With classroom-tested tips from our Curricular Resources authors on how to improve your teaching at any grade level, each Writing Masters installment will share author insights and practical suggestions on teaching writing in the classroom that you can use the very next day. This week in the Writing Master series, Lucy Calkins asks what kind of promise you make to your students about their writing education.
“It has become increasingly clear that children’s success in many disciplines is reliant on their ability to write.”
The Essentials of Writing Instruction
by Lucy Calkins
Whenever I work with educators in a school, school district, city, or country, I make a point of trying to learn about the vision guiding the approach to teaching writing. I ask, “What is the Bill of Rights that guides your work with your students as writers?” When people look quizzical, I rephrase my question. “When a child enters your school, what is the promise that you make to the child and her parents about the writing education that she will receive?” I point out that chances are good that in math, the school essentially promises that child, “Whether or not your teacher likes math, you’ll be taught math every day. You won’t need to be lucky to get a teacher who teaches math. And the course of study that you receive from one teacher won’t be all that different from what you’ll receive from another teacher.”
Given that writing is one of those subjects that affects a learner’s ability to succeed in every other subject, the promise a school makes to youngsters as writers probably shouldn’t be that different from the promise made to children as mathematicians. In this chapter, I share the essentials—the bottom line conditions, as we’ve come to call them—that school systems that provide effective writing instruction to all children have in common. These school districts agree that the following conditions are important.
The bottom line conditions for effective writing instruction are, then:
- Writing needs to be taught like any other basic skill, with explicit instruction and ample opportunity for practice. Almost every day, every student in grades K–5 needs between fifty and sixty minutes for writing instruction and writing.
- Writers deserve to write for real, to write the kinds of texts that they see in the world—nonfiction chapter books, persuasive letters, stories, lab reports, reviews, poems—and to write for an audience of readers, not just for the teacher’s red pen.
- Young writers need to be immersed in a listening and storytelling culture where their voices are valued and heard. Children will become better writing partners and better writers if they are encouraged to contribute their stories, opinions, thoughts, and ideas to a community of writers
- Writers write to put meaning onto the page. Young people will especially invest themselves in their writing if they write about subjects that are important to them. The easiest way to support investment in writing is to teach children to choose their own topics most of the time.
- Children, early in their writing development, need to be taught phonemic awareness and phonics—the instruction that undergirds their language development and that supports and fosters their ability as writers.
- Children deserve to be explicitly taught how to write. Instruction matters—and this includes instruction in spelling and conventions as well as in the qualities and strategies of good writing.
- Children deserve the opportunity and instruction necessary for them to cycle through the writing process as they write: rehearsing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing their writing.
- Writers read. For children to write well, they need opportunities to read and to hear texts read, and to read as insiders, studying what other authors have done that they too could try.
- Children need clear goals and frequent feedback. They need to hear ways their writing is getting better and to know what their next steps might be.
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Download and read the complete chapter from Lucy Calkins’ A Guide to the Common Core Writing Workshop, available as a component in the Units of Study in Opinion/Argument, Information, and Narrative Writing Series K-8. Built on the best practices and proven frameworks developed over decades of work in thousands of classrooms across the country and around the world, this series by Lucy Calkins and her colleagues from The Reading and Writing Project offers grade-by-grade plans for teaching writing workshops that help students meet and exceed global standards.
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