Posts Tagged ‘writing process’

How to Grade Writing

How can we effectively assess student writing? Should we grade upon effort, completion, standards, achievement, or improvement? Is our primary task to respond or to grade?

Here’s my take. We should grade based upon how well students have met our instructional objectives. Because each writer is at a different place, we begin at that place and evaluate the degree to which the student has learned and applied that learning, in terms of effort and achievement. But, our primary task is informed response based upon effective assessment. That’s how to grade writing.

For example, here may be an effective procedure for a writing task as it winds its way through the Writing Process: Read more…

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20 Tips to Teach Writing through Music

There is no doubt that popular music transcends arbitrary barriers of age, culture, and language. My students and I share the same passion, although not the same music. Music speaks to their generation just as must as it has to mine. In fact, most students probably listen to more music than I did growing up. As a result, students have internalized the structure, syntax, and rules of music far more than that of any writing genre. This prior knowledge is simply too valuable for the writing teacher to ignore. Analyzing the songwriting composition process will enable students to apply the relevant strategies to their own writing of narratives, poetry, essays, and reports (and maybe even songs).

As an amateur songwriter and English-language arts teacher, my experience in learning the craft of songwriting has constantly informed my writing instruction. Here are 20 tips I’ve picked up over the years about how to apply the techniques of songwriting to writing in any genre.

Background: Paying Your Dues

1. Experience Matters

You don’t have to become a heroin addict to play the blues. However, knowing that blues usually follows a twelve-bar (measure) pattern provides an important foundation for a songwriter. Knowing the different blues genre of Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, and Texas Blues will help the songwriter follow the rules and stylistic features of the chosen genre.

Prior knowledge in writing content, genre, and style informs composition. For students lacking this experience, it is essential to “frontload” as much as possible to provide an equal playing field and give these writers what they need to be successful in a given writing task.

2. Reading to Write

Bob Dylan (Zimmerman) graduated from high school in a small town in Minnesota and moved to Greenwich Village. During his apprenticeship, Dylan played clubs and learned a catalog of folk and blues songs; however, he spent much much of his time reading everything that he could lay his hands on. In his autobiography, Chronicles Volume One, Dylan comments on his reading: “I was looking for the part of my education that I never got (p. 36).” His body of work shows the impact of this reading on his music.


Dr. Kate Kinsella of San Francisco State University summarizes the reading-writing connection research as follows:Reading widely and regularly contributes to the development of writing ability. Good writers were read to as children. Increasing reading frequency has a stronger influence on improving writing than does solely increasing writing frequency. Developmental writers must see and analyze multiple effective examples of the various kinds of writing they are being asked to produce (as well as ineffective examples); they cannot, for example, be expected to write successful expository essays if they are primarily reading narrative texts.

Teaching the reading-writing connection will help your students significantly improve both their reading and writing.

3. Learning the Tools

You’ve got to learn the tools to practice the craft. Not every instrument is conducive to songwriting. It’s hard to play the trombone and sing at the same time. Tools are the means to an end and are self-limiting. Having written songs with the guitar for years, I know that there are limitations to the instrument. Learning piano has expanded my songwriting potential. Some tools fit some genre and some don’t.

Teachers generally do a fine job of teaching the structure and identifying characteristics of the various writing genre. Teachers generally do a poor job of teaching writing strategies, sentence structure, grammar, usage, and style.

4. Learning Writing by Writing

Burt Bacharach: “Music breeds its own inspiration. You can only do it by doing it. You may not feel like it, but you push yourself. It’s a work process. Or just improvise. Something will come (”

It’s simplistic, but true: you get better at something by practicing it. And this includes writing. Practice needs to be regular with both subjective and objective feedback. Writing fluency comes from daily writing practice, not from occasional on-demand writing assignments.

Brainstorming and Prewriting

5. Content is Writing

A songwriter with nothing to say cannot write a song. Even the most simplistic love song says something. What the songs says must ring true, even if it is completely fictional. Successful songwriters study the content of songs, newspapers, poetry, literature, and life. Paul Simon: “It’s very helpful to start with something that’s true. If you start with something that’s false, you’re always covering your tracks. Something simple and true, that has a lot of possibilities, is a nice way to begin (”

Studying literature, history, and science is all writing instruction. A student with nothing to say cannot write a poem, an essay, or a story.

6. Location Matters

Jimmy Buffet: “You know, as a writer, I’m more of a listener than a writer, cuz if I hear something I will write it down. And you find as a writer there are certain spots on the planet where you write better than others, and I believe in that. And New Orleans is one of them (”

The collaborative classroom can be ideal for creating a productive writing climate. All of the resources are there: computers, dictionaries, thesauri, the writing teacher, the peers. Rarely do students compose as well at home as they do in the classroom. The classroom can be optimally suited to the social nature of the writing process.

7. Emotional Connections

Bono: “You can have 1000 ideas, but unless you capture an emotion, it’s an essay (” Sting: “Songwriting is a kind of therapy for both the writer and the listener if you choose to use it that way. When you see that stuff help other people that’s great and wonderful confirmation that you’re doing the right thing (”

All too often, students mimic their teachers in order to please us and demonstrate that they have harvested our pearls of wisdom. Students often have little understanding of audience and even less passionate commitment to their writing subject. Developing the emotional connection to their writing in an authentic voice is key to connected and committed writing.

8. Titles and Hooks

Most all songwriters begin their songs with a catchy or meaningful title-one that provokes curiosity. A writer on a songwriting blog comments, “After you answer the question, ‘What is the title of my song going to be?’, your next job is to think about hooks. Here you need to decide what the central point of your song is and create song hooks around this thought. Briefly, a hook is anything that will help the listener remember the song. With many songs, it’s the melody, the chorus or even some of the lyrics. It might even a be a sound effect added to make the song more interesting (”

Teach how songwriting titles and hooks capture the essence of the writing topic and thesis statement. Every stream flows from the one source. Good writing is essentially deductive in both narrative and expository forms.

9. Self-Questioning

Many songwriters flesh out the lyrics by asking questions of their song title. After coming up with the title “I Won’t Back Down,” Tom Petty could have posed the following questions to develop his lyrics: Why won’t I back down? What’s happened in the past to make me have this attitude? Are there exceptions?

