Writing Interventions That Really Work Jim Wright



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Writing Interventions That Really Work Jim Wright www.interventioncentral.org

Workshop Agenda

  • In this section of the workshop, we will:
  • Analyze the subskills that make up ‘writing ability’
  • Identify barriers that can prevent students from being effective writers
  • Review effective writing interventions
  • Elbow Group Activity: When was your ‘writing breakthrough’ point?
  • In your group, discuss when each member felt that they reached the ‘breakthrough’ point when they felt they were competent writers.
  • Be prepared to share your discussion with the larger group.

The Act of Creating a Piece of Writing Is…

  • Not a single unitary skill but instead is a…
  • Spectrum of interrelated skills and…
  • A process of plan, write, revise

Written Expression: A Spectrum of Skills

  • Grammar
  • Syntax
  • Spelling
  • Punctuation
  • Content
  • ‘Style’
  • The Horse in Motion
  • Eadweard Muybridge, 1904
  • Students must learn that writing is a process not a product.

Barriers to Writing

    • The physical act of writing…

Origins of the Latin Alphabet

  • Egyptian Hieroglyphs: Hieratic Script
  • Middle Bronze Age Alphabets
  • Proto-Canaanite Alphabet
  • Phoenician Alphabet
  • Early & Later Greek Alphabets
  • Latin (Western) Alphabet

Origins of the Latin Alphabet:Phoenician Alphabet

  • Source: Wikipedia
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenician_alphabet

Origins of the Latin Alphabet:Early Greek Alphabet

  • Source: http://www.translexis.demon.co.uk/new_page_2.htm
  • Boustrophedon: ‘ox trail’: Script alternates between left-to-right and right-to-left

Barriers to Writing

    • Spelling…
  • GHOTI
  • ‘F’ as in ‘ENOUGH
  • ‘I’ as in 'WOMEN
  • ‘SH’ as in ‘NATION’
  • George Bernard Shaw’s Spelling of ‘FISH’…

‘Simplified’ Spelling

  • behaviour
  • behavior
  • defence
  • defense
  • enough
  • enuf
  • receive
  • reseev
  • incandescent
  • inkandesent

Barriers to Writing

    • Grammar…

"If all the grammarians in the world were placed end to end, it would be a good thing."

  • "If all the grammarians in the world were placed end to end, it would be a good thing."
    • Oscar Wilde

Grammar: A Definition

  • “Grammar is the study of rules governing the use of language. The set of rules governing a particular language is the grammar of that language; thus, each language can be said to have its own distinct grammar.”
  • Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/

Grammar’s Dueling Perspectives: Who Defines Good and ‘Bad’ Grammatical Usage?

  • Descriptivists: Collect neutral ‘field study’ information of ‘the patterns through which meanings are typically created in functional speech and writing’
  • Prescriptivists: Set grammatical rules for how language ought to be used
  • Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/

The Complexities of English Grammar: A Sampling

  • Tense: Future tenses (from Wikipedia):
  • Simple future: "I shall/will listen." This is used to express that an event will occur in the future, or that the speaker intends to perform some action.
  • Future continuous: "I shall/will be listening." This is used to express an ongoing event that has not yet been initiated.
  • Future perfect: "I shall/will have listened." This indicates an action which will occur before some other action in the future: Normally two actions are expressed, and the future perfect indicates an action which will occur in the future but will, at the time of the main future action expressed, be in the past (e.g. "I will know the tune next week because I will have listened to it").
  • Future perfect continuous: "I shall/will have been listening." Expresses an ongoing action that occurs in the future, before some other event expressed in the future.
  • Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/

The Complexities of English Grammar: A Sampling

  • Tense: Verb Moods (from Wikipedia):
  • Indicative, or declarative, mood:the simplest and most basic mood. (Examples: I am walking home. We are very happy.)
  • Subjunctive mood: used to express counterfactual (or conditional) statements, and is often found in if-then statements, and certain formulaic expressions NOTE: Casual spoken English rarely uses the subjunctive, and generally restricts the conditional mood to the simple present and simple past. (Example: If I were you, I would bet on the lottery)
  • Imperative mood: used for commands or instructions. (Examples: Let me do the talking, Put the package down on the table.)
  • Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Synergistic Relationship Between Reading & Writing
  • Spelling
  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Syntax
  • Style
  • Genre

