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Mass Literacy

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

Components of the writing process include planning, drafting, sharing, revising, editing, evaluating, and, for some writing pieces, publishing (Graham et al., 2018 ).

Writers write to communicate thoughts and ideas. Writing is a complex and self-directed activity, driven by the goals writers set for what they want to convey and the audience(s) for whom they are writing. "To meet these goals, writers must skillfully and flexibly coordinate their writing process from conception to the completion of a text" (Graham et al. 2018 ).

"Writing requires flexibility and change. Once students have acquired a set of strategies to carry out the components of the writing process, they need to be purposeful in selecting strategies that help them meet their writing goals. They also need to learn to apply these strategies in a flexible manner, moving back and forth between different components of the writing process as they develop text and think critically about their writing goals. For example, plans and already written text may need to be revised and edited numerous times to communicate more effectively" (Graham et al., 2018 ).

Culturally Responsive Practice and the Writing Process

In teaching writing and other literacy elements to young children, effective feedback is essential. Effective feedback can motivate and support student learning when a trusted teacher helps a student see exactly what they have done well and coaches them to improve their writing. However, feedback can also be demotivating and counterproductive when the recipient suspects the teacher of "indifference, antipathy, or bias" (Yaeger et al., 2014). According to Yaeger et al. (2014), Black and Latino adolescents tend to experience higher feelings of mistrust in school; this may be due to stereotype threat and/or to real bias and discrimination that they have experienced throughout their years in school.

Corrective feedback does not have to be discouraging; it can be delivered in a way that extends trust and support. The researchers describe "wise feedback," which provides honest critique alongside support and encouragement. Specifically, wise feedback:

  • Communicates the teacher's high expectations,
  • Assures a student that he or she has the potential to reach these high expectations,
  • Provides substantive help and support for the student to reach the expectations demanded of them.

Zaretta Hammond describes wise feedback as one aspect of a "learning partnership" between student and teacher, characterized by shared goals and consistent support (Hammond, 2013). In studies with older children, this type of feedback has translated to higher-quality student writing, and an improvement in students' level of trust (Yaeger et al., 2014). Teachers of younger children should similarly provide culturally and linguistically diverse students the corrective feedback necessary for them to make progress, in a way that reflects genuine encouragement and support. If students know they will receive adequate support to be successful with writing assignments, feel writing is exciting and important, and believe that their teachers and peers value their writing contributions, they are more likely to be motivated to write (Troia, 2014).

Research-Based Instruction to Support Students with the Writing Process

To develop into proficient young adult writers, students need to learn a process for writing which often includes drafting, revising, and editing. Crucially, over time students need to learn how to move themselves through this process without teachers orchestrating each step, and they also need to know that the writing process is recursive and not linear. Thus, learning to write involves learning techniques for various modes of writing, but also mastering the writing process itself, and how to independently use that process. Students need explicit instruction and practice in strategies for each stage of the writing process in grades K–3 in order to become proficient writers.

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) is a particularly strong approach that embeds many of the evidence-based practices recommended in the Institute of Education Science Practice Guide: Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers. SRSD is a six- step instructional approach to writing that can be used with elementary grade students and in a range of settings, from one-on-one to whole group. Studies of instruction using the SRSD model "showed uniformly positive effects on writing outcomes, including overall writing quality" (Tracy, et al., 2009). Specifically, the six steps of SRSD include:

  • Developing and activating background knowledge
  • Discussion
  • Modeling
  • Memorization
  • Use of supports
  • Independent performance (from SRSD Writing to Learn)

The SRSD approach builds upon the gradual release model and additionally supports students through an ongoing and recursive writing process that includes evidence-based practices such as teacher modeling, direct instruction from the teacher, knowledge building around writing genre and vocabulary, opportunities for student-to-student collaboration, and the use of graphic organizers for planning writing, and memory aids to support independent practice.

Learn more about SRSD

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).

  • 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 on varied aspects of 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 Process

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.

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.

Hammond. Z. (2013). Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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.

Tracy, B., Reid, R., & Graham, S. (2009). Teaching young students strategies for planning and drafting stories: The impact of self-regulated strategy development. Journal of Educational Research, 102(5), 323–331.

Troia, G. (2014). Evidence-based practices for writing instruction (Document No. IC-5). Retrieved from University of Florida, Collaboration for Effective Educator, Development, Accountability, and Reform Center website. Yeager, D. S., Purdie-Vaughns, V., Garcia, J., Apfel, N., Brzustoski, P., Master, A., Hessert, W. T., Williams, M. E., & Cohen, G. L. (2014). Breaking the cycle of mistrust: Wise interventions to provide critical feedback across the racial divide. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143(2), 804–824.

Last Updated: December 2, 2022

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