The Alliance for Excellent Education has produced the Writing Next Report. It is written by Steve Graham and Delores Perin. The report identified 11 elements of current writing instruction that are supported by rigorous research that are effective to help students in grades 4-12 learn to write well and to use writing as a tool for learning. They then note that even when these elements are used together, they do not constitute a full writing program.

  1. Writing Strategies, which involves teaching students strategies for planning, revising, and editing their compositions.
  2. Summarization, which involves explicitly and systematically teaching students how to summarize texts.
  3. Collaborative Writing, which uses instructional arrangements in which adolescents work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit their compositions.
  4. Specific Product Goals, which assigns students specific, reachable goals for the writing they are to complete.
  5. Word processing, which uses computers and word processors as instructional supports for writing assignments
  6. Sentence Combining, which involves teaching students to construct more complex, sophisticated sentences
  7. Prewriting, which engages students in activities designed to help them generate or organize ideas for their composition.
  8. Inquiry Activities, which engages students in analyzing immediate, concrete data to help them develop ideas and content for a particular writing task
  9. Process Writing Approach, which interweaves a number of writing instructional activities in a workshop environment that stresses extended writing opportunities, writing for authentic audiences, personalized instruction, and cycles of writing.
  10. Study of Models, which provides students with opportunities to read, analyze, and emulate models of good writing.
  11. Writing for Content Learning, which uses writing as a tool for learning content material.

I was struck by how many of these elements could be weaved right into blogging with our students. These are the things we need to point out to teachers and administrators. We need to emphasize the importance of our students developing the ability to write in online environments. Point out how blogging engages the students in a way that can let them take ownership of their own learning. Students learn about writing as they are participating in real writing situations. We need to start asking “Why aren’t our students blogging?” We need to use blogs to build literacy in the classroom. We need more students in on this mix.

In Diane Penrod’s book “Using Blogs to Enhance Literacy” this paragraph jumped out at me:

“In short, blogging might turn out to be the tipping point in education for lifelong learning. Its adaptive nature, malleability, and ease of use make blogs a killer application. Like its predecessor, e-mail, blogs might soon develop into a ubiquitous communication tool in schools. For literacy, this will be an important event: having an inexpensive, ever-present, easy-to-use method for transmitting information, knowledge, and meaning across student populations, suggesting that it is indeed possible to teach and upgrade th literacies students need right now and will continue to need in the future.”

Another point of interest in the report was a note about grammar instruction. Grammar instruction in the studies reviewed involved the explicit and systematic teaching of the parts of speech and structure of sentences. The meta-analysis found a negative effect for this type of instruction for students. The negative effect was small, but it was statistically significant, indicating that traditional grammar instruction is unlikely to help imporve the quality of student writing. Overall, the findings on grammar instruction suggest that, although teaching grammar is important, alternative procedures, such as sentence combining, are more effective than traditional approaches for improving the quality of student writing.

Read the report and reflect on your practices.

I also thought how this would be a great topic to explore for professional development on our blogs in school. Picture a community of learners in a school, each blogging away sharing their techniques as they relate to these elements of writing instruction. I can picture addressing number 10 with models coming from the blogs of students themselves. Now that could be motivating!