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What We Know about Writing, Grades 6-8 - Previous Revision

This page provides ideas and resources for families, educators, and policymakers for writers in middle grades, 6-8.

Writing Concepts

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

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The author 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 learning to write research from the past must fuel future research, a unified conceptual writing curriculum must be implemented, and classroom practices must be dynamically reshaped.
Source:  English Journal, Volume 90, Number 1, September 2000

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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 insures greater participation and success with school tasks.

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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, and thus motivates students, helps them learn conventions of academic writing, and develop proofreading skills.
Source:  English Journal, Volume 90 Number 4, March 2001
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/ej/articles/109087.htm

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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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/ej/articles/108607.htm

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.

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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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/la/articles/108067.htm

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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: precise observation of detail, accurate inference based on these facts, and analysis of artists' choices.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 4 Number 3, September 1997
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/108910.htm 

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.

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Regie Routman proposes that high academic engagement cannot exist until students understand, support, and self-monitor classroom procedures, routines, and behaviors. Strategies and rubrics from middle school teacher Darla Wagner's class illustrate her contention.
Source:  English Journal, Volume 90 Number 5, May 2001
http://www.ncte.org/library/files/Publications/Journals/ej/0905-may01/EJ0905Middle.pdf    (PDF)

Becky Sipe describes her first year of teaching in 1972, sharing six lessons she learned: (1) collaboration and choice build ownership and enthusiasm; (2) excitement and passion are vital supports for learning; (3) reading and writing for audiences beyond the classroom are powerful motivators; and (4) openness to new ways of viewing things builds vitality in learning environments.
Source:  Voices from the Middle, Volume 7 Number 2, December 1999
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109004.htm

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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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/ej/articles/108581.htm 

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

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Angela Conner and Margaret Moulton 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. They link success with these projects to their appeal to individual interests and that they helped students find a purpose to write, both improving the quality of student work.
Source: English Journal, Volume 90, Number 1, September 2000
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/ej/articles/108577.htm

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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, using various strategies to choose topics, and finally culminating in brochures written, designed and produced by small groups of students.
Source: Voices from the Middle, Volume 6, Number 4, May 1999
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109011.htm

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

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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 Language Arts article.
Source: Language Arts, Volume 78 Number 4, March 2001
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/la/articles/108091.htm

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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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/108890.htm

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. They discuss how the project unfolded from finding and shaping an idea, collecting stories from around the nation, crafting the mosaic and the flower garden, and finding words for the experience in their writing.
Source: Voices from the Middle, Volume 6, Number 4, May 1999
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109013.htm 

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7. 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

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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. She notes that even reluctant writers became involved in writing and that she followed her own advice and began writing a memoir about her grandmother. A rubric for evaluating memoirs is included.
Source: Primary Voices K-6, Volume 8, Number 1, August 1999
http://www.ncte.org/library/files/Publications/Journals/pv/0081-aug99/PV0081Units.PDF    (PDF)

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C. Hood Frazier and Charlotte Wellen 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 that encourage students to draw on their individual
Source: Voices from the Middle, Volume 5 Number 1, February 1998
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/108941.htm

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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.

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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. She describes writing letters to the editor and letters of appreciation or complaint, concluding that through these experiences, students see how writing is powerful, accomplishes specific purposes, and gives students more control over their world.
Source: Voices from the Middle, Volume 8, Number 1, September 2000
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109032.htm

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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. She shares samples of some of the "local literacies" that students in a migrant summer school camp produced in their writing.
Source: Language Arts, Volume 78, Number 5, May 2001
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/la/articles/108055.htm 

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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.

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Though well-intentioned, the current standards and testing movement has had a serious and negative impact on the teaching of reading and writing and has resulted in a return to isolated instruction and inauthentic purposes for both reading and writing at all grade levels. South Carolina educator P. L. Thomas argues that the English classroom is the central place to take a stand against these inauthentic and reductionist assessment approaches.
Source: English Journal, Volume 91 Number 1, September 2001
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/ej/articles/108677.htm

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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?Ralph Fletcher, Carl Anderson, Joanne Hindley Salch, Marianne Marino and Yvonne Siu Runyan?offer their best advice.
Source: School Talk, Volume 6 Number 2, January 2001
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/st/contents/106699.htm

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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.

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Language researchers argue that, taught in the context of writing, grammar can enhance and improve students' writing. They offer classroom examples showing how: good preparation for writing fosters good grammar and detail; students can use grammatical and syntactic constructions used by professional authors as models for their own writing; and how to help students learn revision strategies at the sentence and paragraph level.
Source: Voices from the Middle, Volume 8 Number 3, March 2001
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109052.htm

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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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/108976.htm

Select a writing topic, then research, organization, language choice, drafting, response, revision: And that's just the start. 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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109025.htm

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

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"I was a writing teacher who didn't write," confesses Kittle, as she reflects on her evolvement from writing teacher to a teacher who writes. Tragedy inspired her to write, and writing mentors gave her the courage to share her writing with her class. The end of the story is just a beginning: 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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109079.htm

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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/108899.htm

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Carol Jago advocates for a health balance of criticism and encouragement when responding to student writing. It's like learning to ride a bicycle, she tells them, there are so many things to do at once that at first it seems impossible that you will ever get it right. 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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109400.htm 

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

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Rather than viewing popular culture as an enemy to the work we do in schools, 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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109130.htm

Middle level educator 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. She offers ideas for classroom activities and projects using stand-alone computers, and using computers with Internet access.
Source: Voices from the Middle, Volume 7 Number 3, March 2000
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109044.htm

Mary Santerre looks at how technology has changed her eighth-grade world of teaching and learning in a variety of ways, including: professional growth; connecting the writing process with word processing; presentation of information (such as short story elements or parts of speech); research on and access to the Internet; electronic literary magazines and portfolios; and e-mail and online discussions.
Source: Voices from the Middle, Volume 7 Number 3, March 2000
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109045.htm

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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. They give reasons why middle school writers should publish on the web. A chart of 18 websites with descriptions and key descriptors of the websites is included.
Source: Voices from the Middle, Volume 8, Number 1, September 2000
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/vm/articles/109030.htm

The author observes four sixth graders composing nonfiction projects for an integrated unit on Canadian studies, using hypermedia. She ponders issues raised when students compose in hypermedia including evaluating nontraditional projects, developing a sense of audience, conventions of the medium, use of visuals to convey information, engaged students, 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
http://www.ncte.org/pubs/journals/la/articles/108105.htm

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What Works in Writing Instruction
Lesson Plans for Teaching Writing
Using the Writer's Notebook in Grades 3-8
Teaching Writing: Craft, Art, Genre

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