Writing is essential to learning. In the formative years of schooling, children learn how to read and write. As they progress through school, this changes to reading and writing to enable them to expand knowledge and learn new concepts. These fundamental skills are required for children to enhance their understanding of topics studied at school or to pursue topics that capture their interest. Therefore, to adequately participate in learning and develop life-long learning skills, children must be able to read and write to a satisfactory level. However, a common trend has emerged where a disturbingly high number of Australian school children are failing to meet a minimal acceptable standard in literacy (Masters & Foster, 1997). Following on from these trends, a range of research has continued to be conducted to determine the cause of this decline and the strategies required to improve literacy learning amongst school-aged children.
Through professional reading, research, conversations and observations a common theme emerges: not enough time is spent on writing in the primary classroom. Peha (2018) states that writing needs to be practiced on a consistent basis in order to be effective; to make good progress at an elementary level, beginning writers need to be writing four to five days a week for 45-60 minutes each day. The current lack of time dedicated to writing instruction is resulting in minimal progress being made between the early years of learning and the entry into secondary education. This has a negative impact on children being able to successfully access the high school curriculum as they struggle to write at the expected standard. The consistency of writing everyday helps create writers who are in a constant state of composition (Graves, 1994). If children are to succeed, they need to be ready, willing and able writers.
In 2007, concerned with the decline in writing ability, the Carnegie Corporation of New York undertook a study of effective strategies to improve the standard of writing in schools. Using meta-analysis and effect sizes the study recommended eleven elements of effective writing instruction.
- Writing Strategies, which involves teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions (ES = 0.82)
- Summarisation, which involves explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarise texts (ES = 0.82)
- Collaborative Writing, which uses instructional arrangements in which adolescents work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their compositions (ES =0.75)
- Specific Product Goals, which assigns students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete (ES =0.70)
- Word Processing, which uses computers and word processors as instructional supports for writing assignments (ES =0.55)
- Sentence Combining, which involves teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences (ES =0.50)
- Prewriting, which engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organise ideas for their composition (ES =0.32)
- Inquiry Activities, which engages students in analysing immediate, concrete data to help them develop ideas and content for a particular writing task (ES =0.32)
- Process Writing Approach, which interweaves a number of writing instructional activities in a workshop environment that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalised instruction, and cycles of writing (ES =0.32)
- Study of Models, which provides students with opportunities to read, analyse, and emulate models of good writing (ES =0.25)
- Writing for Content Learning, which uses writing as a tool for learning content material (ES =0.23)
From Writing Next:
Effective Strategies to Improve Writing of Adolescents in Middle and High Schools. A Report to Carnegie Corporation of New York (by Steve Graham and Dolores Perin, 2007). http://carnegie.org/fileadmin/Media/Publications/PDF/writingnext.pdf
With these elements in mind, Simple Strategies: writing that works was created and sculpted to fit the needs of primary age students to enhance their ability to write effectively.
Instruction of writing involves the explicit teaching of techniques to assist children with planning, composing, revising and editing. When students are taught strategies for planning, revising and editing writing there is a dramatic effect on the quality of students’ writing (Graham & Perin, 2007). Strategy instruction involves explicitly and systematically teaching steps necessary for planning, revising and/or editing text. (Graham, 2006). Simple Strategies: writing that works undertakes a systematic approach to teach writing. There is a clear level of progression, starting from the simple two word sentence all the way to the story writing level expected of children. It incorporates the parts of speech that make up sentences and then aims to combine this knowledge with planning tools to create a map to writing success. Editing and revising skills are built into all tasks and students are expected to follow the guidelines that ensure each piece of writing is reviewed by the composer. Systematic editing techniques have been found to be especially effective for children who have difficulty writing, but also a powerful technique for children in general (Graham & Perin, 2007).
