmee Fairbairm: London
  • Ofsted (2011) Removing barriers to literacy (reference no: 090237).
  • Myhill, D., (2005) Testing times: the impact of prior knowledge on written genres produced in examination settings, Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 12:3, 289-300


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