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Mass Literacy

Writing Craft: What Is This and Why Does It Matter?

Craft refers to "the artistic skill or technique with which an author puts together narrative and other elements in order to convey meaning and produce effect" (Massachusetts 2017 English Language Arts and Literacy Framework ).

Students need explicit instruction, practice, and feedback in the techniques of writing craft in grades K-3 in order to become proficient writers. Skill with writing craft can be learned and students can blossom as writers with instruction, practice, and feedback. In the Massachusetts 2017 English Language Arts and Literacy Framework , Writing standards 1–3 for each grade level articulate expectations for techniques of writing narrative, informational, and opinion/argument texts. "Examples of good writing and techniques for writing in specific genres can help students write more effectively for different purposes and audiences" (Graham et al., 2018 ).

Culturally Responsive Practice and Writing Craft

Student agency and choice is an element of a culturally responsive learning environment. Allowing students to make some decisions about their own learning has benefits for all students in terms of engagement and motivation (see Universal Design for Learning: Optimize Individual Choice and Autonomy for more information) as well as development in writing (Graham et al., 2012). Supporting students to select and develop ideas, topics, or styles of writing that they find relevant is essential to the ultimate purpose of writing instruction: equipping and empowering students to communicate their own ideas through writing.

Writing craft is a natural place to emphasize student choice. When students engage in authentic writing, they make substantive choices about their writing and the writing becomes meaningful and purposeful. Depending on the purpose and structure of the task as designed by the teacher, students may have the opportunity to choose their piece's genre or purpose; the topic or subject of their piece; and/or their intended audience and the techniques they will employ to reach the desired effect. According to the Institute for Education Sciences Practice Guide for Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers, "prompts enable teachers to emphasize specific content standards as well as promote engagement and community-building" (Graham et al., 2018).

One meaningful way to approach this is through connecting with student's cultural knowledge and traditions. Incorporating storytelling traditions from student's families, backgrounds, and communities and connecting with these traditions and practices to "tell personal stories, pass along history, raise consciousness, and make sense of their lives" supports relevance, empowerment, and connection for students (Flores, 2021.) Further supports for such connection, affirmation, and exploration include the use of oral histories, folklore, and including families and community in writing instruction (Flores, 2021).

Strong mentor texts from which students can model their writing are important as well. The complex texts used within comprehension and language development lessons can also be used to support and model strong writing instruction. Colorin Colorado provides resources for culturally responsive writing instruction and how using diverse books can support students' writing across genres.

Research-Based Instruction to Support Students with Writing Craft

"Techniques [that are specific to a purpose of writing] should be taught explicitly and directly through a gradual release of responsibility from teacher to student until students are able to apply the techniques independently. Teachers should describe the technique, articulate how it relates to specific writing purposes, and model its use" (Graham et al., 2018).

Building upon explicit instruction that uses a gradual release model, opportunities for independent writing with feedback are necessary. Revision, an essential step of the writing process for more extended writing tasks, is based upon the writer's own reflection on their writing as well as feedback from readers. "Students need to know whether their writing is accurately and appropriately conveying its message. One way students can determine this is by sharing their writing and responding to written and verbal feedback from the teacher and their peers" (Graham et al., 2018 ).

Leveraging Linguistic Assets for Multilingual Learners

English learners must have equal opportunity to meaningfully participate in all literacy instruction. The WIDA Can Do Descriptors and 2020 ELD Standards Framework highlight what language learners can do at various stages of language development and help educators plan for instruction that fosters high expectations and equity of access for ELs. For additional information, see this set of Five Instructional Practices and Instructional Strategies for Centering MLLs in Early Literacy Instruction (Instruction Partners).

  • Until basic reading skills become more automatic, ELs may not notice subtle elements of author's craft (Graham et al., 2018 ). Explicit instruction and modeling of author's craft alongside strong vocabulary development is supportive for students' growth in this area.
  • Engage ELs in observing and participating in the teacher's composing processes to gain insight into the many aspects of writing. ELs are fully capable of strong content knowledge and ideas and need explicit modeling with syntax, vocabulary, and techniques of writing.

Supports for English Learners

  • Plan for additional processing time when students are writing.
  • Use language-based supports such as graphic organizers, templates, and sentence starters when and where students need them to plan and start their writing (Kim et al., 2011).
  • Prior to a writing task, review target academic vocabulary that students should use as well as relevant transition and linking phrases (Kim et al., 2011).
  • Configure students in small groups or pairs to provide opportunities for working and talking together about their writing (Baker et al., 2014 ).
  • Assess students' writing on an ongoing basis to determine areas that should be the focus of classroom writing instruction (Kim et al., 2011).
  • Provide a visual context for writing by having students draw a picture before they write.

Sources of Information for Educators: Writing Craft

Baker, S., Lesaux, N., Jayanthi, M., Dimino, J., Proctor, C. P., Morris, J., Gersten, R., Haymond, K., Kieffer, M. J., Linan-Thompson, S., & Newman-Gonchar, R. (2014). Teaching academic content and literacy to English learners in elementary and middle school (NCEE 2014-4012). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Flores, T. (2021). Using diverse books to support writing instruction.

Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D'Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., & Olinghouse, N. (2012). Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice guide (NCEE 2012-4058). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Kim, J., Olson, C. B., Scarcella, R., Kramer, J., Pearson, M., van Dyk, D., … Land, R. (2011). A randomized experiment of a cognitive strategies approach to text-based analytical writing for mainstreamed Latino English language learners in grades 6 to 12. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 4(3), 231–263. doi:10.1080/19345747.20 10.523513

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Last Updated: September 7, 2022

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