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Teaching Writing. How are we doing teaching writing?. Still some work to do, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (“The Nation’s Report Card”) Good news: 1998-2002 showed some improvement of writing skills in grades 4-8 Bad news: no improvement for grade 12.

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How are we doing teaching writing l.jpg
How are we doing teaching writing?

  • Still some work to do, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (“The Nation’s Report Card”)

    • Good news: 1998-2002 showed some improvement of writing skills in grades 4-8

    • Bad news: no improvement for grade 12


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Serious consequences of poor writing

  • Writing is “thinking with a pencil”

  • Writing is a premier way in which children think and express their ideas

  • Writing is a way children express creativity, uniqueness, and indicate what they want

  • Writing well and succinctly is increasingly important as children get older


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Is there a best way to teach writing?

  • No consensus

  • Process is important

  • Children need a time, place, and reason to write

  • Good instruction is crucial

  • The key to children learning to write well is good instruction.


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Elements of good instruction

  • An environment that supports writing (with space for children to write and the tools to do so)

  • Teachers who read with a ‘writer’s eye’ (so they can point out strategies that young writers used effectively)

  • Teachers who model good instruction (so children will see how one goes about writing)

  • Lots of opportunities to practice, accompanied by corrective feedback (praise the expressive aspect of the task, while helping the child form letters and write accurately and well)


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Current challenges in the field

  • Schools of education need to offer pre-service teachers experience in learning what good writing is, how to teach writing, and knowledge about the genres of writing (e.g., expository vs. narrative writing )

  • Schools need a greater focus on evaluation, so we can identify good writing and support children as they develop their skills


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Techniques teachers can use

  • Morning message

    • Talk about what is happening in the class, providing an opportunity for children to write about it

    • Say something really exciting or ask a thought-provoking question about a timely issue or event (e.g., the upcoming election)

  • Describe this

    • Children want to learn, they are knowledge seekers. Provide opportunities for children to absorb information and then write

    • Ask them to “describe this” and they will come up with wonderful language and ideas

  • Innovations

    • Take a favorite text like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and create a new text using the same language model

    • Students integrate new words and make stories their own


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    Across the curriculum

    • Writing is important in every subject

      • In math, students can make their own math books and measure things

      • Field trips offer an opportunities to summarize and put words and pictures together in interesting ways

      • In science, even at the pre-K level, lab notebooks allow children to participate in an experiment and then write about what they observed

    • In all areas of the curriculum, give children the opportunity to realize that writing is an expressive, meaningful act that helps them learn about any subject.


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    Writing instruction before kindergarten

    • Example: A journal by a four-year-old in which she writes just what

    • she wants to

      • The teacher captions each page with the child’s words

      • Over time, the child begins to see the difference between what she is writing and what the teacher is writing

      • This exercise provides the child with an opportunity to write, and also an opportunity to learn from corrections


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    Writing in early childhood

    • Early on, children want to use writing to communicate ideas

    • In the very early years, provide children every opportunity to write —letters, recipes, lists, ideas

    • The writing may be unconventional, but it will convey the idea that writing has a function and is very important


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    Writing is different than handwriting

    • Young children will dabble with a lot of interesting ways of writing

    • It’s important to focus on the meaning, on what they’re trying to say

    • Composition and handwriting has a place in the early childhood curriculum, but sometimes hand muscles are not developed enough to write very small letters.

    • Be encouraging and supportive!


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    Children with learning disabilities and writing

    • Kids who struggle with writing often have a hard time learning informally or incidentally. For example, they don’t learn as much about spelling correctly just through reading and/or writing. Explicit teaching is vital for these children

    • A lot of kids who have learning difficulties also have difficulties with self-regulation of their thoughts or behaviors. Skilled writing requires a lot of regulation — planning, monitoring, evaluating, and revising


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    Children with learning disabilities and writing (cont.)

    • Some kids with learning problems often have an incomplete or fragmented knowledge base. For example, if they don’t have knowledge of the story genre, then they are at a disadvantage in constructing a good story

    • Another issue for kids with learning disabilities is motivation. If you struggle with writing, it’s easy to develop an intense dislike for it. And the longer that goes on, the more difficult it is to deal with

    • Often, all these things are interconnected.


