Tag Archives: Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing

Writing is Embedded

Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing, written by a committee of the NCTE Executive Committee, pinpoints 10 key issues in the effective teaching of writing. Over the next few weeks, we will unpack each one. This week, we will look at:

“Writing is embedded in complex social relationships and their appropriate languages.”

The teaching of writing should assume students will begin with the sort of language with which they are most at home and most fluent in their speech. That language may be a dialect of English, or even a different language altogether. The goal is not to leave students where they are, however, but to move them toward greater flexibility, so that they can write for wider audiences. Read more from NCTE and ReadWriteThink.org about contexts of language.

“Codeswitching: Tools of Language and Culture Transform the Dialectally Diverse Classroom” shows how to affirm and draw on the dialect diversity of students to foster the learning of Standard English. Based on insights from applied linguistics, an elementary teacher and university professor show that when African American students write “My goldfish name is Scaley” or “I have two dog and two cat,” they are not making mistakes in Standard English. Read more in this related text.

Great Expectations is rich in dialogue and in the dialect of the working class and the poor of Victorian England. What does Dickens reveal about his characters using dialect? Read more in “Dialect Detectives: Exploring Dialect in Great Expectations”.

Students explore the idea of “different Englishes” by reading Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue” and writing literacy narratives about their own use of different language for different audiences and purposes in this lesson plan from ReadWriteThink.org.

Honoring students’ home dialect is a complex task when preparing them to take state writing tests that require the use of Standard English. Working with students who had failed the test and were in danger of not receiving a diploma, the author of “Honoring Dialect and Culture: Pathways to Student Success on High-Stakes Writing Assessments” created a supportive learning environment in which students could develop linguistic and mechanical fluency.

How do you use the NCTE Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing in your classroom?

Writing Grows Out of Many Purposes

Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing, written by a committee of the NCTE Executive Committee, pinpoints 10 key issues in the effective teaching of writing. Over the next few weeks, we will unpack each one. This week, we will look at:

“Writing grows out of many different purposes.”

Writing is not just one thing. It varies in form, structure, and production process according to its audience and purpose. It’s important that our students see the wide range of purposes for which people write, and the forms of writing that arise from those purposes like lab reports, history papers, essay exams, or literary interpretations. Learn more with these resources from NCTE.

Using the Writer’s Notebook in Grades 3-8: A Teacher’s Guide, written by Janet Elliott, provides practical ideas, assignments, and examples of student writing. This book offers a vision of what is possible for young writers—both in writing across the curriculum and in writing workshop.

In a follow up to the May 2009 issue of English Journal, an analysis of the changes in the teaching of writing is detailed. Visits to 260 English, math, social studies, and science classrooms in 20 middle schools and high schools in five states, plus interviews with 220 teachers and administrators, and with 138 students in these schools, and a national survey of 1520 randomly selected teachers are shared in “A Snapshot of Writing Instruction in Middle Schools and High Schools.”

In the final entry in the English Journal column “Innovative Writing Instruction” entitled “When It Happens ‘Across’: Writing as Transformative and Expansive” the author asks the questions: Who teaches and does not teach writing, and why? How can the teaching and doing of writing across the entire curriculum help our students and us better transact within the world? Read the column to learn more.

In Everyday Genres: Writing Assignments across the Disciplines, the author analyzes the common assignments given to writing students in the college classroom, and investigates how new writers and expert readers respond to a variety of types of coursework in different fields. Listen to an interview with author Mary Soliday!

The authors of the College Composition and Communication article “Writing in High School/Writing in College: Research Trends and Future Directions” offers a complex understanding of writing practices at the high school and college level. The researchers are gathered both direct and indirect evidence of how high school and college students and faculty experience writing instruction across the curriculum.

How do you use the NCTE Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing in your classroom?

Methods, Non-methods?

This post is written by James Davis, NCTE’s P12 policy analyst from Iowa.

JamesDavis1At the 2015 NCTE Annual Convention in Minneapolis, immediately after a morning session on writing for the Conference on English Education’s Writers Who Care blog, I ran into a former student. Reminded that I had not worked with him in the Teaching Writing methods course (which I usually teach), I asked Brian about how our work in Creative Nonfiction contributed to his teacher preparation. I found his initial response intriguing: “It was a major source of mentor texts – my own writing – to use with my high school students.” We discussed instructor and peer responses to his drafts and subsequent revisions polishing those texts he now uses as “mentors”; these responses and workshop practices contributed to his current practices and allow him to share the processes behind mentor texts. Our use of nonfiction readings in the course, which deliberately expands students’ awareness of a less familiar genre, reinforced the potential of using reading to fuel writing, including in a writing workshop – timely for him, considering the recent emphasis on including nonfiction in secondary schools. Experiences in and products from this non-methods course enrich the apprenticeships into which Brian can and does invite his students.

