Writing Under Construction: When Should You Take a Detour?

By Elaine Gould, M.Ed., and Butler Knight, Ed.S.

In the first two articles in this series (see http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/documents/newsletters/2009septoct.pdf and http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/documents/newsletters/2009%20nov%20dec.pdf, Andrew and his teacher collaborated to set writing goals and to create a plan to improve his writing performance using the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) approach. In the third article (see http://media.wm.edu/content/education/ttac/FebMar2010update.pdf), Andrew became increasingly fluent with the writing strategy and was able to monitor and record his behavior and progress while writing. He also selected tangible and social rewards for reaching his writing goals.

Throughout the school year, Andrew continued to use the writing strategy during small-group instruction; however, his negative comments about writing began to resurface during the third quarter. When prompted to write a persuasive essay about whether children should be required to wear school uniforms, Andrew responded, "That's stupid! I can't do this! I don't know what to write!" He then threw his writing materials to the floor and put his head on his desk. After taking time to calm down, Andrew began writing without planning, and did not ask for any assistance. He refused to participate in peer editing and announced that his paper was "fine the way it is."

Andrew's teacher decided that it was time to evaluate how the students were using the strategy during independent performance. To start, she questioned them about their perception of the writing strategy (Do you like the strategy? Is the strategy manageable? Do you believe that using the strategy has improved your writing?). She also asked students if they were using the strategy as it was initially taught, or if they had modified it to meet their own needs. Additional data included in the evaluation consisted of anecdotal notes the teacher had taken after observing students using the writing strategy and after checking their understanding during the writing process. Andrew's teacher also developed a self-evaluation so students could rate their progress in both academic and nonacademic areas.

After graphing this information, she was able to see that Andrew's positive attitudes about writing had changed since he first learned to use the writing strategy (see Figure 1).

Figure 1.
Andrew's graph


Multiple methods of formally and informally evaluating a learning strategy are a necessary part of the SRSD instructional process. Involving students in strategy evaluation increases student ownership of the process, highlights student progress, and enables students to connect improved academic performance to the use of the strategy. Assessing student needs also provides the teacher with important information about how the student feels about writing, his or her readiness for the next level of instruction, and how future instruction should be organized to maximize student achievement (The Access Center, 2005; Santangelo, Harris, & Graham, 2008; University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2006).

Before the next writing assignment, Andrew's teacher used a computer-based interest inventory to assess her students' learning styles. The results of the assessment were displayed in graphic form that was easy for students to read (see Figure 2).

Figure 2.
Andrew's learning style inventory graph.


Because of Andrew's preferences for interpersonal and kinesthetic learning, his teacher designed cooperative groups based on student interests for the next writing assignment. She believed that allowing Andrew to work with other writers who were not identified as struggling might increase his motivation to use the writing strategy. He could choose his cooperative group based on the topic. Andrew would have the opportunity to practice using the strategy in a new situation and to practice social skills that would make him feel that he was a good friend. His teacher also created choice boards that included a variety of activities in which students could engage to demonstrate the use of the strategy steps (The Access Center, 2005). Before the writing assignment, his teacher provided booster sessions on the stages of the writing strategy and behavioral expectations around behavior when working in cooperative groups.

Effective writing instruction is relevant to students' lives and maintains their enthusiasm for writing by incorporating individual interests, learning styles, and skill levels. This, in turn, enables teachers to differentiate instruction based on any one of these factors (The Access Center, 2005). The instructional setting includes helpful feedback from teachers and peers delivered within a predictable and supportive environment (Santangelo et al., 2008).

Strategy instruction requires an investment of time for teachers and students alike. Many students will learn and apply the strategy quickly, while others may require additional reteaching, modeling, and scaffolding. A teacher's flexibility and commitment to support students as they progress with the strategy and as they face unexpected challenges will help students to achieve academic success (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2006).


The Access Center. (2005). Differentiation for writing. Retrieved from http://www.k8accesscenter.org/training_resources/writingdifferentation.asp.

Santangelo, T., Harris, K. & Graham, S. (2008). Using self-regulated strategy development to support students who have "trubol giting thangs Into werds."Remedial and Special Education, 2, 78-89.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln. (2006). Cognitive strategy instruction. Retrieved from http://www.unl.edu/csi/teachingstrategy.shtml#considerations.