Writing Skills Checklist

  • Writing ‘Blockers’
  • Physical Production of Writing
  • Problem?
  • Writing Competency
  • ___Y ___N
  • Writing Speed. Writes words on the page at a rate equal or nearly equal to that of classmates
  • Teach keyboarding skills
  • Allow student to dictate ideas into a tape-recorder and have a volunteer (e.g., classmate, parent, school personnel) transcribe them
  • ___Y ___N
  • Handwriting. Handwriting is legible to most readers
  • Provide training in handwriting
  • Teach keyboarding skills
  • Mechanics & Conventions of Writing
  • Problem?
  • Writing Competency
  • Sample Intervention Ideas
  • ___Y ___N
  • Grammar & Syntax. Knowledge of grammar (rules governing use of language) and syntax (grammatical arrangement of words in sentences) is appropriate for age and/or grade placement
  • Teach rules of grammar, syntax
  • Have students compile individualized checklists of their own common grammar/syntax mistakes; direct students to use the checklist to review work for errors before turning in
  • ___Y ___N
  • Spelling. Spelling skills are appropriate for age and/or grade placement
  • Have student collect list of own common misspellings; assign words from list to study; quiz student on list items
  • Have student type assignments and use spell-check

"The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."

  • "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug."
    • Mark Twain

"Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."

  • "Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good."
    • Samuel Johnson
  • Writing Content
  • Problem?
  • Writing Competency
  • Sample Intervention Ideas
  • ___Y ___N
  • Vocabulary. Vocabulary in written work is age/grade appropriate
  • Compile list of key vocabulary and related definitions for subject area; assign words from list to study; quiz student on definitions of list items
  • Introduce new vocabulary items regularly to class; set up cooperative learning activities for students to review vocabulary
  • ___Y ___N
  • Word Choice. Distinguishes word-choices that are appropriate for informal (colloquial, slang) written discourse vs. formal discourse
  • Present examples to the class of formal vs. informal word choices
  • Have students check work for appropriate word choice as part of writing revision process
  • ___Y ___N
  • Audience. Identifies targeted audience for writing assignments and alters written content to match needs of projected audience
  • Direct students to write a ‘targeted audience profile’ as a formal (early) step in the writing process; have students evaluate the final writing product to needs of targeted audience during the revision process
  • ___Y ___N
  • Plagiarism. Identifies when to credit authors for use of excerpts quoted verbatim or unique ideas taken from other written works
  • Define plagiarism for students. Use plentiful examples to show students acceptable vs. unacceptable incorporation of others’ words or ideas into written compositions

"Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs."

  • "Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs."
    • Henry Ford
  • Writing Preparation
  • Problem?
  • Writing Competency
  • Sample Intervention Ideas
  • ___Y ___N
  • Topic Selection. Independently selects appropriate topics for writing assignments
  • Have student generate list of general topics that that interest him or her; sit with the student to brainstorm ideas for writing topics that relate to the student’s own areas of interest
  • ___Y ___N
  • Writing Plan. Creates writing plan by breaking larger writing assignments into sub-tasks (e.g., select topic, collect source documents, take notes from source documents, write outline, etc.)
  • Create generic pre-formatted work plans for writing assignments that break specific types of larger assignments (e.g., research paper) into constituent parts. Have students use these plan outlines as a starting point to making up their own detailed writing plans.
  • ___Y ___N
  • Note-Taking. Researches topics by writing notes that capture key ideas from source material
  • Teach note-taking skills; have students review note-cards with the teacher as quality check.

"When I sit at my table to write, I never know what it’s going to be until I'm under way. I trust in inspiration, which sometimes comes and sometimes doesn't. But I don't sit back waiting for it. I work every day."

