Deborah Dean, author of What Works in Writing Instruction, explains the research behind the Writing Next report and how the eleven elements of effective writing instruction are outlined in her book. Dean stresses the importance of the principles that should guide writing instruction as the eleven elements are implemented in the classroom.
Deborah Dean and site contributor Chris Thompson share their vision for the website and express the hope that teachers will use the site in conjunction with the book to improve teaching practices in a supported environment.
As teachers, we often wonder if we are making the best instructional choices to meet our students’ writing needs. We wonder if the choices we make actually help them develop as writers–or is our observation that they are having fun enough to suggest that what we’re doing is working?
This book is a response to my own wondering about those questions: what does research say? Does it support or contradict what I do? Is my reflection on classroom instructional practices valid–or am I just doing things the way I learned or something I saw at a conference that seemed fun, practices that seem like they might work? When the Writing Next report was released in 2007, I was excited. I wanted to know what research said. In some ways, I think I wanted the magic pill–do this/take this and you will be able to teach every child to write like Hemingway (or even Stephanie Meyer!). The surprise of the report was really that there were NO surprises. We all knew (and practiced, right?) writing process. We provided models for our students. We had our students pre-write and use word processing and write informally to aid their learning. We had them collaborate and summarize. We dabbled in sentence combining and inquiry. Why, then, when the research said these elements were proven to improve writing, did my students still write like zombies? Dead prose.
The answer, I discovered, was that what I thought was process or inquiry or collaboration actually didn’t quite match what I read about in the studies. The more I investigated, the more I learned that much of my practice only simulated these effective practices and didn’t always get at the TRUE HEART of the practice. Sure, my students used the writing process. We all did brainstorming on the topic on the first day of the unit. They drafted and peer reviewed and revised (kind of) and turned in writing that had evidence of going through the writing process. But the writing didn’t get any better, and the students didn’t see the process as valuable to them as writers.
The book is my inquiry into the principles that underlie these eleven effective practices, many of which good teachers already employ. Still, if you are like me, you might want to check out the other practices or review the ones you feel good about–get validation as well as inspiration for what else might help your students develop as writers and not simply as producers of writing for school. Happy exploring, as that is both what this book/website is set up for and also what good teaching is about.