How To Have Children Writing Independent ‘Assessable’ Pieces Every Day.

The political hot-potato in terms of writing at the moment is independent writing. We have decided the tackle this subject head on by producing a mini-series of blog posts about how we have managed to create a writing community within our classroom which allows children to write independently every day.

We will cover all sorts of strategies we use to allow children to write high-quality assessed pieces independently. Some of them we have already discussed and you can find them here:

Writing

This particular post will talk about The Writing Process and how, according to research, the explicit teaching of it is the most effective way to improve children’s independent writing attainment (Graham & Perin, 2007).

It would be good to start off by stating that writing involves both composition and transcription.

Frank Smith, (1982) in his book Writing & The Writer, uses the analogy of a writer and her secretary. This helps visualise the different processes that have to take place when one is writing alone. Remember, this is also what children have to negotiate when writing too.

The writer (composition) has to attend to the following:

  • Generating ideas,
  • Turning thoughts, opinions, feelings into words/sentences.
  • Use of grammar for function,
  • Word and tone choice,
  • Keeping cohesion,
  • Thinking of the purpose of the text,
  • Keeping the reader in mind throughout.

The secretary (transcription) has to attend to the following:

  • Physical effort of writing,
  • Handwriting,
  • Spelling,
  • Capitalisation,
  • Punctuation,
  • Paragraphs,
  • How it will look (including multi-modality).

Frank Smith begins by talking about composing and transcription as if they were performed by two different people. This is simply to allow the reader to see the two broad aspects of writing separately. It is important to remember that we often place both of these burdens on children when we ask them to write. However, consider this for a moment: Teachers often place further cognitive workload upon children. Further burdens can include:

So when they are writing, children have to attend to all of the above and often at the same time. To help the children in our class, at the beginning of the year, we decided to separate the writing process for them and teach each stage explicitly. We call this our Real-World Literacy approach. We taught them how to attend to all the compositional aspects of writing – through what we call:

  • Generating Ideas,
  • Boxing Up,
  • Vomit Drafting and
  • The ‘Revision’ Stage.

We then taught them how to attend to the transcriptional aspects of writing:

  • Proofreading,
  • Editing,
  • Publishing.

I do a kind of pre-draft – what I call a ‘vomit-out’ – Calvin Trillin

Untitled

This is because when children are asked to attend to the aspects of composition and transcription at the same time, they both interfere with each other. What would be a collaboration between two people (the writer and the secretary) becomes an unnecessary yet profound conflict for children.

Let’s be clear:

When children are learning to write, composition and transcription can interfere with each other. The more attention you give to one, the more the other is likely to suffer. The problem is essentially a competition for attention.

If thoughts are coming too fast, then the quality of children’s handwriting, spelling or punctuation is likely to decline. If we concentrate on the transcription, the inserting of linguistic features or the appearance of what we write, then composition will be effected; children are likely to produce impeccable nonsense. To avoid either of these occurring, we separate the two processes for the children.

The rule in our class is simple: composition and transcription must be separated and transcription must come last. Revising and editing are as important in our class as writing.

Interestingly, as the year has progressed, we have noted that as the children have got better at composition, the less attention on transcription has been required by them at the end.

The children are now able to characterise themselves and their preferred writing process. We have the following types of writers in our class.

  1. The Vomiters

The most popular writing process. These children like to get their ideas down on paper and spend most of their time revising it and getting it ‘reader ready’ through proof reading and publishing.

2. The Paragraph Pilers

The second most popular process. These children like to vomit a paragraph, clean it up by revising it and editing it before they move on to the next part in their writing.

3. Sentence Stackers

The least popular process. These are children who vomit a sentence and attend to the transcription immediately afterwards.

Interestingly, there are also The Planners and the Discoverers. These are children who either plan the writing to the absolute detail before going on to draft or else I have the Discoverers who resist planning as much as possible and like to see where their writing will take them (with varying success).

Whatever process the children feel works best for them, at the end of the process, all the children will publish a piece of interesting, neat and grammatically correct writing.

Their edited drafts will show evidence that they have attended to spellings, provided evidence of certain linguistic features and punctuated fully. Their final published copy will also show they have attended to their handwriting in a focused way.

I think it is fair to say that the current state of writing-assessment is far from perfect. So how can we ensure that we at least assess children’s writing in a humane way? We currently undertake it in a low-stakes way where children are simply allowed to write through the writing process organically; at their own pace – producing a variety of pieces independently for pleasure.

The popular alternative currently employed in schools is the giving out of a writing stimulus and then given limited time and a high-stakes pressured environment in which to complete it. I know, as an adult, which environment I could do my best writing in.

Incidentally, we should make clear that we are not advocating that every piece is assessed formally but it is comforting to know as a teacher that I have a whole raft of varied and interesting writing from which I can find evidence of good independent writing being undertaken.

