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What We Know about Writing, Grades 6-8

Writing Concepts Illustrated

1.  Students possess knowledge about written language and a variety of forms of writing; quality instruction reflects students' experience and knowledge.

Read this:  P. L. Thomas raises hard questions about what English teachers must do to improve their quest for fostering vivid, dynamic, original, and thoughtful writers, arguing that conceptual shifts must occur, more people must be educated about writing and more.
Source:  English Journal, Volume 90, Number 1, September 2000

Try this:  Successful teachers of writing have found ways to support and extend self-selection of writing topics. Two educators share a framework they developed and an example of its use with a set of women's history month assignments.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 9 Number 1, September 2001

2.  All families and communities engage with literacy and literacy-related activity. Creating ways to bridge these activities and school writing experiences ensures greater participation and success with school tasks.

Read this:  Julie Hagemann discusses how and why a pedagogy of overt comparison between students' home language (vernacular dialects of English) and school language (standard English) helps students learn the more global features of academic writing and the more sentenced-level features of Standard English.
Source:  English Journal, Volume 90 Number 4, March 2001

Try this:  Pat Schnack's community reading-writing project began as a way for the community to appreciate the personalities and quirks of middle-schoolers, as well as to offer her 150 students the individual attention she alone could not provide. The project grew to encompass those goals and more.
Source:  English Journal, Volume 90 Number 5, May 2001

3.  The "language arts" develop in concert. Drawing supports writing, writing supports reading; opportunity to use multiple expressions of language increases language learning and ability.

Read this:  Kathy Bussert-Webb illustrates how art provides a medium through which a group of young, pregnant, middle school women connected reading and writing to their lives. Source:  Language Arts, Volume 78, Number 6, July 2001

Try this:  Seventh and eighth grade teacher, Elizabeth Canaday, describes curriculum developed by three middle school teachers, in collaboration with the education department of a museum, in which students learn and practice the skills involved in visual observation and apply them to reading and writing.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 4 Number 3, September 1997 

4.  Writing is a social activity; writing instruction should be embedded in social contexts. Students can take responsibility in shaping the classroom structures that facilitate their work.

Read this:  Becky Sipe describes her first year of teaching in 1972, sharing six lessons she learned. Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 7 Number 2, December 1999

Try this:  Linda Hamblin discusses aspects of the classroom environment that nurture young writers, describing strategies and assignments that help students understand and develop voice. Source:  English Journal, Volume 90, Number 1, September 2000 

5.  Language learning proceeds most successfully when students use language for meaningful purposes.

Read this:  The authors describe the use of research booklets, poetry books, and taking part in a citywide writing competition with middle grade students to combat a general apathy in many students' writing efforts.
Source:  English Journal, Volume 90, Number 1, September 2000

Try this:  Lynn Nelson describes a 10-week unit in an eighth-grade English class focusing on social-action writing, detailing how the process involved convincing students of their ability to make a difference, studying persuasive writing, reading and discussing to wake up their social consciences.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 6, Number 4, May 1999 

6.  Experience with a particular kind of writing is the best indicator of performance; extensive reading and writing within a particular genre or domain increases performance.

Read this:  Isoke Nia describes a year-long study of writing genre. She addresses: getting started by mapping out the units for the year, the function of mini-lessons, drafting, embellishment and voice.
Source:  Primary Voices K-6, Volume 8, Number 1, August 1999

Try this:  The authors describe their approach to poetry writing with at-risk students over a 12-week period, structuring activities to initiate poetry as language play, selecting model poems that are developmentally appropriate, and organizing writing assignments.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 5 Number 1, February 1998

7.  Writing is effectively used as a tool for thinking and learning throughout the curriculum.

Read this:  Middle school educator Leslie Franks was challenged by another teacher researcher's question: What would happen if science and writing were presented as interrelated ways of knowing about the world? Read and borrow from the lessons she developed in this article.
Source:  Language Arts, Volume 78 Number 4, March 2001 

Try this:  Seventh-grade teacher Jackie Robertson incorporated poetry writing into her science class, helping students to learn the science material and helping her to evaluate the students' knowledge.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 4 Number 2, April 1997 

Linda Rief and colleague Chris Hall describe how, after studying the Holocaust and other human-rights issues in their eighth-grade language-arts classes, students felt compelled to create a permanent memorial and reminder.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 6, Number 4, May 1999

8.  Students' writing reflects the communities in which they participate. The differences in students' ways of using language are directly related to the differentiation of their place in the social world. Language is a form of cultural capital and some forms of language have more power in society than other forms.

