How do you teach students to write well?
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  1. #1
    JohnEdelson's Avatar
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    Default How do you teach students to write well?

    In creating and developing Time4Writing.com, I've spent a lot of time thinking about and discussing the question of how to teach writing. I thought I'd share my observations. And I'd be interested in your thoughts and feedback. I'll admit up front that there is room for disagreement on some of these key points and I've had some heated discussions recently with people who thought differently about teaching writing.

    1. We know how to teach students to write well, learning to write well is not some sort of gift that only a few receive. More specifically, we know how to teach the components and process for the writing types(narrative, persuasive essay, summaries, responses to literature, and research report). which are the standard measure in K12 for writing competency. Students need to learn and to apply the grammar and vocabulary skills. They need to organize their paragraphs around a single thought, to organize an essay around a collection of tightly organized ideas, and to structure an essay that succeeds in purposeful communication.

    2. There is a writing process that students should learn that goes from brainstorming ideas, through organizing the ideas, writing the essay, revising the essay, and proofreading the essay. And while most people follow these steps in their own style, formally learning and using the steps is the single best technique to create quality writing. For instance, many people will brainstorm and structure as they write since word processors make reorganizing so easy. Nevertheless, creating an outline during the process helps tighten essay structure.

    3. Many adults do not know how to write well or even how to identify areas of weakness in their students' writing. To help parents understand the specifics of points 1 and 2 above, Time4Writing created some interesting materials:

    View Time4Writing's article on the elements of a good paragraph. This article features a paragraph in two stages of revision: a before and after. It provides for many people an "aha" moment in understanding what a good paragraph is and isn't.

    View Time4Writing 's table of writing samples for an overview of common writing problems and see if it helps you better understand your children's writing skills and needs for instruction. This table identifies the most common writing problems and matches it with a course that would be appropriate.

    4. Learning to write takes practice with good feedback and a desire to improve. Time4Writing is build around this principle. And I'm proud to hear that the relationship between the teachers and students in Time4Writing is proving successful both in getting good timely feedback to the students and in motivating them to learn to write better.

    5. Brilliant writing and story-telling is probably not something that can be taught. The most common element of great writers seems to be that early on, they start to read differently than the rest of us. It's often been observed that the people who grow up to be writers, start studying writing on their own. Not only are they voracious readers, they tend to be intrigued by how authors stories together. Do they use short or long sentences? Lots of details and modifiers or are they terse? How do they handle point of view and what insights do they provide into characters? There is an interesting literature on "reading like a writer." And while these skills of analyzing author's style and technique can be taught, most authors explain that they started down this path on their own.

    6. The five paragraph essay is a basic measure of writing skills in schools but it is primarily a format for academia. In the "real world" of writing, we are never given writing prompts for essays. Instead, we write emails or memos or articles or blog posts or discussion comments without the guidance of a clear writing prompt. In most ways, the writing skills taught in school provide the foundation required to succeed with these formats since they are related to essays. In the non-academic world, readers can best digest written communications composed of well-written sentences and paragraphs structured around an idea. But unlike academic essays, the overall formatting rules are less clear and more dynamic. For instance, take this blog post as an example of writing. I know that in writing for the web, readers appreciate it if the key in a paragraph is highlighted as either a subheading or as bolded text. But to successfully do this, I need to know the topic idea of the paragraph, a central tenet of teaching writing.

    I've been thinking about these questions in part because we are thinking of extending Time4Writing to have courses for adults or to teach writing is adapted to online formats. We've had a number of adults take Time4Writing courses which intrigues me. We're beginning to explore creating courses adapted to this audience. Key new ideas that we're looking at:
    - an advanced kids writing course about writing for the web or emails
    - an adult writing mechanics course to address the most common writing problems: confusing words, unclear sentences, and confused paragraphs and flow
    - an adult writing course which focused on helping people discern the "writing prompt" or topic from real world situations. Examples of real-world writing situations might be: your boss asks you to summarize a meeting you attended in an email or for an email about your plans for reorganizing the office. Or, you would like to actually post your thoughts in an online discussion thread instead of just lurking....

    Yes, I'm talking to you. What do you think?
    Last edited by JohnEdelson; 02-28-2010 at 02:37 PM. Reason: got slammed by people who know more than me...
    John Edelson, Founder
    It's Time 4 Learning. And Fun!