To find out more about our approach to teaching writing, which we are calling ‘Real-World Literacy’, you can follow this link.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

Advertisements

GUEST BLOG: I think…that all teachers should do this so they can learn new stuff like us by Kat Vallely

Continue reading “GUEST BLOG: I think…that all teachers should do this so they can learn new stuff like us by Kat Vallely”

Writing For Pleasure: Setting Writing Goals

Writing For Pleasure: Setting Writing Goals

Chart

According to research, Writing For Pleasure teachers will scaffold new writing projects by setting both process and product oriented writing goals. This happens in a mastery based writing environment which has an atmosphere of inquiry, investigation and experimentation at its heart.

A little note about terminology here before we begin:

  • Distant Writing Goals – often the end goal of a writing project. The final writing ‘product’. The purpose and audience for the writing is revealed, considered and discussed at this point.
  • Product Writing Goals – often writers will talk about their finished writing being their ‘product’. The thing that is created. Product writing goals then are the intentions we have for the writing. What will we have to do to make this an effective product…? This is very different to success criteria which don’t always attend to the intentions for the writing nor are they always authentically generated alongside the children.
  • Process Writing Goals – these are goals we often set ourselves as writers. We will often give ourselves mini-deadlines. Rarely do we take on a large project in one go. Rather, we take it a step at a time. For example, ‘We need to try and finish this draft in the next couple of days’. This doesn’t mean you don’t or can’t do two processes at the same time sometimes. For example, some of us, as ‘paragraph pilers,’ will often write a paragraph, read it through, maybe revise it a bit, maybe even proof-read it a little before moving onto our next paragraph. This doesn’t mean we won’t also put time aside to revise and edit it explicitly at a later stage.

Therefore, Writing For Pleasure teachers will in all likelihood:

Set A Distant Writing Goal:

‘Our next writing project is to produce an instructional text about something we are really good at. I was thinking we could write them to share with one another in our class library’? Does anyone have any other ideas?

Setting Product Writing Goals:

Writing For Pleasure teachers will set writing goals for writing projects collaboratively with their apprentice writers. According to research (Ames & Archer 1988; Covington 2000; Rooke 2013), it is important for children’s pleasure in writing that they are afforded some participation and agency in the formation of learning goals for these projects. This not only builds the learner’s motivation and engagement in the act of writing, but also helps them to clarify what has to be undertaken to be successful. Children who are motivated and find pleasure in writing may also gain higher levels of self-efficacy as a result (Bandura & Schunk, 1981; Butler & Winnie, 1995; Rooke 2013). Gadd (2014) claims that this might require the teacher to ask questions like:

‘We’ve had a look at a few really good instructional texts from last year’s class. So, what might we have to think about to be successful at writing an excellent instructional text? Let’s write some product goals down on this flip-chart paper together.’

Over The Course Of The Project, Set Process Writing Goals:

The most effective type of writing goal, this means splitting up the different processes of writing to reduce children’s cognitive load, building their sense of self-efficacy and setting them further writing goals to achieve within these different processes. Writing For Pleasure teachers teach writing processes with a view to children applying them to class and personal projects and for individual mastery of them. This was the subject of our last #WritingRocks talk and you can view more about teaching the writing processes here.

  • Over the next couple of writing sessions, you are to have a plan for your instructional text ready.
  • OK. Using your plans to aid you, you have the next few writing sessions to draft your instructions.
  • I’m giving you this writing session to work with your talk partner on revising your instructional text ready for publication. If you feel you might need another session because you have a lot of revisions to do, let me know.
  • If you feel ready, I’ve put aside this writing session (and tomorrow’s if we need it) for us to proof-read and edit our instructional texts so that they are ‘reader-ready’.
  • Today is the day! This writing session is for you to publish your instructional texts into the class library. 

Writing Goals, Over Time, Create Self-Regulating And Independent Writers

Distant goals (like completing a class writing project e.g. ‘let’s write stories for the year four classes’) will be sub-divided into more manageable ‘chunks,’ which allows not only for long-term progress to be monitored clearly and regularly, but also for children to feel a sense of satisfaction more frequently by completing these sub-goals (Bandura & Schunk, 1981; Butler & Winnie, 1995; Hmelo-Silver et al 2007). The cognitive load involved in writing is shared out across the writing processes, making the writing project feel more accessible and manageable to children. The ultimate aim is that, over time, these goals become automated and that children negotiate these cognitively challenging writing projects largely independently and using their own preferred writing process (see our last #WritingRocks chat). It also means that they can pursue personal writing projects in much the same way as they do their class ones.

If you set a process goal like ‘over the next three writing sessions, you must complete your revisions,’ why not consider that, once children have completed this goal, allowing them to pursue their personal writing projects whilst the rest of the class finish? Why not make this the expectation after any class writing goal has been completed? That way children are always engaged in purposeful writing.

The Types Of Learning Goals Writing For Pleasure Teachers Will Set:

Gadd (2014) suggests quite an open ended interpretation of writing process goals. They can be:

  • Single goals for all learners. We are all going to finish our plans today.
  • Multiple writing goals for learners to select from. Publish something entertaining, using any genre you like.
  • They can be worked on by learners at varying times or simultaneously. Wherever you find yourself in the writing process, carry on.
  • They can be designed to generate one intended outcome or a range of possible outcomes. ‘You must all write a biography of Buzz Aldrin’ or ‘You must all write a biography of someone you know personally’. ‘You have to write an information text about the water cycle’ Or ‘pick a genre and use it to write about the water cycle’.
  • They can be designed to include cooperative or interactive writing projects.
  • They can also be devised by the teacher and children together or the children alone.

