Empowering Students to Write

By Patel, Pooja; Laud, Leslie | AMLE Magazine, January 2015 | Go to article overview

Empowering Students to Write


Patel, Pooja, Laud, Leslie, AMLE Magazine


How do we meet the needs of all our students so that they learn to write successfully, enjoy writing, and are prepared to share their voice in the world?

How do we prepare them to use writing as a tool to learn more about the world?

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have issued a clear call to distribute writing instruction more evenly across text types: narrative, informative/ explanatory, and argument. They include writing as a tool for research across content areas and emphasize conventions. CCSS offer perhaps the most comprehensive and wide-reaching vision ever put forth for the role of writing in education.

But what are the most promising approaches for reaching these standards? Donald Graves and Nancy Atwell provide powerful perspectives on a process approach to writing instruction. Lucy Calkins discusses the importance of cultivating a writing community and authentic writing experiences. Karen Harris and colleagues espouse all this as well, and offer evidence-based practices that can even further support unleashing authentic writing communities, full of motivated, strategic, and self-regulated writers.

Harris' approach, self-regulated strategy development (SRSD), ultimately empowers students to share their stories, their opinions, and their ideas as they write in a way that makes doing so more easily accessible and motivating for most students. In essence, it provides students opportunities to cultivate their voice, acknowledge their lives, and use writing as a tool for learning new information and for self-expression.

An Overview of self-Regulated strategy Development

Self-regulated strategy development is a six-stage evidence-based pedagogy framed on a model of gradual release of responsibility. This approach teaches writing skills, yet it also allows students to become strategic and self-regulated by embedding instructional practices, including:

* Think alouds of the writing process.

* Self/peer evaluation.

* Explicit sharing of criteria.

* Goal setting.

* Regular formative assessment.

* Positive self-statements.

* Individualized learning goals.

Students begin with various scaffolds such as graphic organizers, checklists, cues, and scoring scales, which are gradually removed as they internalize the writing process and criteria for excellent writing.

Embedded within the six stages are mnemonics for the main three genres that make the structure of each genre explicit. For example, students learn TREE for opinion writing: Topic sentence tells what I believe, Reasons (3 or more), Examples and Elaboration, and end.

SRSD recognizes that writing is a multi-faceted, circular approach, and teachers can embed the various instructional practices of each of the six stages into their existing writing programs, curriculum, and expertise. Teachers need not "start from scratch" or change entire instructional approaches; SRSD is not a program but a pedagogy that is integrated with their current methods. SRSD allows students to become strategic and self-regulating as they engage in the writing process of planning, composing, revising, and editing.

The six stages of sRsD

Imagine you are teaching an argumentative-writing unit linked to a novel study. You want your students to write paragraphs that show traits of characters in the novel or prove that a character is moral or amoral. You can use the SRSD framework to teach argumentative writing in the following way:

Stage 1: Activate Background Knowledge

* Pre-assess for vocabulary and for writing skills.

* Introduce mnemonic and analyze targeted writing elements in models.

Teachers pre-assess for specific vocabulary knowledge of elements in argument writing such as topic sentence, transition words, reasons, examples, and elaboration. Students write in the genre by responding to a prompt such as: Write a paragraph proving or disproving that one of the characters listed below has a characteristic trait of your choice. …

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