The Most Effective Practices For Teaching Writing
This article is based on the work of Graham & Perin (2007), The DfE (2012) and other influential research (Beard, 2000, Gadd, 2014, Education Endowment Fund, 2017). There is now a core of consistency to be found across a variety of studies in several different countries on what makes for good writing lessons. We also now know what causes poor writing outcomes – see here. In the case of Graham & Perin (2007), their meta-analysis comes from the largest collection of writing research ever pooled. It analysed all contemporary research into the teaching of writing and looked for significant patterning. You can find a more formal summary of how their and the DfE’s findings marry together to create these 13 strategies at the bottom of this article. This is what research analysis concluded:
1. Provide opportunities for students to experience the complete writing process:
The most important finding was the clear evidence that the explicit teaching of The Writing Process is the best way to improve children’s writing outcomes. Using our Real-World Literacy approach alongside our Genre-Booklets, can allow the children in your class to take part in regular high-quality ‘free-writing’ sessions where they will do some of their most profound and accelerated learning.
2. All students can and should write:
Just like with reading, the more students write the better they get. And by the way, the more they write, the better they read. Therefore we suggest you create a classroom library where the children can donate the books they’ve read – you can supplement this with local or school library books. Make sure to include non-fiction and poetry for the children to read regularly. For more details on how to set up a rich classroom library, visit our blog-post here.
3. Help students find real purposes to write and real audiences to reach:
Through our Real-World Literacy approach, children are taught that all their writing has a purpose and that they are learning to write just like the authors they read do and how to write like real writers do outside our school walls. Publishing is a vital part of the writing process.
4. Help students exercise choice, take ownership, and assume responsibility:
Through our Real-World Literacy approach, children are taught how authors generate ideas. They no longer have to try and negotiate topics they have limited experience or knowledge of. Instead, they are confident before they begin to write because they have something in mind they are attached to and care about. To learn about teaching children to generate their own ideas, see our post here.
5. Help students get started:
Again, many children struggle with topic selection – show them prewriting techniques that unleash their thinking. This can be done through our Genre-Booklets which provide children with a Boxing-Up plan for each of their favourite Genres. It also provides them with exemplar texts written by us and children. We have also introduced ‘Writing Tricks Books‘ which we will discuss in another blog post soon.
6. Confer with individual students on their writing:
- Pupil-Conferencing is your golden differentiation opportunity — brief 1:1 moments that are goal-oriented and richly instructional. You can read about how to conduct them in a systematic way here.
7. Guide students as they draft and revise:
Undertaking ‘Writing Study’ & Functional Grammar Lessons through our Real-World Literacy approach allows you to model how to revise things. Teaching a Writing Process which includes ‘Vomit Drafting‘ and then a revision stage helps children write their best work.
8. Model for kids how you write a text:
- As part of introducing our Genre-Booklets to the children, we will write a couple of examplar texts using the Booklet’s advice and Boxing-Up sheet. This is not only helpful as a teaching resource but also when it comes to giving writing advice through Pupil-Conferencing and teaching Writing-Study.
9. Teach grammar and mechanics in the context of actual writing:
- Don’t bother with isolated skill-and-drill grammar — research shows it doesn’t work (Graham & Perin, 2007). What does work is teaching grammar and style when kids are revising and editing work written for authentic audiences and purposes. That’s when they are keenly motivated to work on conventions.
10. Provide a classroom context of shared learning:
- Peer collaboration, not peer critique! Students need a safe, not critical, place to take risks and try things that drive their growth as writers. That’s why we allow the children to publish their of authentic pieces into the class library. This is also an excellent way to practice their handwriting – again, for a real purpose.
11. Use writing to support learning throughout the curriculum:
- Our Genre-Booklets also cover the real writing done by authors in other fields. Teach children how to write like real scientists, historians & geographers do.
12. Use evaluation constructively and efficiently:
- Research shows that red marks discourage growth in writing. Praise and thoughtful questions generate growth, not just “correcting.”