Therefore, once the writing processes are established with the children in the school/class and they are fluent or experienced writers, Writing For Pleasure teachers will allow their learners to work on their writing goals at their own level and at their own pace (Garrett & Moltzen 2011; Paratore & McCormack, 2009; Pollard et al., 1994; Reutzel, 2007; Rubie-Davies 2010; Schumm & Avalos, 2009; Wyse & Torgerson 2017).

They are likely to set children goals such as: ‘your writing goal is to describe the characters in the stories you write’ as opposed to ‘add a noun phrase to describe your character more’. Or ‘you need to take more care when proofreading, use your editing checklist to help you’ rather than ‘you have some capital letters missing in this piece – correct them’.

Obvious Links To Other Writing For Pleasure Manifesto Principles:

The setting of writing goals promotes Writing For Pleasure in a number of ways:

  1. It promotes the idea of self-efficacy because it helps apprentice writers to accomplish many goals and gives them the feeling that they can manage the writing project.
  2. It promotes a feeling of agency. Once experienced enough with the different processes and what they involve, children choose how they write and complete a writing project.
  3. It can increase children’s motivation. They can see where their writing is leading to and they will be better able to set themselves specific writing-process goals which they will know how to achieve.
  4. It massively supports children’s self-regulation. Over time, apprentice writers will certainly gain a feeling of independence and will be able to monitor their own writing projects.
  5. It will increase their writer-identity. Developing writing processes alongside a feeling of belonging and having an affinity with writing allows children to feel part of a community where they can talk, craft and undertake the behaviours of professional writers in a feeling of safety and understanding.

Further Reading:

If you found this article interesting, you should also read:

www.teachersaswriters.org/general/writing-and-rewriting

www.change.org/p/michael-gove-straws-suck-ban-single-use-straws-across-the-uk

http://thewroxham.org.uk/our-learning/independent-writing-what-is-it/

Please support us by clicking on the ‘Follow’ button in the top-right corner (or if you’re on a tablet or smartphone at the bottom of the screen).

You can also follow us and contribute to the Writing For Pleasure teacher community @WritingRocks_17

References

  • Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement goals in the classroom: Students’ learning strategies and motivation processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 260–267.
  • Bandura, A., & Schunk, D. H. (1981). Cultivating competence, self-efficacy and intrinsic interest through proximal self-motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(3), 586–598
  • Butler, D. L., & Winne, P. H. (1995). Feedback and self-regulated learning: A theoretical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65(3), 245–274.
  • Covington, M. V. (2000). Goal theory, motivation, and school achievement: An integrative review. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 171–200.
  • Garrett, L., Moltzen, R., (2011) Writing because I want to, not because I have to: Young gifted writers’ perspectives on the factors that “matter” in developing expertise In English Teaching: Practice and Critique 165-180
  • Graham, S., Harris, K., Mason, L., (2011) Self-Regulated Strategy Development for Students With Writing Difficulties. Theory Into Practice. Vol. 50 Issue 1, p20-27
  • Hmelo-Silver, C., Duncan, R., & Chinn, C. (2007). Scaffolding and achievement in problem-based and inquiry learning: A response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006). Educational Psychologist, 42(2), 99–107.
  • Langer, J. A. (2001). Beating the odds: Teaching middle and high school students to read and write well. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 837–880.
  • Latham, G. P., & Locke, E. A. (1991). Self-regulation through goal setting. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50(2), 212–247
  • Paratore, J. R., & McCormack, R. L. (2009). Grouping in the middle and secondary grades: Advancing content and literacy knowledge. In K. D. Wood & W. E. Blanton (Eds.), Literacy instruction for adolescents: Research-based practice (pp. 420–441). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Paris, S. G., & Winograd, P. (2003). The role of self-regulated learning in contextual teaching: Principles and practices for teacher preparation (CIERA Report). Retrieved from http://www.ciera.org/library/archive/2001-04/0104parwin.htm
  • Pollard, A., Broadfoot, P., Croll, P., Osborn, M. and Abbott, D. (1994) Changing English in Primary Schools? The Impact of the Education Reform Act at KS1. London: Cassell
  • Reutzel, D. R. (2007). Organizing effective literacy instruction: Differentiating instruction to meet the needs of all children. In L. B. Gambrell, L. M. Morrow, & M. Pressley (Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction (pp. 313–434). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Rooke, J., (2013) Transforming Writing: Final Evaluation Report National Literacy Trust: London
  • Rubie-Davies, C. M. (2010). Teacher expectations and perceptions of student attributes: Is there a relationship? British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(1), 121–135.
  • Schumm, J. S., & Avalos, M. A. (2009). Responsible differentiated instruction for the adolescent learner. In K. D. Wood & W. E. Blanton (Eds.), Literacy instruction for adolescents: Research-based practice (pp. 144–169). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
  • Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 25, 71-86
  • Schunk, D. H. (1996). Goal and self-evaluative influences during children’s cognitive skill learning. American Educational Research Journal, 33(2), 359–382.
  • Schunk, D. H., & Swartz, C. W. (1993). Goals and progress feedback: Effects on selfefficacy and writing achievement. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 18(3), 337–354.
  • Seijts, G. H., Latham, G. P., Tasa, K., & Latham, B. W. (2004). Goal setting and goal orientation: An integration of two different yet related literatures. Academy of Management Journal, 47(2), 227–239.
  • Timperley, H. & Parr, J., (2009) What is this lesson about? Instructional processes and student understandings in writing classrooms, The Curriculum Journal, 20:1, 43-60
  • Vanderburg, R., (2006) Reviewing Research on Teaching Writing Based on Vygotsky’s Theories: What We Can Learn In Reading & Writing Quarterly, 22:4, 375-393

