Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Constructing Well-Formed Prose: Process, Structure, and Metacognitive Knowledge

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Constructing Well-Formed Prose: Process, Structure, and Metacognitive Knowledge

Article excerpt

Constructing Well-Formed Prose: Process, Structure, and Metacognitive Knowledge

This article addresses instructional issues related to the teaching of expository writing to exceptional students. Of particular interest is the teaching of cognitive processes related to text structures that aid writers in organizing, structuring, and monitoring their text. First, we present a description of the writing process. Second, we address the writing problems of exceptional students in relation to the writing process and text structure concerns. Third, we describe approaches to writing instruction that focus on the development of writers who are not only skilled in producing well-organized text, but who are successful in self-regulating the writing process.

There is general agreement that the writing process is nonlinear and consists of several overlapping subprocesses, including planning, drafting, and editing (Applebee, 1984; Flower & Hayes, 1980; Graves, 1983). During planning, skilled writers apply strategies to decide the writing purpose or goal, discover and collect ideas, manipulate and group ideas, and decide on the presentation and organization of text. During drafting, writers look back to previous drafts or internal plans while translating ideas into printed sentences, instantiating plans with details, and inserting signals that convey the relationships among the planned ideas. During revising and editing, writers monitor the success of the draft in meeting writing goals and plans, and they modify the draft to reflect not only those goals, but the needs of their intended audience.

As writers engage in the complex process of composing expository text, they engage in both task-specific strategies and executive control functions. Task-specific strategies include at least two important aspects. First, as writers plan, monitor, and revise their papers, they give careful consideration to the needs and questions of their audience. Second, research suggests that successful writers are sensitive to the importance of organization or text structure (Raphael, Englert, & Kirschner, 1986; Taylor & Beach, 1984), and are aware that different text structures answer different types of questions. For example, comparison/contrast texts answer such questions as (a) What is being compared? (a) On what are they being compared? (a) How are they alike? and (d) How are they diferent? An awareness of text structure serves as a map that helps writers decide what information of include, and what signals (i.e., key words such as "in contrast to," "but," "like," "different") to use to indicate the location of particular information.

In addition to task-specific strategies, writers perform executive functions to implement, monitor, and sustain the various subprocesses. These executive functions, also known as metacognition, include the ability to self-instruct or to ask oneself questions, to consider and choose among alternative stragegies or subprocesses, to monitor performance, and to modify or correct performance on the basis of outcomes (Meichenbaum & Asarnow, 1979).


With the complexity of the writing process, it is not surprising that many exceptional students who are poor writers experience difficulties in one or more of the writing subprocesses. Research suggests that the composing difficulties of exceptional students are manifested in three areas of writing: idea generation, text organization, and metacognitive knowledge.

Idea Generation

At the heart of planning is idea generation (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1986). Planning depends on the writer's ability to access ideas from background knowledge, reflect on topics and ideas, invoke metamemorial search routines to initiate and sustain one's thinking about the topic, and research topics to gather new information. Reviews of studies of strong and weak writers confirm the importance of planning (Hillocks, 1986; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1986). …

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