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THE MARSHALL MEMO

Keys to Effective K-8 Writing Instruction

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist
17-Sep-15


This piece is reprinted from The Marshall Memo, Kim Marshall’s weekly summary of current research and best practices in the field of education. Drawing on his experience as a teacher, principal, central office administrator, consultant, and writer, Kim Marshall lightens the load of busy educators by serving as their “designated reader.”
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The article: “Research-Based Writing Practices and the Common Core: Meta-Analysis and Meta-Synthesis” by Steve Graham, Karen Harris, and Tanya Santangelo in Elementary School Journal, June 2015 (Vol. 115, #4, p. 498-522), no e-link available; Graham can be reached at steve.graham@asu.edu.
“Writing is pervasive in the world of work,” say Steve Graham and Karen Harris (Arizona State University) and Tanya Santangelo (Arcadia University) in this Elementary School Journal article. “Over 90% of white-collar workers and 80% of blue-collar workers must write while working. We recently heard a police officer comment that he had only drawn his gun once in the last year, but he used a pen every day at work.”
The problem is that U.S. students’ writing skills leave much to be desired: on the 2012 NAEP assessments, only 30 percent of eighth and twelfth graders were proficient or above. For ELLs the figure was 5 percent, for students with disabilities 1 percent.
Common Core to the rescue! The new ELA standards put writing front and center and are part of a concerted effort to improve those dismal figures. Students in most states are expected to:
- Learn to craft text that skillfully persuades, informs, entertains, and narrates real or imagined experiences for various purposes and audiences;
- Write in a well-planned, reflective, and collaborative manner;
- Use writing as a tool for thoughtful reading of content material from multiple sources;
- Master handwriting, typing, spelling, conventions, word choice, grammar, and more;
- Move beyond pen and paper to the additional use of digital writing tools.
Meeting these standards means giving writing much higher priority in classrooms and increasing the use of more-effective instructional practices. Graham, Harris, and Santangelo did a synthesis of research on exemplary writing teachers and came up with the following key practices:
• Create a writing environment that is positive and supportive. Common Core standards make it “especially important to develop a writing environment that is motivating, pleasant, and nonthreatening,” they say, “where teachers support students and their writing efforts and students support each other.”
• Motivate students. Exemplary teachers create a stimulating mood during writing time, make their own excitement visible, encourage students to try hard and attribute success to effort, set high but realistic expectations, provide prompts geared to students’ interests and needs, keep students engaged through thoughtful discussions, and help students become increasingly independent.
• Implement a process approach. This includes providing extended opportunities to write, having students plan, draft, revise, and edit their work, providing personalized assistance and feedback, and teaching targeted mini-lessons.
• Get students writing frequently. The research is convincing that additional practice time pays off, say the authors.
• Get students composing together. Collaboration is most effective when students are given specific guidelines and are taught explicitly how to use them.
• Establish goals. Effective teachers are clear, specific, and reasonably challenging with their expectations – for example, Add three new ideas to your paper when revising it or Address both sides of an argument, providing three or more reasons to support your point of view and countering at least two reasons supporting the opposing view.
• Use 21st-century writing tools. Word processing has a number of important advantages for young writers.
• Provide formative feedback. “When teachers monitor students’ progress as writers, they can adjust classroom practices to meet the collective as well as the individual needs of their students,” say Graham, Harris, and Santangelo.
• Teach foundational writing skills. These include text-transcription in the early grades and sentence construction from grades 4 to 7 – appropriate grammar, punctuation, capitalization, sentence combining, and more.
• Increase students’ knowledge about writing. This includes gathering ideas and information to write about, the basic elements of different types of text, good models of written text, and vocabulary development.
• Use writing as a tool to support students’ learning. Summarizing helps students decide which ideas are most important and how they relate to one another, and putting material in their own words helps students think more carefully about what the ideas mean.




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