Summarising helps children understand the main ideas and the details that support them within a text. The main idea is the heart of the story – it keeps the reader engaged – while the details are the skeleton that offers strong support for the main idea. Teaching children how to summarise texts has a consistent, strong, positive effect on their ability to write (Graham & Perin, 2007). The reading component of Simple Strategies: writing that works encourages the writing of summaries through the use of the reading journal. Children are taught various frameworks to help them deconstruct texts so they can accurately summarise what they have read. These techniques are linked to the planning for writing activities as tools. This enables children to learn how to deconstruct and construct texts using similar methods. Summaries are the bare bones of the story; in a way, summarising is reverse planning – it shows children how a simple idea can be expanded into a meaningful story.
Collaborative writing involves children working together during the planning, drafting, revising and editing phases of writing; it shows a strong impact on improving the quality of students’ writing (Graham & Perin, 2007). The power of peers should never be underestimated and a writing classroom centred on building knowledge creates a buzz. It teaches students that they do not have to do it all alone and inspiration can be gained from all around their learning environment. Working collaboratively on writing builds a sense of community where children learn from each other – where they celebrate each other’s success and learn from feedback. Vygotsky (1978): learning is a social process, so classrooms must be social places. Independent knowledge and actions can be increased significantly through peer interaction and strong teacher modelling & support. Simple Strategies: writing that works encourages collaboration, especially during the building knowledge phase of writing. Children and teachers work together when brainstorming and planning to expose children to a wide range of ideas, strategies and vocabulary that can be implemented in their own writing. Collaborative sharing and feedback allows children to see how others use language and learn from each other.
Writing tasks cannot be meaningless time-fillers. Children need to know what they are learning and which aspects to focus their attention. The complexity of writing makes perfection unattainable but children can focus on nailing a particular aspect to improve their writing and make progress. Setting specific product goals provides students with objectives to focus on particular aspects of their writing (Ferretti, MacArthur, & Dowdy, 2000). Product goals are effective with children who are weaker writers and overall, assigning students goals for their written product has a strong impact of writing quality (Graham & Perin, 2007). Simple Strategies: writing that works has its own specific goal structure to enhance the fundamentals of writing. Having students focus on one clear goal during writing tasks ensures that they can focus on achievement. Further to this goal, the learning intentions of each task are quite specific. Children are constantly building on prior knowledge and achievement to improve their writing using new or varied strategies and structures. This simple goal framework helps children understand where they are heading.
Combining sentences is a skill that exposes children to complex sentences which enables the creation of sophisticated compositions. Sentence combining teaches children how to write increasingly complex sentences which enhances the quality of their writing (Graham & Perin, 2007). Simple Strategies: writing that works provides students with multiple opportunities to use sentence combining. Using basic sentence writing tasks, children are able to explore new skills; through the use of prepositions, subordinate conjunctions and sophisticated punctuation, children can be taught how to create and apply complex sentences to their writing. As well as this, ‘writing convention’ tasks explicitly teach how to join similar subjects together to create complex sentences and build description.
Prewriting engages students in activities designed to help them generate ideas for their writing. Engaging children in such activities prior to writing improves the quality of their writing (Graham & Perin, 2007). Simple Strategies: writing that works and ‘The Writing Treasure Chest’ were developed on the back of the importance of prewriting. The majority of writing tasks provided throughout this resource focus on the importance of prewriting to elicit quality written responses from children. Scaffolded brainstorming formats, carefully designed questions and a wide variety of story mapping strategies combined with planning organisers ensure that children are adequately prepared for writing. Children know the main elements of their story prior to the commencement of tasks and therefore, are able to focus on the fluency, accuracy and creativity in their writing. The importance of thinking and exploring prior to writing is the essence of this resource.
Inquiry activities are embedded in the ‘Exploring Writing’ component of this resource. Without effective inquiry skills and knowledge of how to explore content, children are unable to develop the knowledge to write detailed compositions. Hillocks (1982) describes inquiry activities as students examining and inferring qualities in order to describe them in writing with the intention on increasing specificity, focus and impact in the writing. ‘Exploring Writing’ encourages deep focus and examination of the environment so that writers can have a profound impact on their readers. Prewriting tasks focus on closely analysing and examining so that children can elicit details and facts to include in their writing. Children need to be experts on their chosen topic; they need to understand where they are and where they are headed with their writing.