“All Children Can Write”: A Tribute To Donald Graves

All Children Can Write

Donald Graves: 1930 – 2010

The following article by Donald Graves (written in 1985), considered by many to be the “father” of the process approach to writing, is a classic piece on the need for a change in the way writing has typically been taught in schools. This article helped spark the movement now known as ‘The Writer’s Workshop’ or ‘Process Writing’ approach and has influenced our modern interpretation called ‘Real-World Literacy‘.

This article is excellent because Graves discusses the challenges and needs of students, clearly lays out how teachers can establish a community of writers and the writing process, and provides examples of teachers and students working together.

Donald H. Graves University of New Hampshire Learning Disabilities Focus, 1985

Many children who have learning disabilities are poor writers. They equate their struggles with handwriting, spelling, and language conventions with a lack of ideas and information worth sharing. The writing-process approach to teaching first emphasizes what children know, then the conventions that will help them share their meaning with others in the class. This approach has led to major breakthroughs for young writers, particularly those who have learning problems.

This article reexamines writing as communication for oneself and for other audiences. This process occurs in classrooms where children see how teachers demonstrate their own learning in the midst of a highly structured environment.

Four essentials to a successful writing-process program are described: the adequate provision of time (at least 4 days per week), child choice of writing topic, response to child meaning, and the establishment of a community of learners.

Continued success in teaching writing depends on teacher’s work with their own writing. Study programs, as well as additional reading materials, are suggested.

I stood at the side of Ms. Richards’ third grade classroom watching the children write. We were at the beginning of our 2-year National Institute of Education study of children’s composing processes. The school had diagnosed two of the children in Ms. Richards’ room as having severe visual-motor problems. They were not hard to find.

Both leaned over their papers, their elbows crooked at right angles to their bodies to protect the appearance of their papers. I walked over to take a closer look at one of the two children’s papers. Billy’s paper was smudged, wrinkled, letters blackened; in several instances, his paper was thinned and blackened still more where he had gone through several spelling trials on the same work. The more serious aspect of Billy’s writing profile was not his visual-motor difficulty, the appearance of his paper, or his numerous misspellings. Billy was a self-diagnosed poor writer. He connected his writing problems with a lack of worthwhile ideas and experiences. In addition, he was well-versed in what he couldn’t do.

Billy had been in a separate program emphasizing visual-motor skills, letter formation, and various fine-motor tasks. No question, using a pencil was painful and arduous for him. Teachers complained that Billy rarely completed his work and was constantly behind the others, though he seemed to be articulate. Billy’s program was skill-based, disconnected from meaning, and filled with positive reinforcement about his ability to form letters on good days. There was not attempt to connect his writing with the communication of ideas.

Children with learning disabilities often work on skills in isolation, disconnected from learning itself, and therefore disconnected from themselves as persons. Therefore, like Billy, though their skills may improve slightly in isolation, the children do not perceive the function of the skill. Worse, they do not see the skill as a means to show what they know. Skills work merely supplies additional evidence for the misconception that they are less intelligent than other children.

Billy was in a classroom that stressed writing as a process. This meant the children received help from the time they chose a topic to the time they completed their final work. Ms. Richards played the believing game, starting with what Billy knew, particularly his experiences. In fact, Billy’s breakthrough as a writer came when his teacher discovered his interest in and knowledge of gardening. As Ms. Richards helped him to teach her about this subject, she learned how to plant, cultivate, water, fertilize, and provide special care for certain varieties of tomatoes. Although Billy wrote more slowly than the other children, he became lost in his subject, forgot about his poor spelling and handwriting, ceased to cover his paper, and wrote a piece filled with solid information about gardening. Once Billy connected writing with knowing-his knowing- it was then possible to work with his visual motor and spelling problems, but as incidental to communicating information.

Ms. Richards is now one of the thousands of teachers who teach writing as a process in the United States and the English speaking world. New research and publications, university courses, and numerous summer institutes, are now helping teachers and administrators to find out for themselves what students can do when they focus on the meaning of their writing. Much of the focus of these institutes and courses is on the teachers’ own writings: most of us had to rediscover the power of writing for ourselves before we could learn to hear what these young writers had to teach us.

Although writing-process work helps all writers, it seems to be particularly successful with people who see themselves as disenfranchised from literacy. I place in this group learners like Billy who have diagnosed learning disabilities and the accompanying “I-don’t-know-anything” syndrome.

