Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Holistic Writing: Integrated Patterns

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Holistic Writing: Integrated Patterns

Article excerpt


This study examines a small group of upper elementary students who have struggled with language foundations and the fundamentals of writing. Focusing principally on English language learners and learning disabled students, classroom investigation takes a close look at behaviors that demonstrate a surprisingly broad range of student needs. It weighs these behaviors against related theory and research to identify instructional implications.


There is a relative directness about the English language--as Robert Kaplan saw it, a dominantly linear pattern of thought and discourse (Kaplan, 1966)--that seems to serve the dual purpose of getting things said and getting the job done. This aspect, along with other sociopolitical realities, has contributed to making English the lingua franca for international communication in a variety of spheres. Among native speakers, schooled patterns of thought and discourse are conveyed through what we read and how we are encouraged to write. Even in our unschooled speech and our approach to storytelling, patterns emerge consistent with the rhythms and contours of our language.

Returning to elementary education after many years of secondary and university teaching, I encountered fertile ground for research into language acquisition. As an ESL teacher at a small elementary school in Fairfax County, Virginia, I joined the pool of school-based specialists providing instructional support to English language learners as well as lower achieving and learning disabled students. This diversity was fully represented by a total of fifteen upper elementary students, ages nine to eleven, assigned to me for remedial writing workshops. I soon learned from these students that the dominantly linear pattern of English thought and discourse is something that may well need to be taught. For all the strength and clarity of expression that it affords, there is nothing intrinsically natural about it. All of these students needed to recognize the generally forward movement of English and apply it to their own writing; but this was the functional tip of an entire iceberg of learning obstacles.

The Literacy Environment

At my school, direct literacy instruction represents only part of a rich environment frequently reviewed and adjusted to student needs. With certain appropriate variations, there is a common language for assessment and placement. Standard rubrics provided by the district give clear literacy benchmarks through levels of achievement. The current approach to writing is essentially derived from the work of Donald Graves (2003) and adapted to a six-step process of planning, drafting, conferring, revising, editing, and publishing. In addition, a variety of writing organizers are introduced from the second grade on. Web organizers receive particular emphasis in the upper grades through Kidspiration software (2001) which has proven effective with some of our most challenged learners. A Reading Buddies program brings students together for a variety of shared reading experiences. Finally, through two years of school-based workshops, our reading specialist has implemented the Fountas and Pinnell (2001) guided reading program modeling classroom procedures and providing further instructional support. This infrastructure would seem to make language and literacy development accessible to a broad range of learners. In fact, the school has seen notable improvement in standardized writing scores for its upper-graders, with a fifty-point rise in mean scaled scores over a three-year period and a drop in the non-pass rate from 30% to 4% over the same period. But this upswing could not be expected to continue under its own impetus. A certain degree of complacency in the fourth and last year under comparison yielded significant losses in many strands of literacy assessment. Clearly, I would need to determine how our professional learning community might continue to meet the challenge of state-mandated testing. …

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