Grades 6-8: What We Know About Writing, Key Ideas in Writing
"Adolescents entering the adult world will do more reading and writing tasks than at any other time in human history. They will need reading and writing to cope with the flood of information they will find about the world as it exists. They will also need to use literacy to feed their imaginations so that they can create the world of the future. In a complex, diverse, and sometimes even dangerous world, their ability to read is crucial, and, therefore, it is essential not only to help them survive, but also to help them thrive."
All students, whether proficient or struggling, expect the print in the world to make sense. Their efforts to read and write reflect the meaning they bring to their efforts.
The following ideas are adapted from: A Synthesis of Research on Writing in the Middle Grades Source: http://www.ncte.org/middle "Written language always occurs "in context" and includes the additional symbol systems of numbers, colors, movement and shape, as well as cultural markers." Students actively build a "repertoire of understanding" rich in print and cultural knowledge. Adolescent writing includes notes, lists, letters, journal writing, stories, web postings, and instant messaging. Effective teachers use the opportunity of natural communication within the social setting to lead students into more sophisticated written language. They tap into the diverse and rich experiences students have been building over their 10-14 years of life. What a student knows supports their writing development. Students do not learn written language in linear, discrete stages. Conventional forms in writing are developed by:
- devoting substantial time to writing,
- providing multiple opportunities to write across the school day and
- focused instruction that builds from the writers’ efforts.
Good writing is tied to reading development. Writers grow by being immersed in opportunities to read, write, and to look closely at examples by others. Each new type of writing means a student must learn new or different vocabulary, syntactical patterns, patterns of errors, and organizing structures. An accomplished writer of one form may seem to regress in his or her abilities when taking on a new form. "Students experienced with writing more than one draft of a paper, and students whose writing was saved in folders or portfolios, achieved higher average scores than their peers who did not write multiple drafts or save their writing." (findings of the NAEP 1998 Writing Report Card) Student achievement can be increased when students are:
- actively involved in the "writing process" (the strategic processes of drafting, prewriting, revising, and editing).
- mentored by teachers who write
- receive instruction that is targeted and applied within the context of meaningful writing
- assessed by a collection of examples of written work over time
Technology provides writers a tool in the composing process and equitable access is a key variable in student success with this tool.
- Students possess knowledge about written language and a variety of forms of writing; quality instruction reflects students’ experience and knowledge.
- All families and communities engage with literacy and literacy-related activity. Creating ways to bridge these activities and school writing experiences insures greater participation and success with school tasks.
- The "language arts" develop in concert. Drawing supports writing, writing supports reading; opportunity to use multiple expressions of language increases language learning and ability.
- Writing is a social activity; writing instruction should be embedded in social contexts. Students can take responsibility in shaping the classroom structures that facilitate their work.
- Language learning proceeds most successfully when students use language for meaningful purposes.
- Experience with a particular kind of writing is the best indicator of performance; extensive reading and writing within a particular genre or domain increases successful performance.
- Writing is effectively used as a tool for thinking and learning throughout the curriculum.
- Students’ writing and language use reflects the communities in which they participate. The differences in students’ ways of using language are directly related to the differentiation of their place in the social world. Language is a form of cultural capital and some forms of language have more power in society than other forms.
- Assessment that both benefits individual writers and their teachers’ instructional planning is embedded within curricular experiences and represented by collections of key pieces of writing created over time.
- Language skills conventions grammar, punctuation, spelling] are most successfully learned with a combination of carefully targeted lessons applied within the context of meaningful writing.
- Authors and teachers who write can offer valuable insights to students by mentoring them into process and making their own writing processes more visible.
- Technology provides writers the opportunity to create and present writing in new and increasingly flexible ways, particularly in combination with other media.
Middle School Students
Even when adolescents have mastered basic reading and writing they require support and learning opportunities that will enable them to grow into confident, independent readers and writers. Middle school students need:
- Access to a wide variety of reading material that appeals to their interests
- Instruction that builds the skill and desire to read increasingly complex materials
- Assessment that shows their strengths as well as their needs
- Expert teachers who model and provide explicit instruction across the curriculum
- Reading specialists who assist students having difficulty learning how to read
- Teachers who understand the complexities of individual adolescent readers
- Homes and communities that support the needs of adolescent learners
Source: ReadWriteThink, established in April of 2002, is a partnership between the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), and the MarcoPolo Education Foundation. http://www.readwritethink.org/
Ten Steps Middle School Leaders Can Take to Improve Literacy
The way to improve reading and writing achievement is to get students to read and write a great deal in all courses. School administrators should “lead the charge” in showing the importance of literacy. These 10 steps will help school leaders emphasize reading and writing:
- Offer staff development in reading and writing across the curriculum and provide follow-up to help teachers implement the new techniques.
- Ask teachers to include reading and writing strategies in every lesson plan. Monitor the plans and observe teachers as they implement strategies in the classroom.
- Get teachers to model reading and writing skills that contribute to higher student achievement in various subject areas. Teachers can demonstrate the strategies during a literacy segment at every faculty meeting.
- Develop a summer reading policy. Contact schools with successful programs.
- Require middle school students to read 30 books or their equivalent across the curriculum each year (Council for Basic Education’s recommendation)
- Ask teachers to include at least one essay question on every exam. Encourage teachers to use writing as a way for students to display their knowledge in all classes.
- Get language arts teachers to develop a school wide scoring guide that all teachers can use in grading students’ written work. Language arts teachers can show the other teachers how to use the guide.
- Ask each teacher to develop a plan to ensure that every student will write at least one research paper per year in each course.
- Show the importance of literacy. Ask teachers to post examples of quality writing and to model good reading practices. Get them to emphasize the value of literacy in the workplace.
- Recognize teachers and students who do quality reading and writing. Ask local businesses and organizations to present awards for excellence in literacy
Source: SREB’s school improvement initiatives are supported by state consortia; the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement; the Wallace-Reader’s Digest Funds; the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation; the Mott Foundation; and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
International studies show that U.S. readers get off to a fast start but the data indicate that the level of student literacy performance drops off in the middle and high school years. The reading, writing, and language development of adolescents is just as important and requires just as much attention as that of beginning readers.
- Few middle schools hire literacy specialists to help individual students.
- Teachers of all subjects need to become more effective teachers of reading and writing.
- Pre-service education courses do not sufficiently prepare high school teachers to respond to the literacy needs of adolescent learners.
- Funding for literacy in middle school drops off.
Therefore middle schools should:
- Develop a school-wide plan for literacy
- Interpret assessment data and make information available to teachers and school-based educators.
- Insure that writing instruction continues to be provided.
- Provide staff development opportunities for all staff in writing.
- Provide specialists who can assist both struggling students and teachers who provide the instruction in content areas.
- Develop an assessment plan that includes formative assessment
- Provide wide variety of print and non-print resources for all students, including material that appeals to linguistically and culturally diverse students.
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