The writing-process approach to teaching focuses on children’s ideas and helps children teach the teacher or other children in the class what they know, with emphasis first given to ideas and clarifying. This is the first experience many children have with other humans who work hard to point to what they know, instead of what is lacking in the message. Small wonder then that the writing process works best with the disenfranchised, who become a bit giddy at the prospect of seeing their words on paper affecting the thinking of others.

Understanding writing as communication is the heart of teaching the writing process. This article will first focus on the nature of writing, look in greater detail at research on the writing process itself, examine two principles in teaching writing, and then describe four basics in establishing a writing program. It also has a brief section on further reading and recommendations for summer programs for people interested in continuing their study of the writing process.

What Is Writing?

Writing is a medium with which people communicate with themselves and with others at other places and times. When I write, I write to learn what I know because I don’t know fully what I mean until I order the words on paper. Then I see … and know. Writers’ first attempts to make sense are crude, rough approximations of what they mean. Writing makes sense of things for oneself, then for others.

Children can share their writing with others by reading aloud, by chatting with friends while writing, or (in more permanent form) by publishing. Billy found that writing carried a different authority from spoken words. When he took the gardening piece out in December, he found that words written in September could be savored 3 months later. Furthermore, when he read the published books of other children in his room, he began to realize that his book on gardening was read by others when he wasn’t present.

Written language is different from oral language. When Billy speaks, he reinforces his meaning by repeating words and phrases. Unlike when he writes, an audience is present; when the audience wanders or indicates disagreement, he changes his message with words, hand signals, facial expressions, and body posture. This is the luxury of oral discourse. “Error,” adjustment, and experimentation are an expected part of oral discourse.

There is a different tradition surrounding most teaching of writing. Only one attempt, one draft is allowed to communicate full meaning (without an audience response). Red-lined first drafts are the norm; we blanch at any misspellings or crudely formed letters.

Still worse, writing has been used as a form of punishment: “Write your misspelled worry 25 times.” (This is called reinforcement of visual-memory systems.); “Write one hundred times, I will not chew gum in school”‘, “Write a 300 word composition on how you will improve your attitude toward school.” Most teachers teaching in 1985 were bathed in the punishment syndrome when they were learning to write. Small wonder that most of us subtly communicate writing as a form of punishment. We have known no other model of teaching.

The Writing Process

When children use a meaning-centered approach to writing, they compose in idiosyncratic ways. Each child’s approach to composing is different from the next. Some draw first, write two words, and in 10 minutes or less announce, “I’m done.” Others draw after writing or do not write at all; instead, they speak with a neighbor about what they will write. Some stare out the window or at the blank page and write slowly after 20 minutes of reflection. At some point in their development, writers believe one picture and two words beneath the drawing contain an entire story. In the writer’s mind, the story is complete; members of the audience shake their heads and try to work from drawing to text and back to understand the author’s intent.

Such idiosyncratic approaches by children seem capricious to outsiders, confusing to children, and bewildering to us as teachers. We intervene with story starters to “get them going,” produce pictures as stimuli for writing, and consult language arts texts for language activities. The texts provide “systematic” approaches, often through the teaching of the sentence, advance to two sentences, and finally development of the paragraph. Our detailed observation of young children writing shows they simply don’t learn that way. Rather, they write three sentences in one in their first year, not understanding where one sentence ends and the other begins. Studies of children’s understanding and use of sentences show they don’t acquire full sentence sense until much later (about fifth grade).

The most pernicious aspect of teacher interventions is that children begin to learn early on that others need to supply topics because they come to the page with nothing in their heads. A focus on skills and form to the exclusion of child initiated meaning further confirms their lack of fit with the writing process.

Prepared materials seek to reduce the stress and the uncertainty that writers face when they encounter the blank page. But the attempt to produce certainty through standardization by-passes the opportunity for child growth. There is good reason to expect tension when a child first writes.

When writers write, they face themselves on the blank page. That clean white piece of paper is like a mirror. When I put words on the page, I construct an image of myself on that whiteness. I may not like my spelling, handwriting, choice of words, aesthetics, or general cleanliness of the page. Until I can begin to capture what I want to say, I have to be willing to accept imperfection and ambiguity. If I arrive at the blank page with a writing history filled with problems, I am already predisposed to run from what I see. I try to hide my paper, throw it away, or mumble to myself, “This is stupid.” But with every dangerous, demanding situation, there is an opportunity to learn. Teachers who follow and accompany children as they compose help them to deal with what they see on the page. The reason writing helps children with learning disabilities is that they do far more than learn to write: They learn to come to terms with a new image of themselves as thinkers-thinkers with a message to convey to the world.

Teaching Writing- Two Basic Principles

After 12 years of working with writing research and the teaching of writing, I have found two principles essential for effective teaching of writing:

  1. The teacher teaches most by showing how he/she learns, and
  2. the teacher provides a highly structured classroom.

The best demonstration of how teachers learn is through their gathering of information from the children. They place the children in the position of teaching them what they know, usually through conferences. “Now you say that you have to be careful how deep you plant lettuce, Billy. Can you tell me more about that? And do you think the precise depth should be in your piece for the other children? Will they want to know that?” Billy’s teacher has shown him how she learns and how he should learn to listen to questions he soon will be able to ask himself.

