ERIC Identifier: ED250694
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Holbrook, Hilary Taylor
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse
on Reading and Communication Skills Urbana IL.
Qualities of Effective Writing Programs. ERIC Digest.
Teachers and administrators involved in developing writing curricula must
reconcile public demands for educational improvement and accountability with
research findings on composition and composition instruction.
This Digest explores the following components of effective writing programs:
emphasis on practice and process in writing, inservice programs, school-wide
emphasis, and administrative support.
WHAT ARE THE FOUNDATIONS OF A SUCCESSFUL WRITING PROGRAM?
Any writing program is more likely to be successful if students are given
ample opportunity to write. For example, students in the Vermont Writing
Program's six model schools write an average of 45 to 90 minutes daily (Neill
However, authorities on writing instruction observe that little classroom
time is devoted to extended writing projects. At the elementary level, skill
drills are predominant in many classrooms and opportunities to write complete
pieces are often marred by excessive concern with mechanical "correctness"
(Graves 1979). At the secondary level, most writing activity is of a mechanical
nature, such as "fill in the blanks" or "short answer" (Applebee 1981).
WHAT ELEMENTS SHOULD BE INCLUDED IN CLASSROOM WRITING INSTRUCTION?
Successful writing instruction should emphasize the total writing process,
including prewriting, drafting, and revising.
Neill (1982) lists a core of concerns cited by teachers in the Bay Area
Writing Project (now the National Writing Project) as important to successful
--the composing process (from prewriting activities through revision)
--syntax (including sentence combining, examination of common errors, and
Francis Christensen's rhetoric)
--sequence (moving from personal to analytical writing, from thesis to
--small group techniques (peer criticism, writing for real audiences within
the classroom, reading aloud in small groups)
--writing assessment (holistic evaluation, systematic school-wide assessment)
In a meta-analysis of 72 experimental studies, Hillocks (1983) found that an
environmental mode of instruction was the most effective. In this mode, the
teacher chooses classroom activities involving high levels of student
interaction and paralleling writing encountered outside the classroom. The
teachers in Applebee's 1981 study also point out that an effective writing
lesson includes an active role for students, minimal teacher dominance, and
natural emergence of writing out of other activities.
In summary, classroom characteristics for an effective writing program
include the following (Goldberg 1983; Graves 1978; Howard 1984):
--opportunity for students in all grades to write frequently with delayed or
"as needed" instruction in grammar
--teachers writing with students
--students learning to write for many audiences and in many modes, including
those required for subjects other than English
--nonthreatening evaluation of student writing with emphasis on revision
rather than correction
HOW CAN THE WRITING TEACHER'S SKILLS BE IMPROVED?
Teachers and administrators in Neill's survey cited the importance of
voluntary and ongoing inservice training programs taught by trainers from both
inside and outside the school or the district. Neill observes that trainers who
are also teachers have more credibility as inservice instructors than do
"nonteaching experts." Enthusiasm, knowledge of current theory on the writing
process, and a focus on practical application of techniques are also essential
qualities for inservice trainers.
In addition, Neill's respondents suggested modeling writing programs on those
that have already proven successful. In the National Writing Project, which
appears to be the most far-reaching program model, teachers attend workshops to
improve their own writing skills and their teaching of writing. Participants may
then act as consultants for school or district inservice sessions, so
reinforcement occurs naturally.
Other qualities for successful inservice programs include the following:
--attention to specific skills in which teachers may be weak
--time and opportunity for teachers to gain confidence in their ability to
teach composition, allowing for structured feedback about their use of new
--opportunities for observation in other classrooms
--attention to issues that concern teachers, such as paperwork, evaluation,
diagnosis, remediation, and explaining the writing program to parents
--administrator involvement in both program and session activities
SHOULD WRITING INSTRUCTION BE CONFINED TO THE ENGLISH CLASSROOM?
When writing is given a school-wide emphasis, students improve their
understanding of the disciplines that emphasize writing, practice their writing
in several classrooms, and grasp the importance of writing outside the English
classroom. In addition, interdepartmental cooperation is encouraged (Glatthorn
A curriculum-wide program can involve direct intervention by the English
department in content area assignments, an approach taken by Boston University's
College of Basic Studies. In a more informal program, English teachers may
provide instructional materials to content area teachers and/or offer assistance
to interested students with content area writing assignments (Lehr 1982).
A curriculum-wide writing program will best succeed when adminstrators do the
--acquire interdepartmental cooperation by ascertaining needs and perceptions
of content area teachers
--develop program objectives for both students and teachers
--focus on the elementary as well as the secondary level
WHAT ROLE DO ADMINISTRATORS PLAY IN A SUCCESSFUL WRITING PROGRAM?
One way school and district administrators can indicate support and
commitment to writing programs is to monitor the current programs in their
schools. Applebee (Neill 1982) lists five signals that identify a weak writing
program: low or failing scores on writing tests, widespread use of objective
tests, omission of writing samples from writing assessments, lack of help for
students with writing problems, and complaints about declining achievement.
A second sign of commitment is support for a staff development program.
Allowing for released time or options such as team teaching, repeated half-day
sessions, or a reduced school day will encourage participation in inservice
training. Furthermore, principals and other administrators who participate in
training sessions can evaluate the inservice meetings and identify excellent
teachers and those striving to improve their teaching (Neill 1982).
Third, meetings with parents demonstrate a commitment to writing improvement.
Adminstrators can inform parents of student progress, suggest ways to improve
children's writing at home, and provide assistance to parents who want to
improve their own writing. Identifying and using parent talents for tutoring or
inservice consulting can also be beneficial (Glatthorn 1981).
Programs that effectively meet the instructional needs of both students and
teachers as well as public demands have the above features in common. Carefully
adapted to individual schools or districts, any one or all of these features can
go a long way toward improving the quality of composition instruction.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Applebee, Arthur N. WRITING IN THE SECONDARY SCHOOL: ENGLISH AND THE CONTENT
AREAS. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1981.
Glatthorn, Allan A. "Writing in the Schools: Improvement through Effective
Leadership." Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals,
Goldberg, Mark F. "Writing Objectives: The National Writing Project." NASSP
BULLETIN 67 (October 1983): 110-l11.
Graves, Donald H. "Balance the Basics: Let Them Write." New York, Ford
Foundation, 1978. ED 192 364.
Haley-James, Shirley M., editor. PERSPECTIVES ON WRITING IN GRADES 1-8.
Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 1981. ED 198 565.
Hillocks, George. "What Works in Teaching Composition: A Summary of Results."
Paper presented at the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of
English, Denver, Colorado, November, 1983.
Howard, James. "Writing to Learn." Washington, D.C.: Council for Basic
Lehr, Fran. "ERIC/RCS Report: Promoting Schoolwide Writing." ENGLISH
EDUCATION 14 (February 1982):47-52.
Neill, Shirley Boes. "Teaching Writing: Problems and Solutions. AASA Critical
Issues Report." Arlington, VA: American Association of School Administrators,
1982. ED 219 776.
Robertson, Linda R. "Stranger in a Strange Land, or Stimulating Faculty
Interest in Writing Across the Curriculum." Paper presented at the annual
meeting of the Wyoming Conference on Freshman and Sophomore English, Laramie,
Wyoming, July, 1981. ED 211 996.