The Process Approach to Writing Instruction
Examining Its Effectiveness
Ruie J. Pritchard and Ronald L. Honeycutt
Our goal in this chapter is to review theory and research on the writing process, as well as research concerning the influence of the National Writing Project (NWP) in training teachers and in advancing the pedagogical principles associated with the writing process. First, we provide a historical overview of the writing process. Then, we critique studies that evaluate the writing process in terms of its impact on K–12 students and on how writing is taught. This is followed by a review of the research on the NWP model for professional development. Finally, we make suggestions for needed research.
Our literature review reveals that most of the articles and reports on the writing process are not research reports. Many raise questions that are not empirically answerable. Moreover, numerous published works that address the writing process and deal with empirically answerable questions do not employ empirical methodology to answer the question(s). In this chapter, we include only research reports from the professional literature that describe an attempt to attain empirical information about a specific question related to the writing process. Furthermore, we report in this chapter only studies in which the research process is clearly described. The research designs include experimental, quasi-experimental, comparison, pre- and postassessments, survey, correlational, and case study. For the most part, our sources are research articles published in professional journals; however, our review of the literature also extends to dissertations and research published in edited books. We have sought to include an information base drawn from diverse fields such as psychology, English, rhetoric, regular and special education, and education of English language learners (ELLs). We limit the research to studies that address kindergartenthrough high school-age subjects, even though the bulk of research on composing is with college students and adults.
The understanding of what constitutes the writing process instructional model has evolved since the l970's, when it emerged as a pedagogical approach. In the early years, it was regarded as a nondirectional model of instruction with very little teacher intervention. In his review of research on composition from 1963 to 1982, Hillocks (1984) concluded that the teacher's role in the process model is to facilitate the writing process rather than to provide direct instruction; teachers were found "not to make specific assignments, not to help students learn criteria for judging writing, not to structure activities based on specific objectives, … not to provide exercises in manipulating syntax, not to design activities that engage students in identifiable processes of examining data" 1999), Smitherman (1994), Stein, 1998), have contributed to our under-