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    How parents can support writing

    • Help kids get their thoughts together and organize what they want to say

    • Plan an approach to the assignment

    • Don’t just leave them to sit at the table and agonize; if they seem stuck, help them get started


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    Mastering writing is a life-long process

    • Remember, writing is the most complicated language skill that any of us have to learn

    • Parents need to empathize with kids, knowing that they work very hard to accomplish their writing assignments


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    ‘Front load’ the process

    • Have the child talk about what they’re going to write about

    • Write down the words they want to use but don’t know how to spell

    • Help them organize the main points that they’re writing about

    • Review the goal of the assignment: know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there

    • Plan something fun for afterwards.

    • Give a time limit; put the timer on and do the hard thing first


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    VIDEO

    • Invented Spelling

    • Mary T. Murphy Elementary School, Branford, Connecticut

      • A first grade class makes a party list using invented spelling

      • The teacher works with students to see what their invented spelling tells her about the students’ knowledge of word structure, speech sounds, and how they use letters to represent those sounds

      • The teacher allows students to practice their phonemic awareness abilities, while providing “teachable moments” about accurate spelling


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    Spelling

    • Too often seen as the “poor relation” of language arts instruction

    • Accurate spelling is a courtesy to the reader

    • Spelling knowledge is very closely associated with reading comprehension. Spelling is a way of being ‘word conscious,’ which is associated with knowing word meaning and comprehension — which results in better writing

    • Those who spell well are more likely to write longer and better structured compositions as they move into the higher levels of written expression


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    Invented spelling

    • Also called “inventive” spelling

    • It’s a beneficial step for four- and five-year-olds who have not yet entered into formal instruction

    • From kindergarten on, kids will learn spelling better and faster if they are taught it explicitly


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    Phonemic awareness and invented spelling

    • The best kindergarten writers have teachers who:

      • teach kids how to spell the highest-frequency words accurately rather than relying on invented spelling, and

      • study the structure of words from a phonological (sound) and orthographic (spelling) perspective


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    Invented spelling as diagnostic tool

    • If children can put together a logical representation for all of the sounds in a word, it is very likely that they have good word decoding skills.

    • Being able to segment the sounds in a word and correlate them with letters is key to both decoding and spelling.


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    Teach kids directly how to…

    • form the letters

    • identify the speech sounds

    • spell high-frequency and pattern-based words accurately

    • …and they will write longer compositions with more detail

    • and structure


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    Automatic operations of writing

    • Writing is like juggling a lot of balls in the air

    • If you have automatic mastery of some of the basics, you can focus more attention on the demanding complex reasoning skills


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    How to use invented spelling as a diagnostic tool

    • If a child writes the word “bump” as “B U P”

      • That’s pretty good inventive spelling for kindergarten. Leaving out the M is understandable, because linguistically the “mmm” sound disappears in the articulation of “bump.” A little more instruction is needed to get that point across

      • But, if the child wrote “P E P” for the word bump, that would indicate that that child was not segmenting the sounds in that word

    • A good inventive spelling of the word “balloon” might be “B L U N”

      • But, by first grade, we’d want to see the student break it into sounds (“ba” “ah” “la” “oo” “un”) and know something about how each of those sounds is typically spelled


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    Moving from invented writing to standard writing

    • You need a sequence of lessons that’s planned out. Don’t leave it to chance

    •  A good writing program should encompass:

      • Time to develop the component skills

      • A fostering of fluency and accuracy with the component skills

      • Application of those skills to inventive, expressive writing


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    Spelling supports reading

    • One of the most effective ways of teaching kids decoding is to teach it through spelling, through phoneme/grapheme correspondence

    • Through spelling, you can teach kids about word origins

    • Spelling and word meaning are connected

    • We want children to master the most commonly used words in the language at a level of automaticity


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    When do spelling errors denote a problem?

