What should Ms. Lin know in order to provide effective writing instruction?
Page 1: Understanding Difficulties with Written Expression
Writing is a complex process that requires students to attend to multiple elements while also monitoring their performance. Students need to learn not only to pay attention to the rules and mechanics of writing but also to develop effective and efficient composition skills. Negotiating and coordinating basic skills, knowledge, form, purpose, attention to an intended audience, and the rules of written language can prove difficult even for skilled writers. The table below highlights some of the major differences between struggling writers (including students with learning disabilities) and successful ones.
Are unaware of the purpose or process of writing
Have little or no knowledge of the text structure of an essay
Have difficulty developing plans and staying focused on the topic
Experience greater writing anxiety and decreased motivation
Analyze the task
Understand and apply all the elements of an essay
Create goals for their writing
Develop plans to achieve their goals
Produce fewer ideas
Fail to organize their thoughts
Develop additional ideas
Organize their ideas
Plan what they are going to say as they write
Use imprecise and nonspecific vocabulary
Struggle to convey their thoughts, ideas, and opinions
Write fewer sentences
Focus on mechanics rather than on clarity and organization
Write using an organized plan but adjust goals when obstacles arise
Use vocabulary accurately
Experience fewer difficulties with the elements of an essay
Generate sentences that support their ideas
Edit and Revise
Experience problems with grammar, punctuation, and spelling
Place words and letters too close or too far from each other
Do not review and make corrections
Edit spelling, capitalization, and punctuation
Make more content revisions
Correct overall appearance
It is beneficial for a teacher to know precisely in which areas his or her students are struggling with writing. Listen to Torri Lienemann talk about using baseline data (time: 0:44).
Torri Lienemann, PhD Director of the Graduate Special Education Program Concordia University, Nebraska
Baseline data can provide valuable information about what students already know regarding the processes involved with composition prior to instruction. When collecting baseline writing samples, the teacher can know whether or not students plan their compositions prior to writing and whether or not they include all the essential elements specific to that genre. Baseline samples can also be used during instruction. Once students are aware of the essential elements of a specific type of composition and what a good composition looks like, they can evaluate the compositions they had written prior to instruction, and these often incomplete compositions can show students the necessity of being strategic with their writing.
Sample persuasive papers written by two students in Ms. Lin’s class are provided below. Malcolm, a struggling writer, has a learning disability. Notice how he has difficulty with grammar, punctuation, and spelling. In addition, he produces few complete sentences and ideas. On the other hand, Nakia, a successful writer, develops a plan to achieve her writing goal. She organizes her thoughts and has few difficulties writing her text. She edits her work for spelling, capitalization, and punctuation errors and makes several revisions before she considers her paper complete.
Click Malcolm’s picture to view his persuasive essay.
Malcolm: Malcolm’s persuasive essay is handwritten on a piece of binder paper. His name is written in the top right-hand corner. Underneath is the title of his essay, “Cell phones,” is written. His essay is written with misspellings, lowercase letters, and without all proper punctuation. The body of the text is written as follows:
“evrbdy has them so i shoeld have one you can play games on them and call yur frends. You can tell yur parnts were you are. You nevr now when there is going to be a emerjency”
Nakia: Nakia’s persuasive essay is hand written neatly and fills an entire piece of binder paper. Her name, “Nakia Williams,” “Language Arts,” “Ms. Lin,” and the date, “Nov. 15” is written in the upper-right hand corner. Underneath is the title of her essay, “No School Uniforms!” Her essay is written in complete sentences, with proper punctuation and grammar. The body of the text is written as follows:
“I believe students should not have to wear school uniforms in middle school. First, kids should have the right to choose what they want to wear to school. Besides, sometimes the colors and the styles of the uniforms do not look good on everyone. In addition, the uniforms are not very comfortable to wear. Guys should be able to wear t-shirts and shorts because sometimes they play rough. Girls should be able to express themselves and can do this by the clothes and the jewelry they wear. Finally, making students wear school uniforms will make school shopping more difficult and expensive. Parents will not only have to find the right clothes for kids to wear to school but they will still have to buy clothes for after school and the weekend. If kids do not have specific uniforms to wear then parents could just buy what their kids want to wear and the kids could wear the clothes any time. These are just a few reasons why I think kids should not have to wear school uniforms in middle school.”