Student writers can use the process of self-questioning during brainstorming. Using the topic or thesis as a prompt, students look at the direction of their essay from a variety of points of view. Using the conflict as a prompt, students look at the direction of their narrative from the major and minor characters’ perspectives.


10. Structural Foundations

Songs follow well-established organizational patterns. Verses (same melody, different words), choruses (same melody and words), perhaps a bridge (a different melody and lyric), and perhaps a pre-chorus (a short section at the end of a verse leading into the chorus) are the songwriters’ foundational structures. Robbie Robertson: “It would be nice to abandon the verse-chorus-bridge structure completely, and make it so none of these things are definable…Make up new names for them. Instead of a bridge, you can call it a highway, or an overpass…Music should never be harmless (”

Similarly, narratives follow the elements of plot and essays have introductions, body paragraphs, and conclusions. All good writing has structure. Even most all poetry follows prescribed structures.

11. Flexibility

Some songwriters write the lyrics first, then follow with the melody. I tend to write both lyrics and melody together, though I have completed songs in many different ways.

Beware of straight-jacketing students with the components of the writing process. Some students prefer to spent significant amounts of time pre-writing; others would rather jump right in and draft. Some students revise and edit as they draft; others like to do multiple drafts and/or edit at the end. Word processing enables many options.

12. The Rules Do and Don’t Apply

The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” follows the structure of many pop songs; however, it breaks every rule of chord progressions. “Each verse sung by Lennon follows the same basic layout, but each has a different way of ending. The first verse, which is twenty measures, ends with a repetition of the F major chord progression before returning to the home key. The second verse, two measures shorter than the first, ends on the C major chord rather than repeating the F major progression. The third verse is the same as the second, except that there is one more measure (to accommodate the ‘I’d love to’), and the verse does not return to the home key. Instead it leads to a bridge, a 24-measure long glissando-like crescendo starting from low E to an E several octaves higher. Random cymbal crashes are interspersed near the end to ‘challenge your sense of meter’ (” Paul McCartney instructed the accompanying orchestra musicians to play notes beyond the range of their instruments to intentionally break the rules.

Each writing genre has its own rules. A Shakespearian Sonnet has its own rhyming pattern, a persuasive essay has a counterargument, and a story must resolve its conflict. However, knowing and applying the rules permits intentional deviations for special effect.

13. Mimickery

Songwriters advise aspiring musicians to study the techniques of those they admire and emulate their styles. Because everyone has his own unique voice and experiences, no two compositions will be the same. Chord progressions are not copyrighted. The chords for “Louie, Louie,” “Wild Thing,” “I Like it Like That” and hundreds of other hits are all the same.

Some English-language arts teachers believe that discovering one’s voice is the result of a self-guided journey. I would argue that for students to develop voice, they need to practice voice in specific teacher-directed writing assignments. It is not plagiarism to mimic the writing style of good authors. Additionally, teachers need to help students practice different voices for different purposes.

14. Time to Percolate

Carole King: “If you are sitting down and you feel that you want to write andnothing is coming, you get up and do something else. Then you come back again and try it again. But you do it in a relaxed manner. Trust that it will be there. If it ever was once and you’ve ever done it once, it will be back. It always comes back and the only thing that is a problem is when you get in your own way worrying about it (”

Neil Young: “I don’t force it. If you don’t have an idea and you don’t hear anything going over and over in your head, don’t sit down and try to write a song. You know, go mow the lawn…My songs speak for themselves (”

We live in the real world. Our students do as well. The SAT 1® allots 25 minutes for an essay that counts 240 points out of the 800 overall writing score. College professors give timed essays. Bosses want that report due by 3:00 p.m. or else. We need to equip our students to face these time constraints in their writing. Certainly, some on-demand writing practice makes sense, but the best practice to develop writing fluency remains untimed, day to day writing practice in a variety of writing genre. Good teachers provide time for writing reflection and revision. Good teachers allow students to face writer’s block and practice problem-solving.

15. Let the Writing Write

John Lennon: “Song writing is about getting the demon out of me. It’s like being possessed. You try to go to sleep, but the song won’t let you. So you have to get up and make it into something and then you’re allowed to sleep. It’s always in the middle of the night, or you’re half-awake or tired, when your critical faculties are switched off. So letting go is what the whole game is. Every time you try to put your finger on it, it slips away. You turn on the lights and the cockroaches run away. You can never grasp them (”

Good writing instruction provides students with enough practice so that a degree of automaticity has been achieved. Writing fluency is familiarity with the structures, rules, and patterns of writing. Writing fluency is the conversation between author and the writing. Writing fluency does not mean effortless writing; sometimes content knowledge and writing dexterity can challenge the writer as much as would sheer ignorance.

Revision and Editing

16. Read the Writing

Tom Petty: “You’re dealing in magic–it’s this intangible thing that has to happen. And to seek it out too much might not be a good idea. Because, you know, it’s very shy, too. But once you’ve got the essence of them, you can work songs and improve them. You see if there’s a better word, or a better change (”

“I edit as I go. Especially when I go to commit it to paper… I edit as I am committing it to paper. I like to see the words before me and I go, “Yeah, that’s it.” They appear before me and they fit. I don’t usually take large parts out. If I get stuck early in a song, I take it as a sign that I might be writing the chorus and don’t know it. Sometimes,you gotta step back a little bit and take a look at what you’re doing.” — John Prine, quoted by Paul Zollo in “Legends: John Prine,” (American Songwriter, Jan / Feb 2010).

Revision is the hard work of writing. It involves a conversation with the text and audience to ensure coherency. It appropriates everything in the writer’s tool kit. It also necessarily reaches out to others for feedback. Frequently teachers expect that inexperienced writers will be able to revise with little guidance. Simply modeling how to add, delete, substitute, and rearrange a paragraph does not mean that a student will be apply to apply these skills to her draft. Young writers need objective and subjective feedback from both teacher and their peers. Writers conferences and response groups at all stages of the writing process will provide the feedback necessary for revision.