    • Individual aptitude for spelling varies. However, poor spelling is a hallmark of dyslexia. Watch for:

      • difficulty beginning to emerge from first grade on inability to spell the highest-frequency words

      • continued invented spelling even after good instruction and practice

      • spelling words in a dysphonetic way (with little correspondence between the sounds that are in a word and the spelling)

      • inability to remember a letter sequence and difficulty with speech sounds

      • lack of strategies for thinking about words

    • When spelling is a problem, it can’t be allowed to interfere with learning to compose, which is a fundamental tool for academic success.


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    Systematic assessment

    • Assessment is difficult because really good, widely used tools have not yet been developed.

    • Best practice is to:

      • decide on a rubric

      • talk to kids

      • organize around explicit expectations


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    English language learners

    • Writing and spelling are even more complicated when there is an overlay of the first language on a second language

    • Sound-symbol constructions may carry over from first language to second (e.g., the difference between the pronunciation of the letter “J” in English and Spanish)

    • May learn to “fill in the slots” of a sentence with correct spelling without knowing what the words mean


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    Writing instruction for ELL students

    • Good instruction for ELLs should include:

      • dialogue and vocabulary instruction

      • oral language modeling

      • oral language expression (saying sentences aloud)

      • talking about the words

      • interactive instruction


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    Differentiated writing instruction

    • Difficult, but it really makes a difference

    • Best to work from a common framework for the whole class, then adapt from this framework for individual students

    • Need the structure to make the adaptation possible


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    Teachers as writers

    • If teachers don’t enjoy writing themselves, they will:

      • shy away from it

      • provide too few opportunities for students to do it

      • not evaluate children’s writing carefully

      • not be able to teach children the characteristics of genre


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    Why genre is important

    • The “story” genre has:

      • a beginning

      • challenges

      • events

      • a problem and a resolution

    • When children write a story, teachers should evaluate it against the conventions of that genre.


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    The red pen

    • Marking all over the page can lead kids to think that writing is only about capitalization, punctuation, and spelling

    • It’s important for teachers to provide feedback on content as well. Dig deeper than word count and grammar

    • Model good writing, so children can learn by example

    • Focus on both the medium and the message. Discern where children are doing well or need additional help


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    VIDEO

    • Writing Poems

    • Poe Elementary Houston, Texas

      • Using a Columbia University program called The Writer’s Workshop, second graders learn to become lifelong writers

      • The program connects literature and writing

      • It is a structured approach, in which the teacher explicitly teaches the processes of writing


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    Tools to encourage creativity

    • A pleasant environment where kids feel free to take risks

    • A clear connection between reading and writing (what you read can be a model for what you write)

    • Process = the opportunity to plan, draft, revise, and edit

    • Opportunities to share writing with peers and teachers


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    Encouraging young writers

    • Model the process. The work that goes into writing — planning, drafting, revising, and editing— all goes on inside the mind. Make it visible to students

    • Help make handwriting, spelling, and sentence construction routine (automatized, so students don’t have to stop and think of each word)

    • Provide grammar and vocabulary instruction


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    Negative consequences of poor handwriting and spelling

    • If you can’t read the message, you can’t get it

    • If the message is illegible (because of spelling miscues, for example) people will devalue what you say

    • Difficulties in this area interfere with other writing processes


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    Extra attention to the fundamentals pays off

    • As a student’s handwriting improves and their spelling improves, there is a carryover effect in:

      • improved sentence construction

      • increased amount of writing

      • increased quality of the writing


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    How to model sentence formation

    • Take small, kernel sentences

    • Show how to make those into more complex sentences

    • Have kids work with you to do the same thing, then work with each other

    • Have them apply the practice in their own writing


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    Mechanics versus content

    • Often interrelated. For example, if you struggle writing the words you’re going to produce less content

    • If a kid struggles with mechanics, provide focused instruction in letter formation and spelling to help kids move past that point. Look for alternatives to help the student keep up (e.g., word processing software, speech synthesis software)

    • If a kid struggles with content, sometimes it’s a structure issue or a knowledge issue. Instruction should center on how to get ideas and ways to organize ideas