In short, process writing focuses on the steps involved in creating a piece of written work (Nunan, 2001). It allows for the fact that no text can be perfect, but that a writer will get closer to perfection by producing, reflecting on and reworking their writing (Nunan, 1991). Simple Strategies: writing that works encourages the staples of process writing over product writing. Its focus is on developing writers and considers each piece of writing a step on the learning journey. Children are continually asked to review and reflect on their writing and by providing constant effective teacher feedback, their writing continues to evolve. Focusing on what children say in their writing will see a greater improvement rather than focusing on language errors (White & Arntd, 1991). The discussion of the work is important; corrections written over the top post writing appear to do little to improve student writing (Stanley, 2004). The focus of Simple Strategies: writing that works is to encourage children to write with no fear or criticism. Post-writing feedback is given and lesson adjustments or goal refinements made to enhance learning outcomes and writing success.
Providing children with literature rich texts should always be the aim of every literacy lesson. While levelled readers may assist with oral reading development, most add little value to the thinking, analysing and deep comprehension we want learners to elicit from texts. Exposing students to good models of writing encourages them to analyse and emulate the critical elements and patterns in these texts as well as study the literary forms embedded in them for use in their own writing (Graham & Perin, 2007). The reading component of Simple Strategies: writing that works encourages students to critically engage in texts through the use of reading journals. It encourages summarising skills as well as deep analytical thinking and questions to enhance understanding of the text. A shared reading format opens the gateway to rich discussion about text patterns, story elements and writing techniques. Students are not only exposed to this information but are able to take it forth into their own writing.
There is constant debate over the importance regarding the instruction of grammar in the primary classroom; traditional grammar versus functional grammar versus minimal grammar instruction. Research indicates that children who understand how to use parts of speech in context are able to create effective writing. Teaching students to focus on the function and practical application of grammar in the context of writing as opposed to teaching grammar as an independent, isolated activity produced strong positive effects on student writing (Fearn & Farnan, 2005). Simple Strategies: writing that works encourages the exploration and teaching of grammatical features in a contextual environment. The success of the writing component comes from the students’ ability to apply certain aspects of grammar to ensure syntax and create complex sentences. The learning of grammar within the framework of student writing enhances their practical understanding and is the difference between writing purely content and learning to improve writing. Furthermore, it allows rich discussion between student and teacher during feedback.
The importance of a structured writing program cannot be undersold. At times, writing appears to receive minimal attention in some primary classrooms. The curriculum is so broad, and the school day is so short, many teachers feel they do not have time for authentic writing instruction (Peha, 2018). Reading is the star of literacy and continually takes centre stage with large portions of the learning day credited to reading. Following this the decompartmentalisation of writing into sub strands such as spelling and grammar eat up valuable time. This results in minimal time spent on writing instruction which means minimal improvement in the writing content of students. Peha (2018) reinforces this notion when he observed that the little time and limited instruction offered to writing is devoted almost exclusively to handwriting, punctuation, spelling and grammar with scant attention paid to instruction. Writing is left for a half hour window here and there throughout the week – most students only spend about twenty minutes each day on writing (Graham & Hebert, 2010). The fact is that reading and writing work best as a duet and should be sharing the stage in the daily classroom literacy block. Writing has the potential to enhance reading in three ways: they are both functional activities that can be combined to accomplish specific goals (Fitzgerald & Shanahan, 2000), reading and writing are connected as they draw upon common knowledge and cognitive processes (Shanahan, 2006), and writers gain insight about reading by creating their own texts leading to better comprehension of texts produced by others (Tierney & Shanahan, 1991). The importance of writing is being overlooked and Simple Strategies: writing that works is providing opportunities to improve overall student literacy results.