    Time4Learning: Automated Online PreK-12th Curriculum for Math, Language Arts & More.
    Time4Writing provides eight week writing courses for students, 2nd-12th grade. Teachers included!
    Time4MathFacts: Automated Game-Based math facts practice, a foundation for future math success.
    Time4Languages: Ten of Rosetta-Stone's legendary language learning programs provided at reduced costs to T4L members

  2. #2
    JohnEdelson's Avatar
    JohnEdelson is offline Super Moderator
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    Since I got a few PMs with questions, I'll share part of a recent email discussion that I had on these topics. Warning, it's long. And I haven't yet figured out how to add pictures.

    John's thoughts....

    1. A traditional goal of K12 academic writing is to produce on-demand a tightly structured five paragraph expository essay. The essays are expected to demonstrate the basic writing principles of proper structure, an overall thesis introduced in the opening, paragraphs with topic and concluding sentences, and supporting detail. Content is often of secondary importance to structure and correctness. In today's more demanding standards, this essay is just one step or sometimes type of writing that students are expected to master writing styles such as expository, narrative, research paper, persuasive, and journalistic style. This type of writing almost never occurs outside of academia.


    2. I've done some reading where people are critical of this approach, most notably Steve Peha of Teaching That Makes Sense (TTMS.org, great thinking and writing on that website, nice guy too). I'm not convinced that the five paragraph essay is so ill-conceived. Here's how I think about it.

    3. Writing skills are open-ended and building them provides a solid foundation for all types of writing. Lets use a sports analogy for a second. When basketball players practice, they do endless layups by themselves trying to execute an exact string of steps. Martial artists endlessly practice kata which are arcane and stylized. In both cases, the practice is not "real world" since in real games (or fights), there is almost a never simple layup to the basket (and of course, a fighter never ever never gets into a cat stance or a horse stance when they are fighting). Nevertheless, these forms of practice build skills, coordination, and control which can be applied to more complex situations at game time (or when the bell rings). Martial artists have for centuries practiced blocks (inwards, outwards, upwards, downwards) which are ultimately more like calistenics than real world paries. My point is that just like in sports, the practice simulates only a fraction of the real deal. And if students the writing skills to meet academic writing requirements, they have a solid foundation from which to learn to attack real world writing challenges.

    4. Another thought is that the real educational problem is not just writing skills development, it's motivation. Students are often not highly motivated (yes, I'm trying for the understatement of the year award). Does the writing assignment have anything to do with how motivated the students will be and whether they will struggle to express themselves and thence build skills? Of course yes. A thousand times yes. But, it does not follow that writing prompts per se are necessarily demotivating. Bad writing prompts are demotivating, good writing prompts are inspiring. On the corner of my desk sits a book called Teacher Man, by Frank McCourt. He suggests that his greatest success as a language arts high school teacher might have come from when he had the students, an ethnically diverse academically-uninterested batch, read aloud their favorite recipes in class. One could argue that part of the appeal was that everyone knew it was something new, an experiment. Couldn't writing prompts, properly designed, provide the same appeal?
    ----------------

    Steve sent me this response (slightly abridged) and granted me permission to post it:

    Great piece, John. And thanks for the "shout out" as the kid say. One paragraph caught my eye:

    "1. The traditional goal of K12 academic writing is to produce on-demand a tightly structured five paragrah expository essay. The essays are expected to demonstrate the basic writing principles of proper structure, an overall thesis introduced in the opening, paragraphs with topic and concluding sentences, and supporting detail. Content is often of secondary importance to structure and correctness. This type of writing almost never occurs outside of academia. "

    Not only does this kind of writing never occur outside of academia, it doesn't occur inside either. That is to say, if kids take 5PE's to college, they get crushed by their teachers.

    The definitive argument on the 5PE is written by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and writing coach Donald Murray in his book The Craft of Revision

    Whether I liked the 5PE or not, it would be had to argue with a man who has not only been a successful writer but who has also dedicated himself to coaching successful writers.

    Historically, the 5PE is what a paleo-anthropologist (aka someone like Stephen Jay Gould) might call a "spandrel". It's a kind of accidental adaptation -- something that serves no useful function but that evolves into reality because something related to it evolved that was useful.


    In the case of the 5PE, its inspiration comes from the traditional Ph.D. thesis or formal research paper which follows this familiar format: Abstract + Body + Summary of Conclusions. In a long and complicated research paper, the Abstract is vital for fellow researchers looking for a quick way to know whether a study is relevant to their work. The Summary of Conclusions is vital to those performing meta-studies. So this form, like all authentic forms, arose naturally over time because it served its readers better than any other.

    In the 5PE, the "tell 'em what yer gonna tell 'em" + "tell 'em" + "tell 'em what ya told 'em" format is a "mini" Ph.D. thesis or research paper. The problem is that in such a short form it makes no sense to say the same thing three times. And, obviously, it makes no sense to have exactly three idea in the middle either. Furthermore, the 5PE is not a standard approach to expository writing. Just look at any newspaper or magazine article, or an encyclopedia entry. You'll be hard-pressed to find a 5PE anywhere.

