What should Ms. Lin know in order to provide effective writing instruction?
Page 2: Prerequisites for Written Expression
If students are to become successful writers, they must develop the ability to communicate effectively. Effective written communication involves two prerequisite skills:
- Transcription skills
- Grammar skills
To become successful writers, students must also regulate their writing behavior and learn the prerequisite skills. Students who struggle with these skills will find writing to be a frustrating undertaking. Those who have to concentrate on transcription or grammar may be unable to think about higher order skills during the writing process.
In the context of writing, transcription is the process of transferring one’s thoughts and ideas into words and putting those words on paper. Transcription skills are basic writing skills—primarily handwriting and spelling—and proficient writing requires a mastery of them.
|Steve Graham has researched the factors that contribute to the emergence of writing difficulties. In the audio below, he explains how students develop transcription skills (time: 0:57).
Steve Graham, EdD
Professor and Currey-Ingram Chair
of Special Education
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
If students have not yet mastered the mechanics of writing and need to concentrate on putting their language on paper—for instance, if they need to concentrate on how to write the letter “h”—they might have difficulty attending to higher level skills, such as planning and organizing their compositions. In order to promote effective and efficient composition skills, teachers may need to adjust demands on their students’ transcription skills. This can be accomplished by:
- Providing alternatives to handwriting
- Software programs
- Telling students not to worry about handwriting and spelling on the first drafts
- Allowing students to write shorter compositions
- Providing additional instruction that is explicit and systematic (modeling how to write a paragraph without addressing handwriting and spelling problems in the first draft)
The ability to use proper grammar is necessary if students are to communicate effectively through written language. Students must understand:
- The order in which words occur
- The way words change according to their relationship with other words
- How words are built up into units (e.g., sentences)
Students who have not yet mastered the formal structure of language will find it difficult, if not impossible, to construct coherent written compositions. Imagine trying to write a story in a foreign language of which you are unfamiliar. Even if you understood the meaning of words in that language, it would be very difficult to write a coherent story unless you had mastered its grammar.
Teachers who use explicit instruction (modeling, providing feedback and ample time for practice) can effectively demonstrate grammar skills to their students. For example, teachers can model how to revise compositions by combining simple sentences into complex ones. “The wind was blowing. There were branches all over the yard” might become, “The wind blew branches all over the yard.” Teachers can model additional examples to support students as they learn this skill. Students can then continue to practice with their teachers’ help; eventually, they can work with peer partners to practice sentence combining. Finally, teachers can instruct the students to go back to their compositions and look for places where they can combine simple sentences to form complex ones.
Natalie Olinghouse, PhD
Assistant professor of teacher
education/ counseling, educational
psychology, and special education
Michigan State University,
East Lansing, MI