Ms. Richards, Billy’s teacher, has a basic lifestyle of learning from everyone. Whether seated next to someone on a plane, in the teachers’ room, or talking informally with children, she wants to be taught; in a lifetime she has learned how important it is to help others to teach her. People leave Ms. Richards’ presence surprised they knew so much about their subjects.

Ms. Richards’ classroom is a highly structured, predictable classroom. Children who learn to exercise choice and responsibility can function only in a structured room. Furthermore, the up-and-down nature of the writing process itself demands a carefully defined room. Predictability means that writing occurs daily, at set times, with the teacher moving in the midst of the children, listening to their intentions, worries, and concerns. They know she will be nearby attending to their work. She rarely addresses the entire class during writing time. She works hard to establish a studio atmosphere. Predictability also means she won’t solve problems for them. Rather, she asks how they might approach the problem. She listens, clarifies their intentions and their problems, and moves on.

Children learn to take responsibility not only for their topics, content of their drafts, and final copy, but also for carrying out classroom decisions. A structured classroom requires an organized teacher who has set the room up to run itself. The teacher has already made a list of the things to be done to help the room function. From September through June, he/she gradually passes on those duties to the children. Attendance, caring for room plants and animals, room cleanliness, lunch lines, desk supervision, and cleaning are but a few examples of these delegations. When room structure and routine do not function well, the teacher and students plan together for the best way to make it function more smoothly. Ms. Richards’ room is based on extensive preparation in room design and knowledge of materials, the children, and the process by which they learn to take responsibility.

Teachers who function well in teaching the writing process are interested in what children have to teach them. Writing-process teaching is responsive, demanding teaching that helps children solve problems in the writing process and in the classroom.

Carrying Out A Writing-Process Program

I am often asked, “What are the essentials to strong writing programs?” Although the list could be extensive, I think that if teachers understand the following four components, their writing programs will serve the children well. These components are adequate provision of time, child choice of topic, responsive teaching, and the establishment of a classroom community, a community that has learned to help itself.

Time

Our data show that children need to write a minimum of 4 days a week to see any appreciable change in the quality of their writing. It takes that amount of writing to contribute to their personal development as learners. Unless children write at least 4 days a week, they won’t like it. Once-a-week writing (the national average is about 1 day in 8) merely reminds them they can’t write; they never write often enough to listen to their writing. Worse, the teacher simply has no access to the children. He/she has to scurry madly around the room trying to reach each child. With little access to the children, the teacher can’t help them take responsibility, solve problems for them, or listen to their responses and questions. The very important connection between speaking and writing is lost.

Although teaching writing 4 to 5 times a week helps the teacher, it helps the children even more. When children write on a daily basis, we find they write when they aren’t writing. Children get into their subjects, thinking about their texts and topics when they are riding on buses, lying in bed, watching television, reading books, or taking trips. When they write regularly, papers accumulate. There is visible evidence they know and are growing. They gain experience in choosing topics and very soon have more topics to write about than class time can accommodate. Children with learning problems need even more time. They need to listen to themselves with help from the teacher. In summary, regular writing helps:

  1. Children choose topics,
  2. Children listen to their pieces and revise,
  3. Children help each other,
  4. Teachers listen to child texts,
  5. Skills develop in the context of child pieces,
  6. Teachers to have greater access to children.

Topic Choice

The most important thing children can learn is what they know and how they know it. Topic choice, a subject the child is aware that they know something about, is at the heart of success in writing. Billy struggled with handwriting and spelling and equated those problems with not knowing topics to write about. When his teacher helped him to discover his knowledge and interest in gardening, he began to write, first haltingly, then with greater flow. He was open to help with spelling and handwriting when he knew he had something to say. Skills are important; learning disabilities cannot be ignored, but neither can teachers or researchers forget that writing exists to communicate with self and others.

“How can I get the child to write? Do you have any good motivators?” are frequent questions asked of me in workshops. The word get embraces the problem. There are thousands of “motivators” on the market in the form of story starters, paragraph starters, computer software, animated figures, picture starters, and exciting “sure-fire” interest getters. We forget that children are very sophisticated consumers of motivators from Saturday morning television alone. Worse, motivators teach the child that the best stimulus comes from the outside. Writing actually demands dozens of motivators during the course of composing, but they are motivators that can only be supplied by the writer himself. All children have important experiences and interests they can learn to tap through writing. If children are to become independent learners, we have to help them know what they know; this process begins with helping children to choose their own topics.

Very young children, ages 5 through 7, have very little difficulty choosing topics, especially if they write every day. As children grow older and experience the early effects of audience, even under favorable learning conditions, they begin to doubt what they know. From that point on, all writers go through a kind of doubting game about the texts they produce. They learn to read better and are more aware of the discrepancy between their texts and their actual intentions. If, however, overly severe, doubting teachers are added to the internal doubts of the child, writing becomes still more difficult.

If children write every day and share their writing, we find they use each other as the chief stimulus for topic selection. If teachers write with their children, demonstrating the origin of their topics, and surround the children with literature, topic selection is even easier.

