How Do We Provide Effective Writing Instruction?

I recently had the good fortune to work with a group of Graduate teachers about to embark on their initial teaching appointments in January 2010. They presented with that expected blend of enthusiasm and trepidation. Along with some fellow consultants we spent a week together at Victoria University examining how best to deliver literacy in the classroom. They watched keenly as classroom visitations to a variety of schools provided demonstrations of the literacy block and the reading, writing connection. They witnessed explicit teaching of literacy strategies, where students practiced authentic reading and writing. They had opportunities to observe how quality conversations enhance understanding for literacy learners. They came back with questions and wonderings…

I trust, as a result of this experience, these eager graduates will carry with them these important messages about the teaching of writing:

Effective Teachers Develop A Sense of Community for Student Writers!
This important element requires teachers to devote lots of time and effort to establish routines and rituals for procedural matters, rules of engagement, furniture arrangement and expectations. Unless student learn to respect and care for one another, it will prove difficult to develop writing for sustained periods and that essential self direction that is a hallmark of effective writing classrooms. Quality conversations at every step of the writing process is therefore a non negotiable!

Writing teachers need to write!
Our students need to see us grapple with the challenges associated with being a writer. We need to think aloud, revise, edit and write in front of them. They need to see us making connections between our reading and the writing we do. They need see us gather craft ideas from other writers. This enhances the chance that they will take away from our demonstrations something of value.

Writers need daily opportunities to practice
Place a value on the writing, you and your students undertake and in time your classroom will reflect the attitudes and thinking required to manage the challenging work of being a writer. Great writing requires consistent effort.

Encourage writing (and Reading!) across a range of genres
Use the best literature available (fiction and non fiction) to notice what authors do. Reading widely is essential. Encourage young writers to venture from their writing comfort zone too. Too much focus on such practices as journal writing for primary students leads to formulaic, predictable writing. Writing becomes a chore. Think broadly about writing possibilities and encourage risk taking.

Spend More Time with Revision
Revision is not a punishment. It is an opportunity. It is the magic behind great writing. Be realistic about your expectations for revision. If the writing has real purpose, the likelihood of a student engaging in revision is enhanced. Revision needs to be taught as something all writers who care about their writing take part in. Don’t expect our youngest writers to do a lot of revising. Keep modelling how you as a proficient writer, reshape your writing for meet the needs of your audience.

Teach grammar and conventions in context
The way to go about teaching conventions and grammatical features is to look to the writing of others to inform us how to make our writing reader friendly. Following conventions makes for clear, crisp thought, so developing writers need to be taught how best to use these language elements. Shared and interactive writing are excellent instructional strategies for teaching into this important area of language.

Model Meaningful Sharing and Response
Young writers need to be shown how to effectively confer with each other. Share time, at the conclusion of the writing lesson provides an excellent opportunity to model effective and helpful responses to issues arising from student writing. Using this time to reinforce teaching points, gather feedback and clarify misunderstandings is most important. It also provides a chance to tie the learning threads together and provide students with a sense of closure.


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