Read this:  Deborah Dean notes that if students are able to publish, they are often more interested in engaging in the messy, challenging, and rewarding process of writing.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 8, Number 1, September 2000

Try this:  ELL educator Brett Elizabeth Blake suggests that, in order to re-invigorate writing in schools, educators need to remind themselves of the importance of the tools of the writing process to help them explore the distinct and multiple voices and texts.
Source:  Language Arts, Volume 78, Number 5, May 2001

9.  Assessment that both benefits individual writers and their teachers? instructional planning is embedded within curricular experiences and represented by collections of key pieces of writing created over time.

Read this:  South Carolina educator P. L. Thomas argues that the English classroom is the central place to take a stand against inauthentic and reductionist assessment approaches.
Source:  English Journal, Volume 91 Number 1, September 2001

Try this:  Planned responses to the writers in your classroom can prove to be invaluable and enable students to stretch their ability as writers. In "Conferring in the writing workshop," five experienced teachers of writing offer their best advice.
Source:  School Talk, Volume 6 Number 2, January 2001

10.  Language skills and conventions (grammar, punctuation, spelling) are most successfully learned and later used with a combination of carefully targeted lessons applied within the context of meaningful writing.

Read this:  Language researchers argue that, taught in the context of writing, grammar can enhance and improve students' writing and offer classroom examples.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 8 Number 3, March 2001

Try this:  Sixth grade ELA teacher John Edmondson describes how he stopped teaching from grammar texts and instituted a writing workshop, including descriptions of the flak he received from colleagues and parents, encouragement he received from students and from his principal, and how, over time, writing workshops have spread in his school.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 6, Number 3, March 1999

Veteran writing teacher Tom Romano shares stories, strategies, favorite leads and more as he shepherds student writing through to publication.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 8 Number 1, September 2000 

11.  Authors and teachers who write can offer valuable insights to students by mentoring them into process and making their own writing processes more visible.

Read this:  Tragedy inspired the author to write, and writing mentors gave her the courage to share her writing with her class. By becoming a writer, by experiencing the process with her students, her teaching was renewed.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 9, Number 1, September 2001

Award-winning author Karen Hesse discusses her writing for children and young adults and how ideas for particular books arose, as well as the research and writing processes that went into them. Includes reviews of nine of her books.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 4 Number 2, April 1997

Try this:  Carol Jago advocates for a health balance of criticism and encouragement when responding to student writing. Her article includes usable advice on writing from popular authors and noted scholars, which can be shared with students.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 9, Number 1, September 2001 

12.  Technology provides writers the opportunity to create and present writing in new and increasingly flexible ways, particularly in combination with other media.

Read this:  Renee Hobbs challenges educators to find creative ways to build connections between kids' worlds and the work we do in classrooms. She shares a sequence of classroom engagements that moved students from film to literature to writing.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 8 Number 4, May 2001 

Gretchen Lee suggests the authentic audience found on the Internet has a profound effect on the quality of student writing in all grades, and that the key to successful technology projects is integrating them into the curriculum so that computers are a means, not an end. 
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 7 Number 3, March 2000

Mary Santerre looks at how technology has changed her eighth-grade world of teaching and learning in a variety of ways.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 7 Number 3, March 2000

Try this:  The authors offer researchers' perspectives for online publication and show how to establish criteria for validating these sites as valuable resources in student-centered teaching and learning.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 8, Number 1, September 2000 

The author observes four sixth graders composing nonfiction projects for an integrated unit on Canadian studies, using hypermedia. She ponders issues raised, and whether educators are acknowledging and addressing the discrepancies between the technological haves and have-nots.
Source:  Language Arts, Volume 78, Number 3, January 2001


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What Works in Writing Instruction
Lesson Plans for Teaching Writing
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Teaching Writing: Craft, Art, Genre


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