People write for a variety of purposes—including recording, persuading, learning, communicating, entertaining, self-expression, and reflection—and proficiency in writing for one purpose does not necessarily generalize to writing for other purposes. In today’s world, proficiency requires developing skills in both traditional forms of writing and newer electronic and digital modes.
In the last three decades, much more has become known about the components and processes of writing and effective writing instruction. As with reading, most of this research comes from K-12 settings. Figure 2 shows the component skills and processes of writing. As depicted in the figure, a writer manages and orchestrates the application of
FIGURE 2: Component skills and processes of writing
a variety of basic writing skills, specialized writing knowledge, writing strategies, and motivational processes to create a text. How the writer applies and combines these skills and processes will vary depending on the writer’s task and goal.
Principles of Effective Writing Instruction
A number of principles for effective writing instruction are supported by research, although the body of research is smaller than for reading.
Explicitly and systematically teach the strategies, skills, and knowledge needed to be a proficient writer. Almost all of the effective writing practices that have been identified to date involve explicit instruction. These practices proved effective with a range of writers, from beginners to college students, as well as with those who had experienced difficulty in learning to write. What should be taught, however, depends on the writer’s developmental level, the skills he or she needs to develop for particular purposes, and the writing task. Instructors should model writing strategies and teach learners how to regulate their use of them—for example, how to monitor, evaluate, and adjust strategies as needed for particular tasks and goals.
Skilled writing requires planning and revising. Whereas children and adolescents spend very little time planning and revising, more accomplished writers such as college students spend about 50 percent of their writing time planning and revising text.
Combine explicit and systematic writing instruction with extended experience writing for a purpose. Learners need to devote considerable time to practicing writing for different purposes, such as recording (an event or idea), communicating, persuading, self-expression, and reflection, among others.
Explicitly teach foundational writing skills to the point that they become automatic. For skilled writers, spelling, handwriting, and keyboarding are mostly automatic. Individual differences in the attention given to handwriting and spelling predict writing achievement, even for college students. Thus, it is important that writers learn to execute these skills fluently and automatically, with little or no thought. When these skills are not automatic, as is the case for many developing and struggling writers, cognitive resources are not available for other important aspects of writing, such as planning, evaluating, and revising. Some aspects of writing, such as planning or sentence construction, require decisions and cannot become fully automatic, but they can be taught and practiced so they become fluent, flexible, and effectively used.
Structure the instructional environment and interactions to motivate writing practice and persistence in learning new forms of writing. A small number of experiments show practices that improve the quality of writing and that reasonably could affect motivation. These practices include setting clear goals for writing; encouraging students to help each other plan, draft, or revise; using self-assessment; and providing feedback on progress. Several studies with adolescent learners have demonstrated that praise, tangible rewards, or both can improve students’ writing skills.
Develop an integrated system of skills by using approaches that capitalize on the relationships between reading and writing. Reading and writing depend on similar knowledge and cognitive processes, so insights in one area can lead to insights in the other. Making this relationship explicit will aid learners’ skill development, contribute to their awareness about language, and enhance their retrieval of text forms and meanings. For example, spelling instruction deepens awareness of the correspondences between letters and speech sounds, enabling faster word reading.
Practices for Effective Writing Instruction
In addition to the principles of effective writing instruction, research has identified several key teaching practices to develop writing skills (listed roughly in order of effectiveness):
• Offer instruction in strategies for planning, revising, and editing compositions.
• Teach learners to summarize in writing the passages they have read.
• Enable the assistance of peers in planning, drafting, and revising compositions.
• Set clear goals for writing that are specific to the purpose and type of writing task.
• Have students regularly use computers (word processing) for writing instead of only pencil and paper.
• Offer instruction in combining short sentences into more complex ones. This practice usually includes exercises and application to real-world writing tasks.
• For intermediate writers, use process approaches to writing instruction that stress extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing. It is possible that process approaches could also be effective for beginning and weaker writers if augmented with explicit and systematic instruction to develop the essential writing knowledge, strategies, and skills these developing writers usually lack. As with other approaches, process approaches are more effective when instructors have been professionally trained in their use.
• Employ inquiry approaches to instruction that involve establishing clear goals, gathering and analyzing relevant information, using that information to structure and plan the writing task, and using writing strategies suited to the task.
• Teach prewriting activities, such as making lists or diagrams prior to writing, which help students generate relevant content and complete texts.
• Analyze models of good writing, such as discussing the features of good essays and learning to imitate those features.