  • "When I sit at my table to write, I never know what it’s going to be until I'm under way. I trust in inspiration, which sometimes comes and sometimes doesn't. But I don't sit back waiting for it. I work every day."
    • Alberto Moravia
  • Writing Production & Revision
  • Problem?
  • Writing Competency
  • Sample Intervention Ideas
  • ___Y ___N
  • Adequate ‘Seat Time’. Allocates realistic amount of time to the act of writing to ensure a quality final product
  • Use teacher’s experience and information from proficient student writers to develop estimates of minimum writing ‘seat time’ needed to produce quality products for ‘typical’ writing assignments (e.g., 5-paragraph opinion essay; 10-page term paper). Share with students.
  • Have students keep a writing diary to record amount of time spent in act of writing for each assignment. Require that this information be submitted along with the students’ assignment. (Additional idea: Consider asking parents to monitor and record their child’s writing time.)
  • ___Y ___N
  • Allow student to dictate ideas into a tape-recorder and have a volunteer (e.g., classmate, parent, school personnel) transcribe them
  • Permit the student to use speech-to-text software (e.g., Dragon Naturally Speaking) to dictate first drafts of writing assignments.
  • Writing Production & Revision (Cont.)
  • Problem?
  • Writing Competency
  • Sample Intervention Ideas
  • ___Y ___N
  • Revision Process. Revises initial written draft before turning in for a grade or evaluation
  • Create a rubric containing the elements of writing that students should review during the revision process; teach this rubric to the class; link a portion of the grade on writing assignments to students’ use of the revision rubric.
  • ___Y ___N
  • Timely Submission. Turns in written assignments (class work, homework) on time
  • Provide student incentives for turning work in on time.
  • Work with parents to develop home-based plans for work completion and submission.
  • Institute school-home communication to let parents know immediately when important assignments are late or missing.
  • Writing ‘Blockers’ p.9-10

Writing Sample

  • [If lost on an island] I woud drink water from the ocean and I woud eat the fruit off of the trees. Then I woud bilit a house out of trees, and I woud gather firewood to stay warm. I woud try and fix my boat in my spare time.
  • Using the ‘Writing Skills Checklist’, determine the 1 or 2 most important features in this writing that should be targeted for intervention.
  • Using the ‘Writing Skills Checklist’, determine the 1 or 2 most important features in this writing that should be targeted for intervention.
  • Existing is being unique. Existence, reality, essence, cause, or truth is uniqueness. The geometric point in the center of the sphere is nature’s symbol of the immeasurable uniqueness within its measurable effect. A center is always unique; otherwise it would not be a center. Because uniqueness is reality, or that which makes a thing what it is, everything that is real is based on a centralization.

Writing Samples: Medical Charts

  • The patient refused autopsy.
  • The patient has no previous history of suicides.
  • Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.
  • On the second day the knee was better, and on the third day it disappeared.
  • The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.
  • Discharge status: Alive but without my permission.
  • Source: Bioethics Discussion Blog
  • http://bioethicsdiscussion.blogspot.com/2005/06/unintended-humor-bad-chart-writing.html

Sample Writing Interventions

"Success comes before work only in the dictionary."

  • "Success comes before work only in the dictionary."
    • Anonymous
  • Sources: Pressley, M., & Wharton-McDonald, R. (1997). Skilled comprehension and its development through instruction. School Psychology Review, 26(3), 448-467.
  • Gersten, R., Baker, S., & Edwards, L. (1999). Teaching expressive writing to students with learning disabilities: A meta-analysis. New York: National Center for Learning Disabilities.
  • Reading
  • Before Reading: Previewing text, developing a ‘reading plan’
  • When Reading: Taking notes, ‘interacting’ with author’s ideas, content
  • After Reading: Reviews notes, continues to think about material read, reskims text
  • WRITING
  • Planning: ?
  • Writing: ?
  • Revision: ?
  • Reading & Writing: Performance Time-Line
  • Elbow Group Activity: Brainstorm interventions to support struggling writers in one of the writing phases: Planning, Writing, Revision
  • Your group will be assigned to think about one of the three phases of the writing process
  • In five minutes, brainstorm as many ideas as you can for interventions to support students in this phase of writing
  • Be prepared to share your ideas!

Cover-Copy-Compare (Murphy, Hern, Williams, & McLaughlin, 1990)

  • Students increase their spelling knowledge by copying a spelling word from a correct model and then recopying the same word from memory. Give students a list of 10-20 spelling words, an index card, and a blank sheet of paper. For each word on the spelling list, the student:
    • copies the spelling list item onto a sheet of paper,
    • covers the newly copied word with the index card,
    • writes the spelling word again on the sheet (spelling it from memory), and
    • uncovers the copied word and checks to ensure that the word copied from memory is spelled correctly. Repeat as necessary.

