Handbook of Writing Research

By Charles A. MacArthur; Steve Graham et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 15
Response to Writing

Richard Beach and Tom Friedrich

In this chapter, we examine different strategies for written or oral responses to writing for the purpose of helping students improve their writing. We review the different functions and purposes for responding to writing, as well as research findings on the benefits of using certain methods of response to writing, leading to substantive revision and critical self-assessment, processes central to improving writing quality. Students not only engage in limited writing but they also do little extensive revision (National Writing Project, 2003). Analysis of a 12th-grade advanced composition class revealed that despite an emphasis on revising multiple drafts and peer feedback, 81.7% of revisions involved only surface and stylistic changes (Yagelski, 1995). Teachers may also find that revision remains a challenge for some students, requiring them to focus simply on formulating text (Schneider, 2003).

The research reviewed in this chapter includes studies of student writers and teachers at the primary, secondary, and college levels. Because student developmental level across these grade levels can itself be a factor shaping ability to revise and self-assess, we have identified students' grade levels in specific studies.

Methodologically, most of the research we reviewed consists of qualitative–interpretive analysis of teacher-written or oral response practices to student drafts, although some experimental studies compare the effects of different types of teacher response.


The Purpose and Function for Responding to Student Writing

A primary purpose for responding to students' writing is to help students improve the quality of their writing. More traditional approaches to teaching writing assumed that by "correcting" student errors on final drafts, students would improve their writing. However, focusing on final-draft errors only encouraged students to attend to matters of sentence structure and mechanics (Sommers, 1982). And the use of a formalist outline– draft–edit instructional model encouraged students to define initially their organization of content before writing as opposed to using writing to discover content/ideas (Hillocks, 1986). As a result, students engage in little substantive revision associated with rethinking their text.

How then can teachers foster substantive revisions? In her review of research on revision in composition, Fitzgerald (1992) found that epistemological notions of writing are central to understanding differences in the level and degree of revision. In a formalist model of writing instruction prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s, the primary focus was on teaching forms/templates based on the text-

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