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The Science of Writing: Where to Begin

So much has been researched and written on the topic of research-based strategies for reading, but writing is an area where there has not been a lot of research.There are many methods, strategies, and practices that are useful and several books have been written on the topic.  If you are looking for a place to start, I recommend picking up The Writing Revolution (Hochman and Wexler) and Writing Matters (Van Cleave) for assistance in best practices and strategies.
I know that writing is an area that was my weakest when I first started teaching 14 years ago. My first year of teaching, I dug deep into our curriculum and realized there was not a lot of information provided on how to teach the writing structures for each writing genre. Thankfully, my district provided teachers with writing rubrics. Those were SO helpful as I at least had a goal so I knew where my students were expected to be by the end of the school year.
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If you are struggling to teach writing, I recommend checking out your school district’s rubrics if they provide them.  Below is a list of ideas that will help you get started rocking your writing instruction.

Start by reviewing the CCSS for your grade level and backwards planning from the end of year expectations.

For those of you looking for some help, here are just a few drops of information along with scaffolds and strategies to use with struggling writers.
Before you start teaching writing, identify the writing skills along with the structure for the genre of writing your student/child needs support with. These could be two different things (i.e. capitalization, punctuation, sentence structure, etc. vs. introduction, details, and conclusion). These skills will need to be explicitly taught using a variety of strategies.
  1. Model Good Writing: Show your students what good writing looks like. Share examples of well-written pieces and explain why they are effective.
  2. Break the Process Down / Scaffold: Writing can be overwhelming for students. Break down the process into smaller, manageable steps. Teach students how to brainstorm, organize their thoughts, and write a rough draft before editing and revising.
  3. Use Sentence Frames: Sentence frames are a great way to support students who are struggling with sentence structure or grammar. They provide a scaffold for students to build their sentences around. A word of caution: this should be used sparingly as students are building language.  We do not want them to become dependent upon the sentence frame.
  4. Use Graphic Organizers: Graphic organizers are a great tool for helping students plan and organize their thoughts and ideas. They can be used for pre-writing activities, outlining, and even as a tool for revision.
  5. Provide Teacher Feedback: Give students specific feedback on their writing. Start by offering praise as that is essential for building confidence and motivating learners to continue honing their skills. Point out areas where they can improve and give them suggestions for how to make those improvements.
  6. Differentiate Instruction: Not all students learn at the same pace or in the same way. Differentiate your instruction by providing support to struggling writers, such as extra one-on-one help, additional practice, or alternative assignments.
  7. Encourage Collaboration: Writing can be a lonely process, but it doesn’t have to be. Encourage students to work together in pairs or small groups to brainstorm, edit, and revise their writing.
  8. Use Technology: Technology can be a great tool for struggling writers. Consider using voice-to-text software to help students who struggle with typing or use grammar and spell-check tools to help with editing.
  9. Use Oral Language: Encourage students/children to first say their sentence before putting words to paper. This will help students make a connection between speaking and writing, which builds on their knowledge and understanding of sentence structure. After writing, students may read their writing out loud to themselves or a partner to catch errors and make revisions.
  10. Celebrate Success: When students make progress in their writing, celebrate their success. Praise their efforts, acknowledge their hard work, and share their writing with the class.
  11. Practice, Provide Feedback, Practice, Reteach: Writing, like any other skill, takes practice. Encourage students to write regularly, even if it’s just a few sentences a day. The more they write, the better they will become.
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Writing is a BIG process with many parts. It takes time to create competent writers so be patient and trust the process.

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