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Introduction to the Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers Practice Guide
This section provides an overview of the importance of teaching writing and explains key parameters considered by the panel in developing the practice guide. It also summarizes the recommendations for readers and concludes with a discussion of the research supporting the practice guide.
“Writing today is not a frill for the few, but an essential skill for the many.”6
Writing is a fundamental part of engaging
in professional, social, community, and civic activities. Nearly 70 percent of salaried em- ploy
ees have at least some responsibility for writing,
and the ability to wriwtellis a critical comp- o nent of being able to communicate effectively to a variety of audiences. Because writing is a valuable tool for communication, learning,
and self-expressionp,eople who do not have
adequate writing skills may be at a disa-dvan tage and may face restricted opportunities for education and employment.
Students should develop an early foundation in writing in order to communicate their ideas effectively and efficiently—yet many Am-eri
can students are not strong writers. In fact, less than one-third of all students performed at or above the “proficient” level in writing on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational
9 Progress Writing Assessment.
The authors believe that students who develop strong writing skills at an early age acquire a valuable tool for learning, com-muni cation, and self-expression. Such skills can be developed through effective writing in-struc tion practices that provide adequate time for
students to write.This guide, developed by
a panel of experts, presents four recom-men dations that educators can use to increase writing achievement for elementary students and help them succeed in school and society. These recommendations are based on the best available research evidence, as well as the combined experience and expertise of the panel members.
Scope of the practice guide
Audience. This guide is intended for use by teachers, literacy coaches, and other e-duca tors. The recommendations focus on activities and strategies teachers can implement in their classrooms to increase their students’ writing achievement. Principals, districts, and cu- rricu lum developers may also find the guide useful.
Grade level. The recommendations provide strategies for teaching writing to students in elementary school. The panel acknowledges that instructional practices in kindergarten and 1st grade, when students are uj st b-egin ning to learn letters and to write, can and will differ from practices in later grades. Writing, like reading, is defined from a developmental standpoint, which begins with the acquisition of foundational skills and then leads to the application of more sophisticated techniques. For younger students, for example, “writing” activities could include interpretive -draw ing,inventedspelling,orinteractive-writ
ing. Although these activities are not often considered traditional writing experiences, they accomplish the same goals: helping students communicate thoughts and ideas
to others, encouraging them to engage with the text to deepen their understanding of the content, and drawing connections to prior learning experiences. The panel recommends that teachers adapt the recommendations as appropriate for the range of grades addressed in this guide, and examples of such ad-apta tions are included in the guide.
Populations who are at risk for writing difficulties. Learning to write can be p- ar ticularly challenging for students with -learn ing disabilities; those who find it difficult to regulate their behavior when they become frustrated; or those who struggle with related skills such as reading, spelling, or han-dwrit ing. While the recommendations in this guide are primarily intended for teachers to use with typically developing students, most teachers serve at least a few students with special needs in their classrooms; in some general education classrooms, these students comprise the maoj rity. Research evidence reviewed for this guide indicates that th-e rec ommendations are appropriate for use with students with special needs when acco-mpa nied by appropriate modifications.
Underlying this guide are three common themes about the concept of writing, the role of technology, and the role of assessment.
The writing process. Writing is a process through which people communicate thoughts and ideas. It is a highly complex, cognitive, self-directed activity, driven by the goals- writ ers set for what they want to do and say and the audience(s) for whom they are writing.
To meet these goals, writers must skillfully and flexibly coordinate their writing process from conception to the completion of a text. Components of the writing process include planning; publishing; sharing; revising; editing; evaluating; and, for some writing pieces, publishing. (See Recommendation 2 for more information.)
Technology. Increasingly, the ability to use technology is vital for success in school and contemporary life. This requires that students learn to type and use a word processor, use the Internet to collect information, navigate computer- and web-based testing tools, and understandhowdifferentwritingconventions apply to different media. The panel believes that integrating the use of technology into
writing instruction is critically important. For this reason, examples of how to do so are included in “technology tip” call-out boxes in this guide.
Assessment. Good instruction in any subej ct area requires that teachers continually assess the needs and skills of their students and modify their instruction to suit those needs. The panel encourages teachers to use as- sess ment to guide their instruction and to -deter mine when students are ready to move on to more challenging instruction.
Summary of the recommendations
The recommendations in this guide cover teaching the writing process, teaching f-unda mental writing skills, encouraging students to develop essential writing knowledge, and developing a supportive writing environment. All of these practices are aimed at achieving a single goal: enabling students to use writing flexibly and effectively to help them learn and communicate their ideas.
A central tenet of this guide is that students learn by doing. Indeed, to become effective writers, students need daily opportunities to learn and practice writing skills, strategies, and techniques (Recommendation 1). Writing practice also can be integrated into in-struc tion in other content areas to provid-e stu dents with additional time to write.