17. Grunt Work

Neil Diamond: “Performing is the easiest part of what I do, and songwriting is the hardest.” George Gershwin: “Out of my entire annual output of songs, perhaps two, or at the most three, came as a result of inspiration. We can never rely on inspiration. When we most want it, it does not come (”

Writing inspiration is an unfaithful friend. Mature writers certainly welcome her visit, but the more we depend upon her, the less gets done. Much of any writing is simply grunt work. The more experience and tools that a writer has acquired, the more choices are afforded to the decision-making process. The grunt work of word choice, transitions, examples, and more are the last few puzzle pieces that just don’t seem to fit. I, personally, take more satisfaction out of placing these puzzle pieces (even if I have to shave off the edges to make them fit) than the ones that come without effort. Still, no writer is completely satisfied with his own writing. Indeed, few writers ever revisit their own works after publication.

18. Collaborative Competition

One of the reasons that John Lennon and Paul McCartney enjoyed such a fruitful songwriting collaboration was because John was right-handed and Paul was left-handed. Thus, both songwriters could sit facing one another, eye to eye, without the guitars banging up against each other.

Teachers can do much to establish a collaborative writing culture. The Web 2.0 culture provides both vulnerability and anonymity that writing teachers can use to motivate students in their writing. Most all writing is a social venture and teachers can appropriately guide this experience in and out of the classroom. Online postings afford students the opportunity of time and reflective thought through the students’ own self-regulated filters. Students can choose what to and what not to share. However, in-class face-to-face time is necessary to provide the unfiltered audience and conversations that balance the ones on the web. Teachers control the climate of in-class writing and can model and sometimes referee the collaborative efforts.

19. Publish to Write

Hearing the sound on the published record or CD guides the songwriting process, but the studio experience and interaction of the musicians can certainly change the composition. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones says that he never finishes a song before entering the studio, in order to allow some room for creativity in the recording process. There are also happy accidents. John Lennon accidentally left his volume turned up on his guitar and leaned it against his amplifier while tape was rolling. The screeching feedback began and Lennon kept the mistake as the introduction to the Beatles Number One Hit: “I Feel Fine.” This was the first time that feedback was incorporated into a song.

Teachers need to let students in on one of the secrets of successful writers: writing rarely turns out precisely as planned. The variables of the publication process often determine the end results. Some things are simply beyond the writer’s control. Constraints of time, mistakes, and misunderstandings contribute to the final writing product. Students will be frustrated at times by their published work, or by fellow students’ responses, or by the teacher’s grade and comments. Writing is about as subjective as we get in academia, despite our analytical rubrics and our objective pretenses.

20. Writing for a Pay-off

Paul McCartney: “Somebody said to me, But the Beatles were anti-materialistic. That’s a huge myth. John and I literally used to sit down and say, Now, let’s write a swimming pool (

Our students frequently write only to please an audience of one (their teacher), and the resulting pay-off is simply a grade. Hardly motivating and largely perceived as being irrelevant to their lives. No wonder there is often little authentic voice, creativity, or passionate commitment in our students’ writing. The solution is to make the pay-off a motivator for student effort. Survey students to find what publishing ends would motivate their best efforts. Online postings, video reads, peer reviews to name a few.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

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Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

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Using Music to Develop a Creative Writing Culture

I am a dinosaur. I have to face the fact that I am culturally irrelevant to my students. My English-language arts colleagues are all young twenty-somethings. They do all of the student clubs, sports, and activities such as the overnight bus trip to Disneyland. They even do yard duty/campus supervision when they don’t have to. But, I’ve got one thing that they don’t have yet-reflective experience.

As I reflect back on my experience as a junior high and high school student, one creative medium was singularly influential and remains so for my students today-music. Music inspired me. Music made me dream big dreams. Music made me want to write.

Now, music didn’t make me want to write the way that Mr. Devlin, my junior high English teacher, wanted me to write. And music didn’t inspire me to write the stupid five-paragraph essays that Ms. Carruthers, my senior Advanced English teacher, assigned each week. Music made me want to write like John and Paul, Mick and Keith, and Bob Dylan. Somehow, my English-language arts teachers just did not tap into that motivating influence.

Now we did analyze a few songs in class. I remember Mr. Devlin helping us to interpret the Beatles’ “Revolution.” I ate it up, but there was no follow-through. It was a one-time experience, and then back to the literary anthology. No connection to our own writing as students. Our art teacher was very cool. She played our records while we worked with paint and clay. I discovered The Doors in her class. But, the music was background and its creative potential was not instructionally connected to our paper mache Christmas angels.

Music is just as influential on today’s students as it was for me. Ask students how much they listen to music today. It’s certainly more than they spend reading or writing. And they listen to music while they are on Facebook®. That’s a powerful combination. It seems to me that we can apply a few lessons from how our students combine music and social networking to how we should teach them to write.

Music has always been a social medium. Let’s do a bit of reflective thinking about the music business, and songwriting in particular, to see how we might apply some of this to improve student writing.

Toward the end of the Nineteenth Century musical tastes were changing from minstrel shows to vaudeville. The economic up-tick following the terrible recession of 1873 put more money in the hands of more Americans. Recently freed slaves migrated north into already-crowed cities. Increasing immigration added wealth to the expanding economy and consumers enjoyed some of the trickle-down benefits of the Gilded Age, including more leisure time and a bit more discretionary money.

A number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan along 28th Street between 5th Avenue and Broadway to take advantage of the economic boom and sell music to the popular vaudeville shows and sheet music to consumers to play on their parlor pianos. This neighborhood became known as “Tin Pan Alley,” probably due to “the cacophony of the many pianos being pounded in publisher’s demo rooms… characterized as sounding as though hundreds of people were pounding on tin pans (Wikipedia).”

“Song composers were hire under contract giving the publisher exclusive rights to popular composer’s works. The market was surveyed to determine what style of song was selling best and then the composers were directed to compose in that style. Once written, a song was actually tested with both performers and listeners to determine which would be published and which would go to the trash bin. All of a sudden t seemed that music was becoming an industry more than an art. Once a song was published, song pluggers (performers who worked in music shops playing the latest releases, akin to playing new CD releases in a record store today) were hired and performers were persuaded to play the new songs in their acts to give the music exposure to the public (Wikipedia).”

Writing Lesson #1

Publishing was the motivator for songwriting in Tin Pan Alley. This was, indeed, writing for a purpose. The profit-motive and pay-off were paramount; art was a by-product of that end. In contrast, our students are frequently only required to write to please an audience of one, that is their teacher, and the resulting pay-off is simply a grade. Hardly motivating and largely perceived as being irrelevant to their lives. No wonder there is little authentic voice, creativity, or passionate commitment in our students’ writing. The solution is to make the pay-off a motivator for student effort. Survey students to find what publishing ends would motivate their best efforts. Online postings, video reads, peer reviews to name a few.