Topic selection is helped through daily journal writing where children take 10 minutes to record their thoughts. Teachers may also give 5- to 10-minute writing assignments, such as: “Write about how you think our room could be improved” just following a discussion about how the room could be improved with the entire class or “That upsets you? Well, blast away on paper with the first thoughts that come to mind. But write it for you; if you feel like showing it to me, okay.” The teacher finds many occasions where it is useful to record thoughts and opinions on paper. Each of these approaches demonstrates what writing is for, as well as helping the children to have access to what they know and think.

Response

People write to share, whether with themselves or others. Writers need audiences to respond to their messages. The response confirms for the writer that the text fits his/her intentions. First, the teacher provides an active audience for the writer by confirming what he/she understands in the text and then by asking a few clarifying questions. Second, the teacher helps the entire class to learn the same procedure during group share time. Each writing period ends with two or three children sharing their pieces with the group while the group follows the discipline of first pointing to what is in the text, then asking questions to learn more about the author’s subject. All of these responses, whether by the teacher or the other children, are geared to help writers learn to listen to their own texts.

While the children are writing, Billy’s teacher moves around the room, responding to their work in progress. Here is an interchange Ms. Richards had with Billy about his piece “My Garden.” (The child’s text is presented, followed by the conference with the teacher.)

My Grdan

I help my Dad with the grdan ferstyou have to dig it up an than you rake an get the racks out of it. Than you make ros an you haveto be cerfull to make it deep enuff so the letis will come up.

Ms. Richards first receives the piece by saying what she understands about what Billy has written. She may also have him read the writing aloud to her:

Ms. Richards: You’ve been working hard, Billy. I see that you work with your dad on your garden. You know just what you do; you dig it up, rake it to get the rocks out, and then you have to be careful how deep you plant things. Did I get that right?

Billy: Yup.

Ms. Richards: Well, I was wondering, Billy. You say that the lettuce has to be planted deep enough so the lettuce will come up. Could you tell me more about that? I haven’t planted a garden for a long time.

Billy: Well, If you plant it too deep, it won’t come up. Lettuce is just near the top.

Ms. Richards: Oh, I see and did you plant some other things in your garden?

Billy: Yup, carrots, beans, turnips (I hate ’em), spinach (that, too) beets, and tomatoes; I like tomatoes.

Ms. Richards: That’s quite a garden, Billy. And what will you be writing here next?

Billy: You have to water it once you plant it.

Ms. Richards: Then you already know what you’ll be doing, don’t you.

There are many problems with Billy’s text: misspelled words, run on sentences, missing capitalizations, and incomplete information. But Billy has just started writing his piece. Therefore, Ms. Richards works on word flow, helping Billy to know that he knows something about his subject and that he has a clear understanding of what he will do next. Later, when his piece is finished, she will choose one skill to teach within the context of his topic. Above all, she works hard to help Billy teach her about his subject, to keep control of the topic in his hands, no matter how uncertain Billy might feel about his subject.

Notice that Ms. Richards has spent no more than a minute and a half in response. She then moves to other children while responding in the same manner, receiving a text and asking questions. As she moves to different children in other parts of the room (she does not move in rotation or down rows; the movement appears to be random), the other children can hear that the teacher expects them to help her with what they know. Lengthy responses tend to take the writing away from the child. For example, if Ms. Richards were to say, “I had a garden once, Billy. I planted all kinds of things too: I planted cabbages, those same turnips, yellow beans, pole beans, and corn. Yes, It’s hard work,” she’d be identifying with Billy’s garden and the hard work that goes into it, but she’s now the informant. Such sharing should come only when his piece is completed and his authorship of this piece established.

Ms. Richards’ statement is specific. When she receives Billy’s text, she uses the actual words he has composed on the page. All writers need to know their words (the actual words on the page) affect other people. Notice that very little praise is given to Billy in this type of response. Instead, the listener, Ms. Richards, points with interest to the words; they are strong enough for her to understand and to remember them. The use of specifics, rather than the exclusive use of praise, is a fundamental issue in helping Billy to maintain control of his piece, as well as to take more responsibility for his text.

Establish A Community Of Writers

Writing is a social act. If social actions are to work, then the establishment of a community is essential. A highly predictable classroom is required if children are to learn to take responsibility and become a community of learners who help each other. Writing is an unpredictable act requiring predictable classrooms both in structure and response.

Children with learning disabilities often have histories of emotional problems. Many have become isolated and feel very little sense of community. They themselves may produce unpredictable classrooms. Their histories in taking responsibility are equally strewn with failure. Notions of choice and responsibility are threatening and require careful work on a broad front. The following ingredients help to build a structured, predictable community of more independent writers.

  1. Write daily, at the same time if possible, for a minimum of 30 minutes.
  2. Work to establish each child’s topical turf, an area of expertise for each writer.
  3. Collect writing in folders so that writers can see the accumulation of what they know. Papers do not go home; rather, the collected work is present in class for student, teacher, parent, and administrator to examine. Some writing is published in hardcover or some more durable form.
  4. Provide a predictable pattern of teacher participation by sharing your own writing, moving in the midst of students during writing time, and responding in predictable structure to your students’ writing.
  5. End each writing time with children responding to each other’s writing in a predictable format: receiving, questioning.
  6. Set up classroom routines in which you examine the entire day to see which responsibilities can be delegated to the children. Solve room problems in discussion. The group learns to negotiate, whether in working with a draft or solving a classroom problem.
  7. Continually point to the responsibilities assumed by the group, as well as the specifics of what they know.

