How Writing Instruction Is Changing in Schools

Here are 10 ways schools can improve writing instruction.

Posted May 01, 2013

Common Core State Standards are driving the curriculum and changing the expectations for what teachers and children are expected to do during writing instruction in school. Here are Common Core’s 10 Anchor Standards followed by 10 ways teachers and schools may begin to meet the challenge.

Common Core’s 10 “Anchor Standards”

Common Core State Standards adopted by 45 states delineate 10 “Anchor Standards” for writing which are spread across grades K through 12 and intended to develop in a spiraling curriculum:

1. Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

Opinion pieces, for example, start in kindergarten with students choosing a title or a topic and stating an opinion or preference. Kindergartners may be writing opinions about books teachers are reading aloud, books they can read on their own, opinions about their own life experiences or topics they are studying. The curriculum spirals so that by fifth grade students are expected to use evidence from texts to back up their opinions with details or describe the reasoning that backs up their arguments. They are expected to organize various types of writing so that evidence or examples are used as key points reflected in the structure of the piece.

The remaining anchor standards are as follows:

2. Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content.

3. Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details, and well-structured event sequences.

4. Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Begins in grade 3.)

5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

7. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research. (Begins in grade 4.)

10. Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences. (Begins in grade 3.)

While these overarching anchor standards describe what is expected, teachers and schools are left on their own to figure out how to meet writing standards. Here are my 10 recommendations for meeting the writing standards:

10 Recommendations for Meeting Common Core Writing Standards

1. Make sure students write every day in school. Students learn to write by writing and in order to become college and career ready they need to have experience writing in all disciplines. A science lab report is different from a biography, a memoire, a blog, or a screen play so students should experience many different types of writing.

2. Consider establishing a daily 45 minute writing workshop in the language arts block in elementary and middle school and insure that children have time to write in school with feedback that allows them to take pieces through a process of planning, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.

3. Make writing personal, engaging, and fun. Give students choices and encourage them to write about their own experiences and interests. Do this to increase motivation and volume for writing.

4. Establish routines including teacher and peer conferencing and sharing. Start the year with management lessons and revisit them until students know how the writing workshop works. Management of the time for writing in school is key to successful writing instruction. Teachers who manage successful writing programs establish routines such as the following routines for “SMART writers” in an elementary school writing period:

SMART Writers

Speak softly,

Move quickly and quietly,

Always work,

Respect others, and

Tidy up every day in writer’s workshop.

5. Build in more rigor for writing. Setting high expectations and working to build stamina for the hard work of writing are ways to lift the level of student work.

6. Include equal emphasis on opinion, informational, and narrative writing.

7. Use mentor texts by children’s authors as models of good writing and study exemplary models of good writing from all disciplines. A successful instructional sequence often begins with the teacher modeling skills or concepts followed by engaging students with those skills or concepts until students are able to do it on their own. Teachers sometimes describe this process as “I do it. We do it. You do it.”

8. Have students read in the disciplines and write about what they are reading. Use digital technology in all aspects of writing.

9. Connect reading and writing. Have students write summaries, syntheses, analyses, and critiques based on the texts they are reading. In the past reading and writing have often been treated as separate subjects.

10. Recognize that all teachers are writing teachers and that teaching writing is a shared responsibility over time. A successful school-wide writing curriculum begins with joyful drawing and writing in preschool and spirals up through the grades.

Dr. J. Richard Gentry is the co-author of Getting to the Core of Writing: Essential Lessons for Every Kindergarden -- Sixth Grade Student. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn and find out more information about his work on his website.