Writing Lesson #2

Encourage mimicry of author’s styles. Just as vaudevillian composers were directed to compose in popular styles, help students to do the same. Help students identify components of popular author’s styles, including those of musical composers. Yes, hip hop is music. Don’t fret about lack of originality. One’s writing voice is an amalgam of one’s reading experiences and other voices.

Writing Lesson #3

Have students serve as song pluggers and performers for each other. We create a writing culture when peers begin responding to each other’s work. Students care more about their peers’ responses than those of their teacher. Teach constructive criticism: the “I like way you did ______, but you might try ______” needs both modeling and practice. Trust-building activities are a must. Allow students some degree of choice with whom they will work. After all, students don’t “friend” everyone on Facebook®. Try directed and undirected response groups, but don’t relegate these to the end of the writing process. Response groups work well after both prewriting and drafting. Don’t use student response solely as editing assistance. The more students perceive writing as a collaborative and social art, the more commitment and investment in their own writing will result.

Read a related article on Using Music to Develop a Productive Writing Climate.

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program

The “Reading Wars” and “Writing Wars” have preoccupied educational researchers and teacher-practitioners for nearly five decades. Much like the soldiers along the Western Front in World War I, we have settled down into our fixed positions and rarely leave our trenches to skirmish anymore. An occasional Krashen or Adams volley may occasionally wake us up, but no one really wants to go back into “No Man’s Land” for extending fighting. In fact, much of where we are today reminds me of the scene from All Quiet on the Western Front, in which the opposing German and British soldiers join in the singing of Christmas carols and crawl out of their trenches to exchange gifts and greetings.

Now I may be over-extending my metaphor a bit, but teachers see more value today in an eclectic approach to teaching reading and writing. We embrace both part-to-whole and whole-to-part instruction. No one wants to throw away the explicit teaching of phonemic awareness/phonics or reading to learn; no one wants to throw away explicit grammar, spelling, and writing strategies instruction or the writing process with Writers Workshop. In a previous article, I have made the case that a balanced reading program makes sense. In this article, I will attempt to make the case that a balanced writing program also makes sense. First, I will list 21 Curricular Assumptions that most of us would accept about writing instruction to build a consensus. Then, I will detail six steps to take to ensure a balanced and effective writing program in any classroom.

Most of us would agree with these… 21 Curricular Assumptions about a Balanced Writing Program

1. Teaching and practicing the stages of the writing process through writing process papers in various genre is important. The writing process is not rigid, however. Writers compose differently. Word processing has certainly reinforced these differences. For example, some revise and edit after drafting; some do so during drafting.

2. Teaching and practicing specific writing strategies/skills in short writing pieces, such as “Quick Writes,” is also valuable.

3. Students vary in their writing abilities and have different writing skill-sets. Simply teaching grade-level standards in writing strategies and applications (process pieces) is not enough. Certainly, we teach content, but we also teach students. We need to both “keep them up” with grade-level expectations and new instruction and also “catch them up” with additional targeted practice in their writing deficiencies. Teachers see the value in diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction and in which writing skills. Yes, we need to differentiate our writing instruction.

4. The reading-writing connection much be taught explicitly. We learn reading from writing, but we also learn writing from reading. For example, teaching expository text structure is both reading comprehension and an essay strategy. Analyzing both good and bad writing is instructive.

5. Good writing instruction is necessarily “recursive.” Students need to review, but also do new. As teachers review, writing foundations are solidified and depth of understanding increases. For example, first graders work on sentence construction, but so should high school seniors.

6. Teaching content is an essential ingredient to teaching writing. Writing is a constructive thinking process, built on prior knowledge. Time spent teaching critical thinking skills, such as errors in reasoning, is time spent teaching writing.

7. Vocabulary development is an important component of writing instruction. Knowing the meanings of words and how to properly use them cannot be confined to a revision task such as substituting boring or over-used words with “cool words” found in a thesaurus. Teaching Greek and Latinates, semantic shades of meaning, idiomatic expressions, etc. are all components of solid writing instruction.

8. Explicit grammatical instruction (sentence components, word choice, usage, word order) should be more than just error analysis or correction. Daily Oral Language is certainly not the answer. Teaching grammar and mechanics rules/proper usage in the context of targeted lessons that integrate this instruction with student writing is appropriate. For example, teaching a prepositional phrase and then following instruction with writing practice in which students use prepositional phrases as grammatical sentence openers makes sense. Grammar and mechanics cannot exclusively be relegated to end of writing process as mere editing skills.

9. Spelling matters and requires direct instruction, even throughout high school. The spelling-vocabulary connection is well-established and needs to be taught in the context of word study (including derivatives and etymological influences), syllabication, and conventional spelling rules. Spell check did not suddenly make orthographical study passé.

10. Revision is the key to writing improvement. Revision requires direct instruction to teach sentence manipulation, sentence combining, sentence variety, and precision of word choice. Revision requires focused tasks in the writing process to add, delete, substitute, and rearrange ideas to afford writers alternative means of expression. Hemingway completely re-wrote the last chapter in For Whom the Bell Tolls in 39 different ways. There must be something to this revision stuff.

11. Authentic writing tasks that are relevant and meaningful to students motivate quality writing, especially when the writing will be published in a venue that students care about.

12. Teaching rhetorical stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form produces significant writing pay-offs. Writing style can be modeled, mimicked, and developed over time.

13. Degree of oral proficiency in vocabulary and grammar impacts writing ability. ESL students need differentiated instruction to bridge language barriers.

14. Direct instruction is not enough—coaching is necessary to teach students how to write. The “sage on the stage” has to be matched with the “guide on the side.”

15. Teaching structured writing makes sense to focus on writing organization and unity. However, form and purpose dictate structure, so structural straight-jackets can be counter-productive, if pressed into service for every writing task.

16.  There are certain writing rules that are worth teaching.  Of course, rules are specific to each writing form. Indenting paragraphs, writing in complete sentences, and the like add to writing coherency.

17.  Writing coherency should be the ultimate goal of any writing task.

18. Teaching grammar, spelling, vocabulary, and writing strategies are more than just test prep. These skills require teaching and practice, not testing. Fortunately, quality instruction and practice in these writing components will result in higher test scores.

