Developing a Writing Package with Student Graphing of Fluency

Article excerpt

This year-long study reports the results of student graphing of writing after brief freewriting periods in the 4th grade. The primary goal was to increase writing fluency. An examination of writing samples over time from students with the highest and lowest writing rates showed improved writing quality in terms of more concrete details and more sophisticated organization. Ceiling effects in writing rate did not appear. Even the student with the greatest increases in writing rates showed no signs of a slowdown at the end of the year. In addition, this study led to instructional changes that increased the consequences for freewriting and resulted in a fairly complete instructional package for writing. Given that fluency is a value in virtually all areas of academic learning, this study also suggests that classroom-wide graphing of fluency may be used to develop a teacher's own instructional packages for writing in language arts and in other curricular areas.

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There are good reasons for using student self-graphing; it meets the practicalities of continuously collecting data on individual student performances in a classroom, and it has the additional benefit of improving the target performance of whatever behavior is being self-graphed (McLaughlin, 1976; Morgan, 1984; Moxley, 1998; Moxley, Kenny, & Hunt, 1990; Moxley, Lutz, Ahlborn, Boley, & Armstrong, 1995; O'Leary & Dubey, 1979; Rosenbaum & Drabman, 1979; Studwell & Moxley, 1984). Barlow, Hayes, and Nelson (1984) refer to this effect as the reactivity of self-monitoring; and it is fairly robust, even in the face of inaccurate recording.

The value of increasing writing fluency also has support from the literature. Increasing experiences with writing--which usually implies more writing during an extended period of time--is widely regarded as an indication and means of improving the quality of writing. In addition, higher writing rates by children have often been found to indicate a higher quality of writing (Deno, 1986; Deno, Marston, & Mirkin, 1982; Deno, Mirkin, & Marston, 1980; Graham & Harris, 1989; Marston, 1989; Moxley et al., 1995; Mykiebust, 1965; Van Houten, Morrison, Jarvis, & McDonald, 1988; Videen, Deno, & Marston, 1982). Van Houten et al. (1988), for example, found "Increased writing rate was correlated with increased rating of story quality by independent judges" (p. 293).

A natural opportunity to increase fluency in writing occurs in the freewriting stage where the primary purpose is to generate ideas. Ideas lead to ideas, and this usually works best without interruptions and without trying to meet all writing functions simultaneously. According to Elbow (1981),

When you write quickly...as in freewriting, your syntactic units hang together. Even if you change your mind in mid-sentence...you produce a clear break. You don't try to plaster over two or three syntactic units as one, as you often do in painstaking writing. Freewriting produces syntactic coherence and verbal energy which gradually transfer to your more careful writing. (pp. 16-17)

In writing quickly, the syntactic flow that results can be like night and day in comparison with some of the tortured expressions produced by more painstakingly labored writing. Elbow (1981) recommends freewriting as "the easiest way to get words on paper and the best all-around practice in writing that I know" (p. 13), and he believes "you will improve your writing more through freewriting and sharing than through any other activities described in this book" (p. 24). Elbow also recommends at least some experiences with "fast writing without worrying about organization, language, correctness, or precision" (p. 26) before revising. Writing is appropriately envisaged as a process in which different aspects of writing can be addressed at different times or stages, such as freewriting, drafting, editing, revising, and recycling through one or more of these stages until the final polished product. …