    I do indeed teach kids the 5PE. It's just a type of writing, after all. And a very simple one at that. I teach it not because it helps kids become better writers but because, by teaching it as a type of writing and explaining its history and use, I can prevent kids from becoming worse writers when they encounter it at another time. Kids who are taught the 5PE as writing come away with a dangerously mistaken notion that the 5PE is writing, rather than merely a contrived pre-college academic form. As long as kids know what the 5PE is, and they study it in proportion to all the other forms in the world, then there is no real harm in learning it -- except for the time kids waste in doing so as they will never again be asked to create a 5PE once they leave high school.

    An equivalent approach, one that allows kids to create 5PE's but not get bogged down by them, is to teach LEAD + BODY + ENDING. In this situation, we're showing kids the exact structure of almost all short form writing -- including the academic thesis paper -- while allowing for specific instances like the the 5PE. The "lead" can be defined as that part of a piece that "gets a reader's attention, hints at the topic, and makes the reader want to read more." The "body" can be said to be that part of a piece that "delivers on the promise of lead" (usually by adding key supporting details) and the "ending" can be said to be that part of a piece which "makes the writing feel finished and gives readers something important to think about." (Actually goes beyond the conclusion to explore the purpose of the writing itself.)

    This approach allows for the 5PE (just limit the lead and ending to one paragraph, and the body to three) but also accounts for virtually all other types of short form prose. As such, this is the "frame" I teach first, followed by many different executions of various forms that make use of this frame.

    It's not so much that the 5PE is bad. Only in extreme cases, when the 5PE is all kids are taught, is any harm done. But the 5PE is needlessly limiting, and that's the last thing any teacher or parent would want in a child's education.

    Good luck with your work!

    Steve Peha
    Teaching That Makes Sense, Inc.
    John Edelson, Founder
    It's Time 4 Learning. And Fun!

    Time4Learning: Automated Online PreK-12th Curriculum for Math, Language Arts & More.
    Time4Writing provides eight week writing courses for students, 2nd-12th grade. Teachers included!
    Time4MathFacts: Automated Game-Based math facts practice, a foundation for future math success.
    Time4Languages: Ten of Rosetta-Stone's legendary language learning programs provided at reduced costs to T4L members

  3. #3
    jack705 is offline Junior Member
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    Great information, admin. I hard to success to write a good content. There i found some good guidance
    CNA Training Check It Out At CNA Board

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    dothy28 is offline Junior Member Newbie
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    For me as a College Professor and a Freelance writer, I tend to teach my students with the process in doing the craft in writing. Not all who knows how to read and writer, knows everything. Sometimes, they just stopped there and that's it. In teaching writing, it should be coming from the heart. I mean the dedication to know and succeed through writing. There's no better way to learn new things, just be patient and know how to deal things with the rules to be followed.

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    Prudence123 is offline Junior Member Newbie
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    Default Re: How do you teach students to write well?

    There i found some good guidance

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    Default Re: How do you teach students to write well?

    As a professional writer myself, I can't stress enough just how much just the practice of writing daily will improve anyone as a writer.

    I just pulled my son, 6the grade, out of public school because his LA class wasn't writing enough (among many, many other reasons). They weren't even meeting Common Core Standards!

    Here are ideas I will be using for my son outside of longer writing pieces:

    ***Daily writing prompts (you can find these free online....there are TONS!)

    ***His reactions to field trips. Not formal writing, just journal style.

    *** Every Friday, asking him to journal about the favorite thing he learned over the week.

    *** Teaching me about his world. While my husband & I try to stay interested in what he likes, I still think it will be fun for him to write an occasional piece teaching me about Minecraft or Pokémon (his current favorite things). This will be fun for him and help him learn instructional writing.

    *** And, of course, fiction! I don't recommend this everyday, but this type of writing will keep it fun and allow their imagination to run wild! Just help them make sure it is properly formatted (dialogue written correctly, etc)

    We plan to keep most of this in a regular composition notebook. Nothing hard at all!

    But if you study all of the best writers in the world, they almost all have a daily writing habit.

    In fact, they all usually do it at the same time everyday and usually in the morning, first thing. Just an interesting bit of knowledge. I think your brain is sharpest then and you do your best writing.

    My son prefers to do Math 1st because he likes it and prefers to get it out of the way for the day. I am fine with that. But he does writing 2nd. His choice as I let him write his schedule.

    But regardless of when your student does it, just have them do it everyday! I think you will be amazed at how much it improves their writing!

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