13. Lead students to learn the craft of writing:
- Setting up your classroom so that children have access to all aspects of The Writing Process is at the heart of our Real-World Literacy approach. Children have access to our Genre-Booklets via the classroom library – these include a Boxing-Up suggesting what to include and how to paragraph their piece. We then have our Revision Tips Sheet which shows the children how they can improve their work and finally we have our Proof-Reading Sheets which show children how to make their work ‘reader-ready’ for publication.
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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Summary Findings From Graham & Perin (2007)
(The numbers below show the significance of each intervention on writing outcomes).
|Teaching The Writing Process
This includes meeting with, teaching and encouraging children to plan & revise their own writing. It’s also about sharing how to approach the writing process. This is one of the two most effective ways for improving writing and is embedded in our approach.
Encouraging individual writing in class along-side shared goal-setting for subsequent pieces, self-assessment by the child and face-to-face assessment with the teacher. This constitutes the second most effective intervention in terms of writing progress. Our approach has such an intervention running through it.
This includes teachers developing arrangements where children can meet with a teacher or peers to discuss their writing. Such shared writing instruction is seen in Writing Study, Genre-Booklet lessons and Pupil Conferencing.
|Using Genre Features
This includes giving children the features and tools of a specific genre piece that they can work through systematically, as seen in our Genre-Booklets and Functional Grammar Lessons.
This is the specific teaching and modelling of the functional use of compound and complex sentences. This as recommended in our Functional Grammar Lessons.
Extended opportunities for free-writing, writing for real audiences, children choosing their own writing-topics, high levels of pupil and teacher interaction and a supportive learning environment.
Setting aside time and space for children to generate ideas and come up with potential writing topics.
Providing children with example texts in a genre. Real-World Literacy includes using genre-booklets and shared writing.
|Formal Grammar Teaching
This intervention, the study of traditional school grammar, yielded a negative result. This approach involves the explicit and systematic teaching of grammar without application to real writing or looking into the functional aspects of the use of grammar.
Summary Findings From The DfE (2012)
The following table lists approaches that have been found to be effective in the teaching of writing by research and reviews of international evidence (What Works Clearinghouse, 2012; Gillespie and Graham, 2010; Andrews et al, 2009; Santangelo and Olinghouse, 2009). (DfE, 2012, p.12)
|Teach pupils the writing process
||This supports our recommendation for daily process writing sessions.|
|Teach pupils to write for a variety of purposes
||This supports our advocacy of genre-study lessons and Genre-Booklets.|
|Teach pupils to become fluent with sentence construction
||This supports our recommendation for Functional Grammar Sessions.|
|Set specific goals to pupils and foster inquiry skills
||This supports our advocacy for student choice in terms of writing subjects as well as Pupil Conferencing, editing, target setting and publishing.|
|Provide daily time to write
||This supports our recommendation for process writing, where children write, for a sustained period, everyday. It also supports our suggestion that foundation subjects can influence children’s writing choices during literacy times. Finally, it supports our ideas around subject-specific Genre-Booklets.|
|Create an engaged community of writers
||This fully endorses our whole approach including; Genre-Booklets, genre study and Functional Grammar Lessons, process writing and the regular publishing of children’s pieces.
In particular, we believe this fully supports writing conferencing as a legitimate means of informing children about their work, giving constructive feedback and the setting of targets without necessarily having to rely on written-feedback.
|Functional Grammar Lessons
By [functional] grammar teaching the researchers referred to:
|Most of the research to date has focused on the explicit teaching of grammatical features. A randomised controlled study was conducted in UK and aimed to explore the effect of [functional] grammar teaching on pupils’ writing development.
Findings from the study were promising, showing a significant positive effect for pupils in the intervention group, taught in lessons using the said principles. They scored higher in the writing tests compared with pupils in the comparison group.
DfE (2012) What is the research evidence on writing? Education Standards Research Team, Department for Education: London
**By Phil Ferguson**