Updates from the Principal
One of our district goals this year is to improve our students’ performance in the area of writing. In order to accomplish this, we have adopted the Teachers College Writing Program and we have been facilitating many professional development sessions for staff members. As part of our professional development, we have examined research on best practices in writing instruction. In trying to determine the best way to teach writing, a number of researchers in the field have conducted studies to determine exactly which practices in writing instruction achieve the best results.
Students should feel ownership of and responsibility for their writing.
When teachers select topics as class assignments, students are often not interested in writing about them. If students are given the opportunity to select a topic that matters to them and to determine the purpose and the audience for their writing, they invest time and effort in crafting their work. As a result, they are able to observe how the power of their words affects real listeners/readers and they are able to use this feedback to make improvements in their writing.
Helping children set realistic goals for their writing is another way to help them to feel ownership of their writing. Once they have set goals, it is important to review them with them periodically. It helps them to note what progress they have made and to determine what they still need to accomplish. Teachers should also work with their students to set an agenda for writing conferences in which the teacher teaches the skills and strategies that will help the student to become a better writer, not just to improve the writing piece on which the student is currently working. In this way students are able to become more independent writers who are able to make important decisions about their writing.
Students need solid writing instruction.
While it is important that students take ownership of their writing, solid instruction is also essential. Teachers need to explicitly model the skills and strategies they are teaching so students can see how adult role models use them in their writing. They also need instruction and support for all stages of writing…prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing. Additionally, teachers should use mentor texts so students can note how authors are using these skills and strategies in their writing. In addition to whole group mini-lessons, teachers also meet one-on-one with students during writing conferences. During conferences, teachers teach a skill or strategy that will move the student along as a writer.
Students need constructive and efficient evaluation.
Evaluation can be brief, informal feedback as students are writing or it can be a more formal review of their work over time. Teachers can also grade students’ self- selected, published pieces. It should also be noted that not all writing pieces need to be published…i.e. formally brought through the steps of the writing process.
Students need a supportive classroom environment to be successful writers.
Research has also shown that establishing a classroom environment that is a supportive setting for student writers is important. When the teacher and other students in the class exchange and value one another’s ideas, students are able to take risks as they apply the new skills and strategies they are learning in their writing. Small collaborative writing groups are an excellent learning arrangement in which these conversations can occur.
The quantity of writing is more important that quality of writing.
Students need time to write and they need to write frequently. This enables them to practice what they are learning. It also helps their writing fluency. While I know that parents often expect perfect spelling, grammar and mechanics on all writing their children bring home, we expect it on pieces that students actually publish…not on every piece. In order to do so involves much time spent on editing and not on writing. Frequent writing is what helps students grow as writers.
Students learn grammar and mechanics best when it is taught in the context of their own writing during the editing stage of writing.
While I know that many of us have learned grammar and the mechanics of writing in isolated skill and drill sessions, according to research, this is not the most effective way to teach it. Research has shown that teaching grammar and mechanics in context, at the editing stage in a writing piece, and as items are needed, is a more effective method. Since students are able to apply this knowledge immediately, they are more likely to learn it and apply it again and again. When they are taught in isolation, they are less likely to apply these skills in their writing. To support continued growth of our students, writing instruction has been taught using a Writing Workshop Model. Each lesson begins with a whole group mini-lesson, followed by group, partner or individual practice; including a mid-teaching point and time for conferring, then concluding with a lesson share.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at NeumeyeJ@trumbullps.org or contact me at school at 203-452-4433.