19. What we say shouldn’t always be the way that we write. Good writing instruction helps students learn to distrust their oral language as a grammatical filter. Authentic writing voice is not the same as playground banter.

20. Writing fluency is a worthy goal; however, contrived on-demand writing for the purpose of writing lots of words in a given time does not achieve that end.

21. Teaching writing shouldn’t take up an entire English-language arts course. We have other fish to fry as well.

How to Teach a Balanced Writing Program in Six Steps

1. Develop a Writing Plan

Establish a comprehensive writing scope and sequence of instruction with your colleagues, including those who precede and those who follow you. Base your plan on your more general grade-level state standards, but get as specific as possible. I suggest integrating grammar, mechanics, spelling instruction, specific writing strategies, writing genre, and writing process pieces into a multi-year plan. An specific writing scope and sequence makes more sense than a “shotgun” approach.

2. Direct Grammar/Mechanics/Spelling Instruction

Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, to direct instruction of the grammar, mechanics, and spelling skills dictated by your scope and sequence, say on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Find resources that will teach both sentence modeling and error analysis. Require students to practice what has been learned and formatively assess their skill acquisition.

3. Differentiated Grammar/Mechanics/Spelling Instruction

Use an effective diagnostic assessment to identify grammatical and mechanical skills that your students should already know. Also, assess students on their spelling skills. Chart their deficits and find brief, targeted instruction that students can independently practice. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Wednesdays and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

4. Do Direct Writing Instruction

Allocate 10 minutes, 3 days per week, to direct instruction, sentence models, and guided writing practice in vocabulary development and sentence revision (sentence manipulation, sentence combining, and sentence variety) say on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Require students to practice what has been learned and formatively assess their skill acquisition.

5. Do Differentiated Writing Instruction

Allocate 15 minutes, 2 days per week, to direct instruction of the writing strategies/skills dictated by your scope and sequence, say on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Design paragraph assignments to keep writing and review time manageable. Develop brief formative assessments for each skill. Allocate 15 minutes, 3 days per week, of teacher-student mini-conferences to review their practice and grade their formative assessments, say on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Have students keep track of their own mastery of these skills on progress monitoring charts. Re-teach and re-assess skills not-yet-mastered.

6. Teach Process Papers

Teach and require students to compose at least one process paper per quarter, as dictated by your scope and sequence and grade-level standards. Not every process paper must include all steps of the Writing Process.

Check out this complete writing process essay to see a sample of the resources provided in Teaching Essay StrategiesThe download includes writing prompt, paired reading resource, brainstorm activity, prewriting graphic organizer, rough draft directions, response-editing activity, and analytical rubric.

Get the Writing Process Essay FREE Resource:

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies

Find essay strategy worksheets, on-demand writing fluencies, sentence revision and rhetorical stance “openers,” remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in the comprehensive writing curriculum,Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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How to Teach Rhetorical Stance

Teachers can help students practice the elements of Rhetorical Stance: voice, audience, purpose, and form. Learning these elements will enable students to flexibly address any writing assignment with dexterity and flair. Students need to be able to adjust their writing to a wide variety of genre in order to communicate effectively.

Find clear models of the elements of rhetorical stance and share these with your students. Help students to identify each of the elements in the model. Discuss how each interacts with the others. Make sure to use a wide variety of models.

Then, have students mimic the voice, audience, purpose, and form of the model to respond to an engaging writing prompt. Share their creative triumphs and correct shortcomings.

Voice—Some would define voice at that intangible which makes one’s writing unique, personal, and honest. I define voice a bit more globally, encompassing style, point of view, tone, and diction (word choice). Students need to practice mimicking other voices to refine their own voices. Additionally, students need to be able to manipulate their voices to best suit the audience, purpose, and form. Choose student models to share that will broaden your students’ understanding of voice and encourage students to mimic these examples and the voices of other writers. Check out another article I have written, titled “How to Develop Voice in Student Writing” for plenty of instructional strategies. Why not introduce a video clip of Martin Luther King, Jr. to inspire students to mimic his poetic, emotional, and hopeful voice prior to a relevant quick write?

Audience—Students need to understand that all writing is interactive communication. The other is the writer, himself, as reader and any others with whom the writer shares the work. Students all too frequently learn to write to the teacher as their exclusive audience. This practice tends to de-personalize student writing and limit development of voice. Choose student models to share that use a voice that engages and is particularly appropriate to the audience. Ask students to identify which parts of the writing response specifically address the defined audience and why. Why not select a class of third graders as an audience to encourage controlled vocabulary, brevity, and appropriate word choice?

Purpose—My comprehensive essay curriculum, Teaching Essay Strategies, uses eight key writing direction words (describe, explain, discuss, compare-contrast, analyze, persuade, justify, and evaluate) as the action words of each writing prompt in leveled writing strategy worksheets. These same writing direction words are used on a rotating basis (eight times each) as the purpose components in the 64 Rhetorical Stance Quick Writes. Check out the attached example of a Rhetorical Stance Quick Write and use to guide your instruction in the elements of rhetorical stance. Why not have your students describe the ideal world that they hope to live in as adults?

Form—Although the academic essay becomes the predominate form of composition beginning in the intermediate elementary years and continuing through college, facility in other writing forms is certainly necessary to develop voice, writing fluency, and writing dexterity. Additionally, writing practice using a variety of forms will improve reading comprehension across a wide variety of genres. Use a wide variety of form, from anecdotes to classified ads to help students adjust their writing form and voice to the purpose of the writing and their audience. Why not mimic the rhetorical style, including the parallel “I have a dream” refrains from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a two minute speech?

The writer of this blog, Mark Pennington, is an educational author of teaching resources to differentiate instruction in the fields of reading and English-language arts. Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies at

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How to Integrate Grammar and Writing Instruction

In my last article, I classified the chief divisions in grammatical instruction* as follows: 1. those who favor part to whole instruction and 2. those who prefer whole to part instruction. I argued that teachers need not accept an “either-or” philosophy of instruction, but can certainly be eclectic in their instructional strategies. Of course, kind and persistent readers of the Pennington Publishing Blog are naturally putting me to the test to flesh out how I balance instruction, using both forms of  those inductive and deductive instructional strategies.