The writing classroom is a structured, predictable room in which children learn to make decisions. The external structure is geared to produce a confident, internal thinking framework within which children learn what they know and develop their own Initiative.

Continuing Education Of Professionals

Most teachers have been drawn into process work because they have seen significant personal growth by their students with learning problems. Students who lacked confidence and initiative and were disenfranchised from literacy learn to write, share their writing with others, and take charge of their own learning. Although some teachers may wish to start work on the writing process based on this article, I suggest additional reading and work with their own writing.

The single most important help to teachers who work with young writers is work with the teacher’s own writing. Both the National Writing Project and our work here at the University of New Hampshire stress work with the teacher’s own writing. Thus teachers become acquainted with writing from the inside by actually doing it themselves. It would be unheard of for a piano teacher, a ceramicist, or an artist working with water colors to teach someone their craft without practising it themselves. Most of us have had little instruction in learning the craft of writing. We’ve written term papers, letter, and proposals, but we haven’t worked with someone who has helped us to know what we know, then showed us how that knowledge is increased through the writing process.

Final Reflection

Before children go to school, their urge to express is relentless. They learn to speak and to carry messages from one person to another. They burst into their homes to tell what just happened outside. They compose in blocks, play games, mark on sidewalks, and play with pencils or crayons. For most children, early audiences are receptive: adults struggle to make sense of the child’s early attempts to communicate.

When children enter school, their urge to express is still present. A few enter already scarred from attempts to communicate with others. But the urge to be, to make a mark on the universe, has not left them. As children grow older and spend more time in school, many become still more disenchanted with writing. They can’t keep up with the rest of the class and equate their struggles with handwriting, spelling, and early conventions as evidence that their ideas are unacceptable and that they are less intelligent than others. Even for these children, the urge to express, to make worthwhile contributions, to express a meaning that affects others, does not go away.

The most critical factor for children with learning disabilities is the meaning-making question. Teachers need to first believe they know important information, then work overtime to confirm for the child the importance of that information. The children see their teachers write; they see and hear them struggle for meaning on an easel or overhead projector as they compose before them. The children become apprentices to the use of words.

When children write, they make mistakes on the road to communicating their messages. The teacher’s first response is to the meaning. Before a piece is completed, the teacher chooses one skill that will enhance the meaning of the piece still further. From the beginning, the teacher works to build a strong history for writers through collections of all their work, some publishing, and the writers’ effective sharing with other members of the class.

Most teaching of writing is pointed toward the eradication of error, the mastery of minute, meaningless components that make little sense to the child. Small wonder. Most language arts texts, workbooks, computer software, and reams of behavioral objectives are directed toward the “easy” control of components that will show more specific growth. Although some growth may be evident on components, rarely does it result in the child’s use of writing as a tool for learning and enjoyment. Make no mistake, component skills are important; if children do not learn to spell or use a pencil to get words on paper, they won’t use writing for learning any more than the other children drilled on component skills. The writing-process approach simply stresses meaning first, and then skills in the context of meaning. Learning how to respond to meaning and to understand what teachers need to see in texts takes much preparation.

The writing process places high demands on the teacher. The room is carefully designed for developing student independence: Decisions are discussed, responsibilities assigned and assumed. Routines are carefully established with writing becoming a very important part of the room’s predictability. Initially, response to the child’s writing is predictable with receiving of the child’s text, followed by questions of clarification, and the child’s next step in the writing process.

Teachers who use the writing process to greatest advantage spend time working with their own writing. They read and become involved in many of the National Institutes that are helping teachers use writing as a tool for their own learning. Soon they find their students’ learning careers change as well.

If you’ve enjoyed this article and the wise words of Donald Graves, we highly recommend that you purchase his fantastic book Writing: Teachers & Children At Work

You can also watch him being interviewed here:

Article adapted from: http://www.ldonline.org/article/6204

**By Phil Ferguson**

Teaching The Writing Process Is The Best Way To Improve Children’s Writing.

 The Writing Process

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.

The Author

When children are in author mode they are concerned with generating ideas, organising thoughts, and arranging selected words and sentences appropriately and effectively.

The Secretary

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:

  1. Generating ideas,
  2. Planning,
  3. Vomit drafting,
  4. Revising,
  5. Editing,
  6. Publishing.

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.

Genre-Booklets

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:

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.

If you would like to receive updates from our blog, you can click the follow button in the top right-hand-corner of the page. Alternatively, you can follow us on twitter at @lit4pleasure

**By Phil Ferguson**

References:

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

  • Gee, J. P. (2008) A sociocultural perspective on opportunity to learn In P. Moss, D. Pulin, J. P. Gee, E. Haertel and L. Young (eds) Assessment, Equity, and Opportunity to Learn (pp.76-108) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • 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