Three weeks later I met with English teaching majors who had attended the NCTE Convention, in part to encourage them to write for the CEE blog, especially about the convention experience as part of their teacher preparation journey. I shared points from the chat with Brian. One student leader pointed to her Creative Nonfiction course portfolio as pivotal, coming as it did at a crucial decision point in her career and enabling her to process her choices through writing. Her writer’s notebook, started in Creative Nonfiction and continued daily for more than a year now, along with posts on the course eLearning site contributed greatly to her sense of self as a writer, a characteristic we should encourage in each of our English teaching candidates. Others among the five students in this course echoed the importance of the relationships they developed with writing itself, and with a writing group, as preparatory to becoming teachers, integrating a growth mindset into their sense of teacher-as-writer. They were also transitioning into an understanding of writing-as-teacher in field experiences, initially through reflections on practices observed and applied, but also through recognizing larger arenas of school practice and policy in need of teacher attention, even advocacy. Some students appreciated seeing “bumps” in our workshops and how I addressed them, such as peers not preparing for response sessions or responding in ways inconsistent with the spirit of the workshop – or not responding at all, including the reflective postings expected on eLearning. One referred to these frustrations as offering “advanced experience” with workshop pedagogy.JamesDavis2

Such discussions with fine future teachers provoke questions, especially since our secondary English teacher preparation occurs in an English department in a college of humanities, arts, and sciences in a medium-size regional university with a prominent state service mission. We often seem to interface awkwardly with the College of Education preparation our students report. We know future teachers critique, at least silently, the pedagogy they experience in their preparation program; they also scrutinize practices encountered in courses in their disciplines. That “teachers teach as they were taught, not as they were taught to teach” has long held some currency, so perhaps we should ask some questions more publicly. For example:

  • What fit might we expect—or fear—between college literature course pedagogy and the experiences that middle and high school students have with literature?
  • What kinds of student writing are called for by the practices of literature professors, and how does that writing subsequently affect the writing that secondary students are asked to do about literature?
  • What uses of electronic access to information infuse college students’ learning, and how do those uses translate into subsequent practices in secondary schools?
  • Can blog “threads” (for example, the recent online renewal of contention over grammar instruction, or definitions of argument and persuasion) engage methods students in current discussions of pedagogy and with issues they will encounter as new teachers?
  • Does their program as a whole position future English teachers as informed self-advocates rather than as compliant followers of scripted programs and users of status quo practices?
  • What if our pedagogy across all courses in our department reflected our conscious intent to transform teaching in the secondary schools from which we receive 90% of our students?
  • What if we engaged in a serious conversation about why and how to do so?

Jim Davis began teaching in southwest Missouri as an NCTE and affiliate member, attending his first annual convention in Milwaukee in 1968. Now in his 50th year in our profession, he teaches English education and directs the Iowa Writing Project at the University of Northern Iowa.

Genius Hour: Critical Inquiry and Differentiation

In the August English Leadership Quarterly, teacher Elaine Simos explores the Genius Hour. The following excerpts from her article answer three important questions:

This differentiated learning technique gets students reading in depthWhat is “the Genius Hour”?

In the Genius Hour model, instructors allocate a portion of class time—often the 20 percent that gives the approach an alternate name (20% Time)—for student exploration of a self-selected and/or given topic. Students turn to an array of sources in the course of their explorations and consider the topic from a wide variety of angles before synthesizing all of their research into a central understanding. This culminates in a final product, project, or other such artifact, that is shared with the class and potentially the larger school community. …

What are the benefits?

Student interests, both existing and burgeoning, are brought to the forefront of the classroom when a differentiated model is implemented, allowing teachers to “use time flexibly, call upon a range of instructional strategies, and become partners with their students to see that both what is learned and the learning environment are shaped to the learner.” Accordingly, learning strategy implementation can be targeted to each individual’s needs and strengths. …

Why does it matter?

[T]he correlation between an increased focus on critical inquiry and its natural connection to differentiated instruction highlights the need for learners who are able not only to produce the “appropriate” artifacts of learning, but also to independently design or direct their own learning in a manner which builds upon their unique strengths and areas for development…

The curricular concept underlying Genius Hour embodies an optimal learning relationship: students embracing their own power and responsibility in the learning process work in conjunction with educators who can facilitate and guide that learning to ever-greater heights.

For more, including Ms. Simos’s personal experiences with this approach, read her full article, Genius Hour: Critical Inquiry and Differentiation.


Summer Reading about Writing

writingThe NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing were so well-received that NCTE published a series of books around them. Learn more about the Principles in Practice “Writing in Today’s Classrooms” Strand.

Writing in the Dialogical Classroom: Students and Teachers Responding to the Texts of Their Lives focuses on adolescent learners. The author, Bob Fecho, argues that teachers need to develop writing experiences that are reflective across time in order to foster even deeper explorations of subject matter. Therefore, in the dialogical classroom, students use writing to explore who they are becoming and how they relate to the larger culture around them. Fecho stresses the value of reading and writing as tools for learning and making meaning, not just things to be tested on. The book, with its inquiry-based focus, offers dialogical writing projects of various lengths, for different purposes, with students of varying ability levels.

In Becoming Writers in the Elementary Classroom: Visions and Decisions author Katie Van Sluys illustrates how teachers of elementary-age writers bring their beliefs about teaching and learning to life—through the visions they hold for writers, writing, and the world, as well as through the decisions they make every day in their classrooms. Through real classroom examples and teacher and student reflections, she helps us understand how the decisions that both we and our students make today can help them not only learn to write well but also to use writing to create the world they want to live in.

In Writing Instruction in the Culturally Relevant Classroom authors Maisha T. Winn and Latrise Johnson suggest that culturally relevant pedagogy can help reach all of our students—especially those who have been ignored and underserved in America’s classrooms. Although it certainly includes inviting in the voices of those who are generally overlooked in the texts and curricula of US schools, culturally relevant teaching also means recognizing and celebrating those students who show up to our classrooms daily, welcoming their voices, demanding their reflection, and encouraging them toward self-discovery.

Traci Gardner also lists the NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing as an appendix in her text Designing Writing Assignments. This book practical tips, starting points, and a companion website to help secondary and college teachers design effective writing assignments.

How do you use the NCTE Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing in your classroom?