Diagnostic Assessment and Differentiated Instruction

Teachers too often teach what some students do not know at the expense of some students who already know what is being taught. For example, students learn the definition and identification of a sentence subject over and over again from third through twelfth grade. Teachers legitimize this repeated instruction by arguing that learning is recursive and, thus, reviewing is necessary.

Instead of making excuses, teachers should address the problems inherent in a diverse classroom. Why not administer diagnostic assessments to determine who does and does not need extra instruction in sentence subjects? Then, use the data to inform and differentiate instruction. Targeted worksheets that correspond to the diagnostic assessment, as in my Teaching Grammar and Mechanics, with individual one-on-one follow-up conferences or in small group review just makes sense. How often and how much class time do I devote to grammar differentiation? Twice per week, 15 minutes per day.

Direct Instruction

Front-loading grammar and mechanics instruction is efficient and transfers to student writing when a teacher follows a coherent scope and sequence of instruction that builds upon previous instruction and writing practice. For example, here is a scope and sequence for teaching adverbs that builds in year-to-year review, and also helps students deepen their understanding of this part of speech to improve their writing:

  • Primary students should learn that an _ly word “talks about” a physical action verb and practice recognizing these words in their reading and adding _ly words to sentences.
  • Intermediate students should learn that an _ly word “talks about” a mental action (e.g. knows) or state of being (e.g. was) verb. They should also practice recognizing these words in their reading and adding _ly words to various places within sentences.
  • Upper elementary students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? and Where? to describe verbs and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs, including adverbial phrases, in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbs to various places within sentences and as transitions within paragraphs.
  • Middle school students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? Where? and What Degree? to modify verbs and adverbs and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbial phrases and clauses to various places within sentences and as transitions within and between paragraphs.
  • High school students should learn that adverbs ask How? When? Where? and What Degree? to modify verbs, adverbs, and adjectives and practice recognizing all forms of adverbs in their reading. They should also practice adding adverbial phrases and clauses to provide sentence variety to various places within sentences and as transitions within and between paragraphs. Students should also practice elements of style, such as placing shorter adverbs before longer adverbs and placing general adverbs before specific adverbs within sentences. Students should also contrast comparative adjectives and adverbial phrases, identify dangling modifiers, and practice recognition and revision of these errors for SAT/ACT test preparation practice.

Sentence modeling from exemplary student writing and literature should be examined and emulated in brief student writing exercises with direct instructional feedback. Alongside of sentence models, contrasting sentences with writing errors should also be analyzed, but not in the context of an incoherent, scatter-gun D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) “program.” Download an example of my Sentence Lifting exercise at  Grammar Openers Toolkit Sampler to see how this direct instruction approach integrates grammar and mechanics instruction within the context of real writing. My Teaching Grammar and Mechanics curriculum has 64 Sentence Lifting lessons with multiple instruction layers of instruction (as in the adverb example above) to provide the teacher with resources that reflect leveled degrees of difficulty. How often and how much class time do I devote to direct grammar and mechanics instruction? Three times per week, 15-20 minutes per day.

Writing Strategies

Teachers should practice sentence manipulation and sentence combining. For example, re-writing subject-verb-complement sentence construction to begin with complex sentences, such as with adverbial clause sentence openers is excellent practice. I use Sentence Revision exercises such as in the Writing Openers Toolkit Sampler from my Teaching Essay Strategies curriculum to help students practice sentence construction and revision. Sentence Revision also provides exercises in writing style. How often and how much class time do I devote to Sentence Revision? Three times per week, 10 minutes per day.

Writing Process

I require students to include specific sentence openers that we have practiced within their writing process pieces. Students re-write sentences to reflect their practice within the revision stage of the writing process. Peer editing focuses on the specific grammar and mechanics that we have been learning in our Sentence Lifting and Sentence Revision lessons.

Here are brief overviews of the two curricular sources described above: Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies. Find whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessments with 72 targeted worksheets to differentiate instruction based upon these assessments and a full year of 15-minute Sentence Llifting lessons with standards-based mechanics, spelling, and grammar skills in Teaching Grammar and Mechanics. Download free previews or purchase on my website.

*By grammatical instruction, I refer to usage, word choice, grammar, syntax, punctuation, capitalization, spelling rules, and the like, as most teachers tend to lump together these writing skills.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics

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The Great Grammar Debate

Although not as contentious as the debate on how to teach children to read, the debate on how to teach grammar* has its moments. In fact, elements of the reading and grammar debate do have similarities regarding how language is transmitted.

The lines of division within reading have been drawn between those who favor part to whole graphophonic (phonics-based) instruction and those who prefer whole to part (whole language) instruction. (Check out my blog on the Reading Wars to get up to speed on the current issues in this debate.) Similarly, the divisions within grammar have also been drawn between those who favor part to whole instruction and those who prefer whole to part instruction. By the way the writers of the Common Core State Standards certainly have made up their minds. Guess which side they favor.

Part to Whole

The essence of part to whole grammatical instruction is the inductive approach. Advocates believe that front-loading the discrete parts of language will best enable students to apply these parts to the whole process of writing. Following are the key components of this inductive approach.

1. Memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar to provide a common language of instruction. If a teacher says, “Notice how the author’s use of the adverb at the start of the verse emphasizes how the old woman walks.” Some would carry the memorization further than others: “Notice how the author’s use of the past perfect progressive indicates a continuous action completed at some time in the past.”

2. Identification leads to application. If students can readily identify discrete elements of language, say prepositional phrases, they will more likely be able to replicate and manipulate these grammatical constructions in their own writing. A teacher might suggest, “Let’s add to our sentence variety in this essay by re-ordering one of the sentences to begin with a prepositional phrase like this one shown on the LCD projector.”

3. Focus on the rules of grammar leads to application. If students understand and practice the grammatical rules and their exceptions, they will more likely be able to write with fewer errors. Knowing the rule that a subject case pronoun follows a “to-be” verb will help a student avoid saying or writing “It is me,” instead of the correct construction “It is I.” Some advocate teaching to a planned grammatical scope and sequence; others favor a shotgun approach as with D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) instruction.

4. Distrust one’s own oral language as a grammatical filter. “Whoever John gives the ring to will complain” sounds correct, but “To whomever John gives the ring, he or she will complain” is correct. Knowing pronoun case and the proper use of prepositions will override the colloquialisms of oral language.

