Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Teaching Writing to At-Risk Students: The Quality of Evidence for Self-Regulated Strategy Development

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Teaching Writing to At-Risk Students: The Quality of Evidence for Self-Regulated Strategy Development

Article excerpt

More than any other academic domain, writing offers students the opportunity to both express their feelings and opinions on a particular topic as well as demonstrate their knowledge of specific content. Becoming an effective writer involves developing a constellation of skills and knowledge including organizing information and ideas, using established writing conventions (e.g., grammar, punctuation); writing legibly; identifying and implementing rhetorical structures; and writing in a way that engages a specific audience. Any of these elements can present challenges for typical writers, and many are poorly developed in students with learning disabilities (LD; Englert, Raphael, Anderson, Anthony, & Stevens, 1991; Gersten & Baker, 2001; Graham & Harris, 1997).

Few educators question the value of directly teaching students to write effectively. Yet factors such as the amount of time students spend being taught systematically how to write seem to conflict with the importance educators attach to writing (Graham & Harris, 1997). For example, writing instruction receives much less instructional focus than does reading or mathematics (Baker, Gersten, & Graham 2003). Fragments of writing instruction may be incorporated within reading or content-area instruction, but sustained and cohesive writing instruction is not particularly common in school settings (Graham & Harris, 1997). Further encroachments on time devoted specifically to writing instruction may occur as schools increasingly search for ways to allocate additional time for reading instruction.

In the past, it was common for educators to think of writing instruction somewhat passively, consisting mainly of having students read extensively and encouraging them to apply to their own writing what they observed in the writing of others. Research on these types of exposure methods indicates that they do not help students become better writers, leading to an era of advocacy for more explicit approaches (Hillocks, 1984).


Although the importance of fostering effective writing skills among students is unquestioned, there is clear evidence from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that these efforts are insufficient (Graham & Perin, 2007). On the NAEP writing assessment for 2002, students in Grades 4, 8, and 12 wrote narrative, informative, and persuasive essays, and their performance was categorized as Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, or Advanced. Basic is defined as "partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade" (Institute of Education Sciences, 2004). In other words, students who score at Below Basic and Basic levels are not meeting minimum standards for competent writing. On the 2002 NAEP, in Grades 4, 8, and 12, 72%, 69%, and 77% of students respectively wrote at Below Basic and Basic levels (Graham & Perin, 2007).

On the NAEP 2007 report, which provides writing results for Grades 8 and 12 (Institute of Education Sciences, 2007), there were slight increases overall in the percentage of students in the proficient category and above, and for each demographic subgroup. However, for students with disabilities, the outcomes are troubling. Ninety-four percent of students with disabilities scored in the Basic and Below Basic categories. In other words, only 6% of students with disabilities were considered to have proficient writing skills. In summarizing research on writing instruction for students with LD, Gersten and Baker (2001) stated that on "every conceivable measure of writing performance--including both measures of writing quality and quantity and occurring across narrative and a range of expository text structures--students with learning disabilities write much more poorly than do students without disabilities" (p. 252). This finding has been consistently supported (Englert et al. 1991; Graham, 1990; Graham & Harris, 1997; Wong, Butler, Ficzere, & Kuperis, 1996, 1997). …

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