What are the best practices in writing? | Ask Mrs. Brooke

I’m really excited about the approach our school is taking to create writers by using writing conferences and writing workshop school-wide to meet each student at their level and help them to achieve their personal best.

Dear Mrs. Brooke,

I’m really excited about the approach our school is taking to create writers by using writing conferences and writing workshop school-wide to meet each student at their level and help them to achieve their personal best.

I’m a teacher and parent who truly believes if done correctly, writing conferences are a key ingredient to creating strong writers. Can you highlight the “Best Practices in Writing” and why these have been proven to work over time?

Brandi Erbstoeszer, Peter Kirk parent

Dear Brandi,

You truly want the writing success for all students, including your own children and for this I am also very encouraged!

One of my favorite resources regarding the most current research and best practices in education is a book called “Best Practice: Today’s Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools.” The authors – Steven Zemelman, Harvey Daniels, and Arthur Hyde – do an excellent job of laying out the best practices in each subject area all supported by the most current research.

Below are the best practices in writing discussed and what I also know to be effective as a teacher and among experts in the field of teaching writing, including Lucy Calkins, Katie Wood Ray, Nancy Atwell, Ralph Fletcher, and Regie Routman.

Qualities of the Best Practices in Teaching Writing

-All Children Can and Should Write (allow time daily)

-Teachers must help students find real purposes to write and real audiences to reach

– Students need to take ownership and responsibility (their ideas)

-Effective writing programs involve the complete writing process (drafting, revising)

-Teachers can get students started, draft, and revise

-Grammar and mechanics are best learned in the context of actual writing (not on separate worksheets)

-Students need a classroom context of shared learning (working with partners)

– Writing should extend throughout the curriculum (integrated)

-Use evaluation constructively and efficiently and involve students in process of reflective and self- assessment (rubics/checklists/anchor papers)

Writing conferences, as you mentioned in your question above, are an ideal opportunity for teachers to meet each child where they are and take them to that next level. The Writing Workshop allows you to teach a quick mini lesson (ideally by modeling using a mentor text, teacher’s own writing, or student work) on a writing strategy or topic to the whole class and then move on to students working on their own ideas while you meet one-on-one.

Although, I am a fan of the Units of Study, a writing workshop curriculum, written by Lucy Calkins, we must always be careful to rely on one program to meet the needs of our learners, for each of our learners are different. We can remember to meet the qualities of the best practices in writing along with meeting the Common Core Standards to gauge our teaching.

We also must remember that the Writing Workshop is just one component of a Balanced Literacy Program. A balanced Literacy Program is one that allows for time for Read Alouds (so important), Shared Reading, Word Study (Phonics), Independent Reading, Reading Workshop, Writing Workings, Shared Writing, and Interactive Writing, not to mention integrating reading and writing throughout the content areas such as in science, social studies, technology, and math.

The research of Zemelmen, Daniels, and Hyde concluded that we must decrease: the use of the teacher deciding all writing topics, providing instruction only through whole- class activity, spending times on isolated drills on “subskills,” assignments given with no context or purpose, finished pieces read only by teacher, teachers only talking about writing but never writing or sharing own work, the sense of class as competing individuals, cooperation among students as cheating or disruptive, writing taught only during language arts period, editing, revision done by teacher only with no student input, focused on errors, and not growth.

Once again, I’d advise parents, teachers, and principals to always assess whatever program implemented by the children’s achievement and attitudes. Meaning, how are the children progressing and do they feel like “writers” and love to write. Too often we adopt “programs” in our schools that promise to do just this but in the end the program is a one size fits all approach and students are not engaged.

A true test of effective instruction is not only watching students grow and gain skills over time, but walking into the classrooms where the teacher says, “It’s writing time!”

I applaud your efforts as a parent to support your school and learn more by asking these important questions about the best practices of writing. Many times, especially within our schools, we too often fear change.

The support by parents and organizations like the Parent, Teacher, and Student Associations (PTSA) can be instrumental in providing supplementary funds for professional development and resources for teachers, especially when schools districts are getting their budgets cut.

I truly believe the most valuable thing a principal can do to increase achievement in a school is to give professional development to teachers, empowering them to gain new knowledge and perfect their art of teaching. Teachers should embrace these opportunities, and one of the most valuable things a parent can do is support this professional development. For when teachers are learning more, our children are too.

If teachers, principals, and parents can work together and support one another by implementing the qualities of best practices in teaching writing, our children will benefit greatly.

Thank you for asking your questions. As your child’s first and most important teacher, you are definitely making wise and educated decisions by supporting the teachers at your child’s school, and encouraging the efforts of change lead by your school’s principal in implementing the best practices of teaching writing to create writers who can and LOVE to write!

Happy Writing!

Joy Brooke is the first and most important teacher of her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. She resides in downtown Kirkland with her husband and two children. Brooke is a National Board Certified teacher in Literacy: Reading- Language Arts/Early and Middle Childhood, holds a B.A. in Educational Studies and a M.A. in Educational Policy and Management from the University of Oregon. The opinions provided in this column do not reflect that of the LWSD or any other organization she is affiliated.