Students need to think carefully about the-ir pur pose for writing, planning what to say and how to say it (Recommendation 2). While evidence supports Recommendation 2 as a whole, the steps to carry out this recommendation can
be grouped into two categories. First, to help students think critically about writing, teachers should focus their writing instruction on-teach ing students to carry out the writing process effectively and flexibly (Recommendation 2a). This includes helping students learn how to engageinthewritingprocesstomeetthei-rwrit ing goals, as well as teaching students multiple strategies for carrying out the components of
the writing process. Second, because writing also is a form of communication with man-y pur poses, teachers should help students develop an understanding of these purposes and learn to write well for a variety of real-life purposes and audiences (Recommendation 2b).
Writing places multiple simultaneous demands on the writer. Mastering the foundational skills of good writing, including handwriting,-spell ing, sentence construction, and typing, allows students to devote more of their attention to composing written texts by utilizing the s- trate gies and techniques associated with the writing process. For this reason, it is important to teach students foundational skills (Recommendation 3).
When students are part of a community o-f writ ers, they collaborate with other writers, make decisions about what to write and how to write about it, and receive constructive feedback from peers and teachers. Teachers shoul-d cre ate a supportive and motivating environment so that young writers feel safe engaging fully in the writing process (Recommendation 4).
Defining and assessing good writing
Writing instruction is ultimately geared toward teaching students to produce high-quality writing for a variety of purposes. To assess whether the practices in this guide were effective, the panel considered their impact
on overall writing quality. However, given that the students targeted by this guide are in the early stages of their writing development, and that the cost of administering and- scor ing assessments of overall writing quality can be prohibitive, the panel also considered the impact of practices on intermediary- out comes—including genre elements, ideation, mechanics, sentence structure, organization, output, vocabulary, and voice (see the-glos sary for descriptions and examples of each outcome). When measures of overall writing quality and measures of intermediar-y out comes were both available, the panel p-riori tized evidence on overall writing quality.
Measureso f overall writing quality assess
the effectiveness of a piece of writing. These measures may take into account assessments of intermediaryoutcomecategories—includ-
ing writing output, mechanics, vocabyu, lar sentencestructure,organizationi,deation,
voice, and genre (or text) elements—in a
single assessment of the quality of a piece
One c alike writ-in ics, w and a good good is a f depen read- e tive n s o m- e ute to langu interp clear some meas for w that m stude given and a more
Use of research
The literature used to create and support
the recommendations ranges from rigorous experimental studies to expert reviews of practices and strategies in writing; however, the evidence ratings are based solely on high- quality experimental and quasi-experimental design studies that met What Works C- lear inghouse (WWC) standards. These studies include both national and international studies of strategies for teaching writing to students in kindergarten through 6th grade.
Provide daily time for students to write.
Providing adequate time for students to write is one essential element of an effective writing
instruction program.However, recent surveys of elementary teachers indicate that students
s p e n d l i t t l e t i m e w r i t i n g d u r i n g t h e s c h o o l Sd t a u y d . e n t s n e e d d e d i c a t e d i n s t r u c t i o n a l t i m e t o
learn the skills and strategies necessary to become effective writers, as well as time to practic what they learn. Time for writing practice can help students gain confldence in their writing abilities. As teachers observe the way students write, they can identify difflculties and assist students with learning and applying the writing process.
Summary of evidence: Minimal Evidence
While the panel believes it is critical to- allo cate sufficient time to writing instruction and practice, research has not explicitly examined whether providing daily opportunities to write leads to better writing outcomes than providing less frequent writing opportunities. One study did conclude that students who were given extra instructional time in writing had improved writing quality relative t-o stu
14 dents who did not receive extra instruction.
In addition to this study, the research- sup porting the practices recommended in the remainder of this guide implies that the practices required considerable time to i-mple ment1.5 Merely providing time for writing is insufficient, however; the time for writing must include instruction aligned with the recommendations that follow.
The panel next describes how to carry out this recommendation.
Recommendation 1 (continued)
How to carry out the recommendation
The panel recommends a minimum of one hour a day devoted to writing for students, b- egin ning in 1st grade. The hour should include
at least 30 minutes dedicated to teaching a variety of writing strategies, techniques, and skills appropriate to students’ levels, as detailed in Recommendations 2, 3, and 4 of this guide. Theremaining30minutesshouldbespenton writing practice, where students apply the skills they learned from writing-skills instruction.
Time for writing practice can occur in the context of other content-area instruction.
In science, for example, lab reports require detailed procedural writing and clear de-scrip tions of observations. Students also can write
Potential roadblocks and solutions
Roadblock 1.1. There is not enough time in the school day to devote an hour each day to writing instruction.
Suggested Approach. Teachers should integrate writing and content-area ins- truc
tion wherever possible in order to maxi
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