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    Writing difficulties

    • Many children first show difficulties with text transcription (e.g., handwriting and spelling)

    • Some kids have self-regulation difficulties which make it hard to plan, organize, monitor, and evaluate their own writing process

    • Many kids have trouble with both

    • Overlaying transcription and/or self-regulation issues can be motivation problems and a persistent reluctance to write


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    Explicit instruction

    • Explicit Instruction helps all students — those with and without learning disabilities

    • Instruction should be explicit about:

      • Process — planning, revising, and helping kids learn to monitor what they’re doing

      • Goals — why kids are being asked to do the writing assignment and what they intend to give the reader


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    How technology can be motivational

    • The ease with which one can move text

    • The abatement of transcription difficulties

    • In searching for ideas for writing


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    Other effective strategies

    • Explicitly teach children how to form sentences

    • Use reading as a model for writing

    • Have kids do research and ask questions to get ideas for writing

      But nothing beats a well-prepared, knowledgeable, dedicated teacher in helping kids become good writers.


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    Advice for teachers

    • Teachers will have to self-teach themselves in many aspects of

    • writing instruction. Some ways to do this:

      • Take time to write

      • Join with peers and create a regular time to write and talk about writing

      • Talk with colleagues and share effective strategies and ideas

      • Provide time every day to have children write


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    Is there a specific sequence of skills children should master?

    • No fully developed, specific scope and sequence of writing skills for all K-12 students exists yet. Each state has its own, and even districts can differ within a state

    • Teachers will need to create a sequence for their own classrooms. It is critical for teachers to develop a sequence and plan for how to teach writing

    •  Look at basal readers for ideas


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    Writing on paper versus writing on the computer

    • Some kids approach the word processor much like they approach their written text: “I’m going to change a little something here; I’ll try to get this spelling error there.” In these cases, writing on a computer is very much like writing on a piece of paper

    • Some kids come at word processing with ‘big ideas.’ They make many more revisions upfront and during drafting, than kids who are writing by hand


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    Does text messaging have a deleterious impact?

    • Yes, in a way. It is essentially a different form of language and communication

    • It can’t replace academic writing skills

    • Some teachers are using text messaging — and the enthusiasm students have for it — as a starting point for writing, then working with the ideas to transform the writing into something more formal. This strategy demonstrates how to “switch codes” from very informal to formal


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    From product to process

    • Educators originally thought of writing as a product, and good writing equaled a lot of text on the paper

    • Educators then switched to thinking of writing as a process, focusing on thinking, planning, revising, and editing

    • Now is the time for a balanced approach, so that the wonderful process of children’s writing eventually results in correct form and good final product


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    Automaticity is vital

    • The automatic operations of writing (spelling, grammar, structure) don’t restrict creativity — they actually enhance it. 

    • The key to developing automaticity is a complete program of instruction. For example, in a 40-minute writing lesson, devote the first 15 or 20 minutes to skill development and then the next half to the more creative aspects of writing (of any kind — expository, narrative, poetic, sentence manipulations)

    • But we must get away from dichotomous thinking that skills inhibit creativity. They do not.


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    Writing is not solely creative

    • Inevitably, good writing also is informational in nature

    • Description and accuracy are important and need to be emphasized


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    Reading and writing are connected

    • The National Reading Panel (NRP) brought a sharp focus to reading and as a result, reading instruction has improved

    • Separating reading and writing in the NRP report was a mistake. We need to bring them back together and help educators understand the unity of these language functions, their interrelationships, and common denominators


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    Writing is all about writing

    • It is not enough for teachers to post – explain – expect (P.E.E: don’t do it in the classroom).

    • Rather, teachers must present and model writing with students. Bring students to mastery so they can write well by themselves

    • Children have to write in order learn to write. At every grade level, writing narrative text, expository text, or on topics of their own choosing, we want them to be excited about writing


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    Thank you!

    • Visit our website for recommended readings,

    • discussion questions, and more about this topic:

      www.readingrockets.org/webcasts/ondemand/2008


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