Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of adolescents in middle and high schools
The Study Graham, S., & Perin, D. (2007). (Carnegie Corporation Report). Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education. Retrieved September 7, 2007, from http://www.all4ed.org/publications/ WritingNext/WritingNext.pdf
What does the research indicate concerning specific teaching techniques that will help adolescent students develop necessary writing skills?
Researchers set out to collect, categorize, and analyze experimental and quasi-experimental information on adolescent writing instruction in order to determine which elements of existing instructional methods are reported by research to be effective. The method used, known as meta-analysis, provides a quantitative measure of effectiveness using statistical analysis. One hundred forty- two scientific studies (including both learning-to-write and writing-to-learn) were examined. In each study, the performance of an experimental group was compared with the performance of a control group.
This report responds to the need for information on how to improve adolescent writing skills. The study builds upon previously published Reading Next results and highlights a number of key elements essential to improving the often- neglected component of literacy—writing. Graham and Perin believe that writing in general—and teaching writing skills to struggling adolescent learners in particular—has not received enough attention by researchers and educators. Graham and Perin argue that for the 21st century, “writing well is not just an option for young people—it is a necessity” (p. 3). The authors offer the following statistics for consideration:
- 70 percent of students in Grades 4–12 are considered low-achieving writers.
- College instructors estimate that 50 percent of high school graduates are not prepared for college-level writing.
- 35 percent of high school graduates in college and 38 percent of high school graduates in the workforce believe that their writing does not meet expectations of quality.
- About half of private employers and more than 60 percent of state government employers state that writing skills impact promotion decisions.
- Poorly written applications are likely to doom candidates’ chances for employment.
The particular strength of this study is its use of meta- analysis, which allows researchers to determine the strength and consistency of the effects of different instructional practices on the quality of student writing. Graham and Perin gathered and grouped the research and sorted it by effect size. An effect size is a way to judge the differences between two groups. In this study, the different effects of instructional strategies could be tabulated and compared for a treatment group (students who received a writing intervention) and a control group (students who did not receive an intervention). The effect size then is representative of the power, or strength, of the intervention in producing improved writing quality in adolescents. Following is a listing of the eleven writing interventions Graham and Perin found to be effective, listed in order from greatest positive effect on quality student writing to the smallest effect size considered important in the analysis.
- Writing strategies
- Collaborative writing
- Specific product goals
- Word processing
- Sentence combining
- Inquiry activities
- Process writing approach
- Study of models
- Writing for content learning
Greater detail on each of these approaches is provided in the following section; however, it is important to note that these interventions should be used together in what Graham and Perin call an “optimal mix” in order to have the greatest effect (p. 11). The optimal mix is not a specific prescription, but one that the school administrators and teachers need to discover based on student response and classroom culture. Analogous to medical treatment, Graham and Perin note that “educators need to test mixes of intervention elements to find the ones that work best for students with different needs” (p.12). In addition, it is important to note that although all of the elements are supported by rigorous research, even when used together in an optimal mix, they do not constitute a full writing curriculum. This research does not serve as a magic bullet but as a menu of options that can offer a road to improving literacy through enhanced writing.
Reprinted with the permission of the Center for Comprehensive School Reform and Improvement. © 2008 Learning Point Associates. All rights reserved.
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