5. Teaching the components of sentence construction leads to application. If students know, can identify, and can apply key elements of a sentence: subjects, predicates, parts of speech, phrases, and clauses they will better be able to write complete sentences which fit in with others to form unified and coherent paragraphs.

Whole to Part

The essence of whole to part grammatical instruction is the deductive approach. Advocates believe that back-loading the discrete parts of language as is determined by needs of the writing task will best enable students to write fluently and meaningfully. Following are the key components of this deductive approach.

1. Memorization of the key terminology and definitions of grammar and identification of grammatical components, other than a few basics such as the parts of speech, subjects, and predicates, does not improve writing and speaking. In fact, teaching grammatical terms and indentifying these elements is reductive. The cost-benefit analysis indicates that more time spent on student writing and less time on direct grammatical instruction produces a better pay-off.

2. Connection to oral language is essential to fluent and effective writing. The students’ abilities to translate the voice of oral language to paper help writers to develop a natural and authentic voice that connects with the reader in an unstilted manner that is not perceived as contrived. A teacher might use mini-lessons to discuss how to code-switch from less formal oral language to more formal written language, say in an essay. For example, a teacher might suggest replacing the fragment slang “She always in his business” to “The couple frequently engages in a physical relationship” in an essay on teen dating.

3. Connection to reading and listening provides the models that students need to mimic and revise to develop their own writing style. Reading and listening to a wide variety of exemplary literature, poetry, and speeches will build a natural feel for the language that students place within their own “writing wells.” Students are able to draw from these wells to write effectively (and correctly) for a variety of writing tasks.

4. Minimizing error analysis. Teachers believe most grammatical errors will naturally decrease with  #2 and #3 in place. A teacher might say, “Don’t worry about your grammar, punctuation, or spelling on your rough draft. Focus now on saying what you want to say. We will worry about how you say it in the revision and editing stages.” Teachers are concerned that too much error analysis, such as practiced in D.O.L. (Daily Oral Language) will actually rehearse errors.

5. Teaching the whole paragraph with a focus on coherence will best enable students to apply the discreet parts such as subjects, predicates, parts of speech, phrases, clauses, sentences, and transitions to say something meaningful.

Of course, the Great Grammar Debate is not necessarily “either-or.” Most teachers apply bits and pieces of each approach to teaching grammar. Teachers who lean toward the inductive approach are usually identified by their “drill and kill” worksheets, their grammatical terms posters, and Grammar Girl listed and Purdue University’s OWL prominently in their Favorites. Teachers who lean toward the deductive approach are often pegged by their “ignore and write more” writers workshops, mini-lessons (if they ever get to these), and their writing process posters prominently display on the wall, next to their autographed picture of Donald Graves.

My take? I suggest an informed instructional balance of the two approaches is most effective. Using effective diagnostic assessments can narrow the focus and time commitment of the inductive crowd. Well-planned front-loading of key grammatical terms, with identification and application practice can transfer to better student writing without having to wait until the process of writing osmosis magically takes place.


The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 programs to teach the Common Core Language Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics and include sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) program.

The author also provides these curricular “slices” of the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) “pie”: the five Common Core Vocabulary Toolkits Grades 4−8; the five Differentiated Spelling Instruction Grades 4−8 programs (digital formats only); and the non-grade-leveled Teaching Grammar and Mechanics with engaging grammar cartoons (available in print and digital formats).

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)
Grades 4-8 Programs

* For the purposes of this article, I use the term grammar as is colloquially used by most teachers, i.e. to mean syntax, grammar, word choice, usage, punctuation, and even spelling—a catch-all term that most English language-arts teachers use to describe the “stuff” that we “have to , but don’t want to” teach. For the “nuts and bolts” of instruction, knowledge of the above distinctions is useful; however, for the purposes of discussing the two philosophical approaches to teaching grammar, such fine-tuning of terms is not necessitated.

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How to Teach a Write Aloud

Writing is a complicated thinking process. It requires an enormous amount of multi-tasking, problem-solving, interactivity, and creativity. There is science to effective writing, but there is also art. Unlike reading, which provides the author component of the dialog between reader and text, writing requires the thinker to generate both sides of the dialog. The writer must create the content and anticipate the reader response. Like reading, writing is chiefly learned through direct instruction, modeling, and practice.

Of the three instructional components necessary for effective writing instruction (direct instruction, modeling, and practice), the Write Aloud strategy focuses on the modeling component. In essence, the teacher shows students how he or she composes by thinking out loud and writing out that process so that students can think along with the writer. The Write Aloud is also referred to as “Modeled Writing.”

Writing is certainly not a natural process. Developing writers do not have a priori understanding about how to compose. Thus, teachers play a crucial role in helping to develop good writers.

Teaching students to carry on an internal dialog with their anticipated readers while they write is vitally important. “Talking to the reader” significantly increases writing coherency. Placing the emphasis on writing as the reader will read that writing also helps the writer determine the structure of that writing and so unify the whole.

Good writers are adept at practicing many metacognitive strategies.  That’s a big word that means “thinking about thinking.”  Students who practice these self-monitoring strategies develop better writing fluency those who do not.

Write Aloud Sample Lesson

1. Select a short, high interest section of dialog from a story familiar to all students. The dialog will help students understand the interactive components of the Write Aloud strategy. Post the dialog on the board, Smartboard®, or overhead projector. Write this brief prompt, or one of your own, below the dialog: “Analyze the character development in ___________.”

2. Tell them that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, as you read the brief dialog from ____________, and that they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during your reading. Read the short dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about the plot context and what and why the characters are saying what they say. Focus on comprehension, not character development for your first read.

3. After reading, ask students if they think they understood the text better because of your verbalized thoughts than just by passively reading without active thoughts. Their answer will be “Yes,” if you have read effectively. Quickly remind students to listen well and not to interrupt.

4. Tell students that they are now going to learn an important thinking strategy, and that they will listen to your thoughts as an experienced writer. Tell them that your thoughts will not be the same thoughts as theirs. Explain that learning how to think is the focus of this activity, not what to think. Tell them that they can improve the ways in which they think.

5. Tell students that you are going to brainstorm ideas for a character analysis essay during your Write Aloud. Point to the word brainstorm on your Writing Process charts and tell students that you are only going Write Aloud this one part of the process. Remind students that they are to listen to your thoughts carefully, but they are not allowed to interrupt with questions during the activity.

