Teach the writing processes

Writers learn by learning about writing -Frank Smith

Description of the principle

Effective writing teachers give direct instruction in the different components of the writing process (how to generate an idea, plan, draft, revise, edit, publish). They scaffold children’s understanding of these processes through demonstration, discussion, modelling and sharing exemplars which they have written themselves. The ultimate aim is for children to relinquish their dependence on this scaffolding and develop their preferred writing process.

What Writing For Pleasure teachers do

  • Teachers give direct instruction in strategies for engaging in the different components of the writing process (how to generate an idea, plan, draft, revise, edit, publish). They scaffold children’s understanding of these processes through demonstration, resources, displays, discussion, sharing self-written exemplars and also techniques children have used themselves.
  • Children are made to feel very knowledgeable about the writing process and confident in navigating it on their own. One way in which teachers show commitment to helping their children achieve independence is to allow them to develop and use a writing process which suits them best and to write at a pace which enables them to produce their best writing.
  • Children are able to use the writing processes recursively and are not tied to a linear model.

Reviewing your practice:questions to consider

  • Do you explicitly model, teach and provide resources and use displays to aid children’s understanding and competency of all of the following writing processes: idea generation, planning, drafting, revising, editing and importantly publishing?
  • Do you ensure children know the class project’s ultimate goal before splitting it up into ‘chunks’ or sub-process goals?
  • Do you build on what children already know and have practiced to increase their levels of independence and personal mastery of the writing processes?
  • Do you provide writerly advice and strategies during the lesson that are clearly linked to any process-writing goal set?
  • Do you check that children know which writing-process they have undertaken in the lesson and what process will likely come next?
  • Once experienced enough, do you allow children more freedom to personalise their approach and to choose the pace in which they complete the different writing processes?

Examples from the classroom

No More Draft-Dodging

Supporting documents

Be reassuringly consistent

A writer’s process is a recursive, flexible, and sometimes spontaneous undertaking which can, depending on the context of the writing, include a set of processes such as generating ideas, planning, drafting, revising, editing, publishing, or performing. Children need time to generate ideas, plan their writing, draft freely, and conference with their peers and teacher. They need time in which to reflect and attend to their initial drafts through revision and proof-reading until the manuscript is as accurate as possible before publication or performance. The goal of engaging children in the process of writing is to help them gain control over the types of recursive activity characteristic of mature authors. Children will participate and respond within the context of the writing situation by generating ideas for individual pieces. Planning becomes important when ideas need to be captured on paper or screen as external representations.

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How Real-World Writers works

This chapter discusses how explicit direct instruction in the writing processes is one of the best ways of teaching apprentice writers. There is no single agreed-upon writing process, but there are many approaches to it. The writing processes are often recursive and include strategies such as exploring, generating ideas and thinking; pre-writing, visioning, dabbling, talking aloud, drawing and planning; drafting; refining, re-drafting, re-reading, improving and revising; proof-reading and editing; and publishing, performing and evaluating. Research shows that, when experienced, children should be given agency over their writing process.

Agency over writing topics contributes to the writer’s motivation, enjoyment and development. Research shows the importance of planning and drafting as a low-stakes process with the focus on composition. The important revision stage is discussed, including different types of re-reading and making improvements. Reconsidering and trying out are key to effective revising.

Motivation to proof-read and use punctuation with care comes from the sense of a genuine reader at the end of the writing. Editing skills are best embedded in the context of children’s own composition, and aspects of proof-reading can be attended to over several sessions. The chapter discusses that only when children become fluent writers can they cognitively deal with composition and transcription at the same time.

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Suggested further reading

  • Atwell, N., (2014) In the middle USA: Heinemann
  • Calkins, L. (1998) The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  • Danoff, B., Harris, K. R. and Graham, S. (1993) Incorporating strategy instruction within the writing process in the regular classroom: Effects on the writing of students with and without learning disabilities. Journal of Reading Behavior 25: 295–322.
  • Fletcher, R., (2000) How writers work: finding a process that works for you, USA: Harper Collins
  • Flower, L., Hayes, J., (1981) A Cognitive Process Theory Of Writing College Composition and Communication Vol. 32, No. 4, pp. 365-387
  • Goldstein, A., Carr, P., (1996) Can Students Benefit From Process Writing In NCES, 1, (3), p.96
  • Graham, S., Harris, K. & Chambers, A. (2016) Evidence-based practice and writing instruction: A review of reviews, in: C. MacArthur, S. Graham & J. Fitzgerald (Eds) Handbook of writing research (2nd edn) (New York, Guilford Press).
  • Graham, S. and Sandmel, K. (2011) The process writing approach: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Research. 104: 396–407
  • Graves, D., (1983), Writing: Teachers & Children At Work USA: Heinemann
  • Harris, K. R. and Graham, S. (1996) Making the Writing Process Work: Strategies for Composition and Self-Regulation. Brookline, Massachusetts: Brookline Books.
  • Heard, G., (2014) The revision toolbook: teaching techniques that work, USA: Heinemann
  • Jasmine, J., Weiner, W., (2007) The Effects of Writing Workshop on Abilities of First Grade Students to Become Confident and Independent Writers In Early Childhood Education Journal, 35, (2) pp. 131-139
  • Larson, J. and Maier, M. (2000) Co-authoring classroom texts: Shifting participant roles in writing activity. Research in the Teaching of English 34: 468–497.
  • Lipson, M., Mosenthal, J., Daniels, P., Woodside-Jiron, H., (2000) Process Writing in the Classrooms of Eleven Fifth-Grade Teachers with Different Orientations to Teaching and Learning In Elementary School Journal. 101, (2), pp. 209-231
  • McQuitty, V., (2014)Process-Oriented Writing Instruction in Elementary Classrooms: Evidence of Effective Practices from the Research Literature In writing & pedagogy 6(3) 467–495
  • Seban, D., Tavsanli, Ö., (2015) Children’s sense of being a writer: identity construction in second grade writers workshop In International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education, 7(2), 217-234
  • Taylor, M., (2000) Nancie Atwell’s “In the Middle” and the Ongoing Transformation of the Writing Workshop In The English Journal, 90,(1), pp. 46-52
  • Wyse, D., Torgerson, C., (2017) Experimental trials and ‘what works?’ In education: The case of grammar for writingIn British Educational Research Journal, 43,(6), pp. 1019–1047

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