Examining 4 Myths about Learning to Teach Writing

By Urquhart, Vicki | The Learning Professional, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

Examining 4 Myths about Learning to Teach Writing


Urquhart, Vicki, The Learning Professional


There is no single program for improving student writing, but there are common elements of programs that help kids learn to write well. Likewise, there is no professional development program that provides all the skills and knowledge a teacher will need to improve student writing - and, ultimately, student learning - but there are common elements among the most effective programs. In response to growing demand from the federal government, the private sector, and colleges and universities to improve students' writing, professional development models are cropping up that promise everything from overnight success to guaranteed writing excellence. District administrators, classroom and lead teachers, and principals must be careful to identify professional development that is ongoing, job-embedded, and data-driven. And, before selecting a writing program, seminar, workshop, or other professional learning experience, leaders must look for components that successful programs share and that the research supports.

Myths about writing programs abound. The truth is that things you will not be asked to do during a writing seminar or workshop are just as important as those that you will do. Educators hear about many ways to improve writing that research findings demonstrate are among the least accurate.

MYTH 1: YOU DON'T HAVE TO WRITE.

Any writing workshop that doesn't require teachers to participate in the act of writing is probably offering shortcuts that will not serve either teachers or students well. If there is a single action that effectively improves teachers' abilities to teach writing, it is for teachers themselves to write. Better yet is participating in a writing group. Writing groups are traced back to the 180Os and offer members the structure and support to produce meaningful writing. Probably the most well-known, highly regarded writing group is the National Writing Project (NWP). (see article on p. 10.)

In Teachers as Writers, Monette Mclver (2002) points out advantages of teacher involvement in writing groups. Teachers with writing group experience:

* Conduct more informed writing conferences with their students;

* Make better instructional decisions when planning;

* Improve their own writing skills; and

* Have an increased desire to write.

A teacher's participation in the writing process is pivotal to students becoming better writers. Students should write to convey what they know, but they also should write because it requires creativity and analysis, important areas for learning in any content area and, ultimately, for students' future success. Learning about effective writing techniques and practicing them are just two ways students get better at writing. By learning strategies for prewriting, drafting, revising, and editing, students are better prepared to meet the academic writing demands they will encounter throughout their formal education and beyond. When teachers model the use of specific strategies, students begin to see them as tools that they can use whenever they need them.

As content specialists, some teachers might think that most of their learning occurs when they enroll in a class or attend a conference. Like their students, however, they gain from learning more about writing techniques and by applying them. As they build and sustain their own skills as writers, they improve their classroom writing instruction (Urquhart & Mclver, 2005).

MYTH 2: YOU WON'T HAVE TO GRADE IT.

Wow - that sounds great, doesn't it? Unfortunately, this approach is based on the belief that content-area teachers won't even consider giving a writing assignment if they have to grade it. Teachers do, of course, have to grade some of the writing assignments they give, and they should, so that students receive the corrective feedback and encouragement they need to improve.

Researchers who have examined the effect of writing on learning generally agree that using writing-to-learn to assess what students are or are not learning can be a powerful tool in any content area. …

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