6. Now, read the prompt out loud and define analyze as “to break apart the subject and to explain each part” as if you are reminding yourself of the definition. Re-read the dialog out loud and interrupt the reading frequently with concise comments about how the characters are saying what they say. Write down your comments below the dialog in a graphic organizer. Explain that you are going to use a mapping, a.k.a. bubble cluster, graphic organizer to brainstorm your ideas because it will help you organize your thoughts and allow you to add on new ones as you think of them. Focus your comments (and writing) on these four components: character personalities, descriptions, motives, and author word choice. Ask if the organization and comments will make sense to the reader. Don’t ramble on with personal anecdotes. Comment much more on the text than on your personal connection with the text.

7. After reading, ask students if listening to you think and watching you write down your thoughts helped them understand how the characters are saying what they say. Their answer will be “Yes.” Ask students to repeat what you said that most helped them understand your thinking process. Ask students how they would think differently about what to write, if they were teaching the Write Aloud.

8. Post two new dialogs on the board, Smartboard®, or overhead projector with the same prompt as above.

9. Group students into pairs and have students practice their own Write Alouds, using the two dialogs. This can get quite noisy, so establish your expectations and remind students that they will be turning in their graphic organizers.

10. Repeat the Write Aloud procedure often with different components of the Writing Process, with or without different prompts, and with different writing tasks or genre.

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies at

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Process vs. On Demand Writing

Writing research has shown that one key ingredient to writing success is time. Developing writers need time to learn the writing craft, time to research/brainstorm, time to draft, and time to revise. However, ironically, time may in-it-of-itself be the greatest impediment standing in the way of writing profiency and fluency for many of our students.

Since the return of phonics-based reading instruction in the 1990s, elementary teachers have had to allocate more instructional time to direct instruction. With greater diversity in most states, more pressure to differentiate instruction in reading has compounded the problem of instructional minutes at all grade levels. Science, art, social studies, physical education, music, and writing have become the casualties of this time-theft.

The advent of timed writings on high stakes tests, such as the new SAT 1, high school exit exams, and standards-based writing assessments, has placed teachers in the difficult position of choosing among three instructional approaches to help students both learn to write and succeed on these tests with no additional time allocated for writing instruction. The three approaches are 1. process writing 2. on demand writing and 3. a mix of the two.

Advocates of the process writing approach (Six Traits, National Writing Project, Writers Workshop, etc.) argue that frequent practice in all phases of the writing process i.e., research/brainstorming, drafting, revision, editing, and publishing best helps writers develop writing fluency and proficiency. Advocates of the on demand approach argue that the above components can be streamlined into an integrated process, which teaches the writer to concurrently multi-task the drafting, revision, and editing steps with the quick bookends of planning and proofreading. Those teachers trying to please both masters have limited their process pieces and upped the amount of on demand writing tasks when the standardized writing test looms on the horizon.

Process writing proponents tend to teach grammar and mechanics (punctuation, capitalization, and spelling) incidentally throughout the writing process or via targeted mini-lessons. On demand proponents tend to teach grammar and mechanics explicitly through an established instructional scope and sequence. Those who try to combine process and on demand writing wind up relegating most grammatical and mechanics instruction to test preparation out of sheer time constraints.

A brief readers theater (tongue firmly planted in cheek) may help teachers of all writing approaches greater appreciate the challenge of teaching writing today.

Narrator: Here is a familiar scene in the teachers’ workroom. Two teachers kill time while waiting in line for the laminating machine. Their subject of discourse: an ongoing discussion of Process Writing versus On Demand Writing.

Teacher 1: I can’t believe that Mildred accidentally threw out my Writing Process charts when she rotated off-track. I’ve got to get new ones laminated and back on the wall. I’m lost without them!

Teacher 2: Are you still using those dumb charts? I thought that you must have dumped them by now. The Writing Process is “old school.” We dropped that with whole language years ago. Get with the program! It’s On Demand Writing, now. Oh by the way, I put back your Lucy McCormick Calkins book in your box; I have enough paperweights for my desk, thank you.

Teacher 1: You and your on demand writing tasks… You’re not teaching—all you are really doing is testing. Are you still passing out those grammar worksheets for homework? Remember, the research about writing says—

Teacher 2: Don’t give me that research stuff—I know what works for my kids. My language expression scores on the state test were much higher than yours. You’re lucky you’ve got tenure.

Teacher 1: Even when I didn’t, I never kissed the principal’s butt like you do. And I don’t teach to the test, like you do. My kids are learning how to think. They are writing to learn. Who cares if they know their subjects and predicates!

Teacher 2: Kids are going to have to spell, punctuate, capitalize, and use grammar correctly if they want to make it in today’s world. They’ve still got to be able to write in those blue books in college for a timed one-hour exam. They can’t just pick their own writing subject and do multiple drafts for a mid-term. You really need to get a Red Bull® and wake up to the real world.

Teacher 1: In the real world, students need to have the brains to say something. Outside of school, people have time to revise and edit. They have the time to be reflective. That’s what real authors do… They don’t have someone forcing them to write to a contrived prompt and then hovering over them with a stupid yellow timer.

Teacher 2: Now, you’re getting personal. My aunt gave me that yellow timer… Who writes your paycheck? Last I checked it was the school district. All our principal cares about is higher test scores. If you can’t show it, they don’t know it!

Teacher 1: That’s not why I got into teaching. I want to develop the whole child and nurture a love for learning. I just completed a trimester-long unit on the Haiku and its place in Japanese society…You should come in and see our published poems on the wall. We used real 24 carat gold to highlight—

Teacher 2: I bet I could find some punctuation mistakes—you with your peer editing groups. Talk about the “blind leading the blind.” I have students write one paragraph each day in indelible ink—no changes. I time them and have their desk partners count how many words the student has written in the 10 minutes. It sure saves a lot of teacher grading time. All I have to do is record the number of words in my grade book program. I can show you huge gains in words per minute.

Find essay strategy worksheets, writing fluencies, sentence revision activities, remedial writing lessons, posters, and editing resources to differentiate essay writing instruction in Teaching Essay Strategies.

Pennington Publishing's Teaching Essay Strategies

Teaching Essay Strategies

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