In 2010, a report was compiled for the Carnegie Corporation of New York effectively looking at writing practices that enhance student reading. The report suggested three recommendations, once again based on meta-analysis and effect size, on how writing can have a positive impact and enhance student reading ability:
1.Have students write about the texts they read. (ES =0.51) Students’ comprehension of science, social studies, and language arts texts is improved when they write about what they read, specifically when they:
· Respond to a Text in Writing (Personal Reactions, Analysing and Interpreting the Text) (ES =0.77)
· Write Summaries of a Text (ES =0.52)
· Write Notes About a Text (ES =0.47)
· Answer Questions About a Text, or Create and Answer Written Questions About a Text (ES =0.27)
2.Teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text. Students’ reading skills and comprehension are improved by learning the skills and processes that go into creating text, specifically when teachers:
· Teach the Process of Writing, Text Structures for Writing, Paragraph or Sentence Construction Skills (Improves Reading Comprehension) (ES =0.27)
· Teach Spelling and Sentence Construction Skills (Improves Reading Fluency) (ES =0.79)
· Teach Spelling Skills (Improves Word Reading Skills) (ES =0.68)
3.Increase how much students write. (ES =0.30) Students’ reading comprehension is improved by having them increase how often they produce their own texts.
From Writing to Read:
Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading. A Report to Carnegie Corporation of New York (By Steve Graham and Michael Hebert, 2010).
From the evidence outlined in the report, it is clear that writing can be a vehicle for improving reading (Graham & Hebert, 2010). Simple Strategies: writing that works assists reading development through the use of its carefully designed writing resources and its focus on summarising and exploring texts read.
Writing about a text enhances comprehension because it provides students with a tool for visibly and permanently recording, connecting, analysing, personalising and manipulating key ideas in text (Graham & Hebert, 2010). The reading journal activities outlined in the Simple Strategies: writing that works resource provides students with ample opportunities to summarise and connect with the text. This reading, analysing and exploring of the text creates benefits for student writing; furthermore, the use of the personal reading journal, where thoughts are permanently recorded and thinking is encouraged through scaffolds, helps develop deeper thinkers and a richer understanding of comprehension. When students write about ideas in a text, it requires them to organise and integrate those ideas into a coherent piece, facilitates reflection, encourages personal involvement with texts and helps children transform ideas into their own words (Klein, 1999).
Educators have long believed that the benefits of writing instruction carry over to improved reading (Graham & Hebert, 2010). Simple Strategies: writing that works focuses on writing instruction; this resource’s aim is to teach processes for understanding the development of plots as well as learning how to construct and manipulate sentence structure. This understanding of the processes involved in writing and how to effectively use them, creates capable writers and gives them valuable insight into the writing work of others. Therefore, reading and comprehending become easier tasks due to the knowledge writers bring about the forms of text composition.
Reading and writing are communication activities, and writers can gain insights about reading by creating a text for an audience to read (Nelson & Calfee, 1998). According to research, increasing how much students write does in fact improve how well they read (Graham & Hebert, 2010). Simple Strategies: writing that works is an advocate for an increase in writing opportunities for students on a daily basis. The number and variety of activities that are provided as writing experiences in this resource ensures that students are actively involved in regular writing practice. Any increase in the amount of writing time offered to students will have a positive impact on their reading and comprehension ability. This is supported by Weber & Henderson (1989) who state that more writing instruction produced greater reading gains than less writing instruction.
Simple Strategies: writing that works is a well-rounded teaching resource that belongs as a part of literary efficient classrooms. Its high impact to improve writing cannot be dismissed with its ability to incorporate a range of elements that enhance student writing. It is also important to remember that writing is often recommended as a tool for improving reading (Graham & Hebert, 2010). Simple Strategies: writing that works incorporates a range of instructional methods that provide opportunities for student development; process writing is embedded in the DNA of the resource, yet it lends itself to specific skill instruction in the context of student writing. This diversity has an impact on overall literacy as writing instruction that strengthens students’ reading skills includes both process writing and skill instruction (Graham & Hebert, 2010).
At the moment, educational settings are not always meeting the writing needs for all students for a variety of reasons. The tedious nature and complexity of writing makes it a challenge to teach and learn in a crowded curriculum. However, intensive writing has been identified as a critical element of an effective literacy program (Biancarosa & Snow, 2004). Therefore, Simple Strategies: writing that works provides the perfect opportunity to improve student writing while at the same time enhancing aspects of reading. The Simple Strategies: writing that works resource plays a part in creating an effective and efficient literacy-based classroom.