Monitoring to Increase Writing Fluency (Rathvon, 1999)

  • Students gain motivation to write through daily monitoring and charting of their own and classwide rates of writing fluency.
    • Assign timed freewriting several times per week.
    • After each freewriting period, direct each student to count up the number of words he or she has written in their daily journal entry (whether spelled correctly or not).
    • Have students to record their personal writing-fluency score in their journal and also chart the score on their own time-series graph for visual feedback.
    • Collect the day’s writing-fluency scores of all students in the class, sum those scores, and chart the results on a large time-series graph posted at the front of the room.
    • Raise the class goal by five percent per week.

A Memory Device for Proofreading (Bos & Vaughn, 2002)

  • When students regularly use a simple, portable, easily memorized plan for proofreading, the quality of their writing improves significantly.
    • Create and have students refer to a classroom with the SCOPE proofreading elements: Spelling: Are my words spelled correctly; Capitalization: Have I capitalized all appropriate words, including first words of sentences, proper nouns, and proper names?; Order of words: Is my word order (syntax) correct?; Punctuation: Did I use end punctuation and other punctuation marks appropriately? Expression of complete thoughts: Do all of my sentences contain a noun and verb to convey a complete thought?

Stimulate Writing Interest With an Autobiography Assignment (Bos & Vaughn, 2002)

  • Assigning the class to write their own autobiographies can motivate hard-to-reach students who seem uninterested in most writing assignments. Have students read a series of autobiographies of people who interest them. Discuss these biographies with the class. Then assign students to write their own autobiographies. (With the class, create a short questionnaire that students can use to interview their parents and other family members to collect information about their past.) Allow students to read their autobiographies for the class.

"The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn't write."

  • "The worst thing you write is better than the best thing you didn't write."
    • Anonymous

Use Selective Proofreading With Highlighting of Errors

  • To prevent struggling writers from becoming overwhelmed by teacher proofreading corrections, select only 1 or 2 proofreading areas when correcting a writing assignment.
    • Create a student ‘writing skills checklist’ that inventories key writing competencies (e.g., grammar/syntax, spelling, vocabulary, etc.).
    • For each writing assignment, announce to students that you will grade the assignment for overall content but will make proofreading corrections on only 1-2 areas chosen from the writing skills checklist. (Select different proofreading targets for each assignment matched to common writing weaknesses in your classroom.)

Use Selective Proofreading With Highlighting of Errors: Cont.

    • To prevent cluttering the student’s paper with potentially discouraging teacher comments and editing marks:
      • underline problems in the student’ text with a highlighter and
      • number the highlighted errors sequentially at the left margin of the student paper.
      • write teacher comments on a separate feedback sheet to explain the writing errors. Identify each comment with the matching error-number from the left margin of the student’s worksheet.
      • TIP: Have students use this method when proofreading their own text.
  • 1
  • 1
  • Rewrite this run-on sentence as two separate sentences.
  • 2
  • 2
  • Not clear. Rewrite. Consider starting the sentence with ‘The concept of …’
  • Spelling; Run-on and incomplete
  • sentences
  • Mrs. Richman
  • Tommy Ridgeway
  • Dec 1, 2006
  • Selective Proofreading With Highlighting of Errors

"A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason."

  • "A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason."
    • Margaret Atwood

Integrated Writing Instruction (MacArthur, Graham, & Schwarz, 1993 )

  • The instructor follows a uniform daily instructional framework for writing instruction.
    • Status-checking. At the start of the writing session, the instructor quickly goes around the room, asking each student what writing goal(s) he or she plans to accomplish that day. The instructor records these responses for all to see.
    • Mini-Lesson. The instructor teaches a mini-lesson relevant to the writing process. Mini-lessons are a useful means to present explicit writing strategies (e.g., an outline for drafting an opinion essay) as well as a forum for reviewing the conventions of writing. Mini-lessons should be kept short (e.g.,5-10 minutes) to hold the attention of the class.

Integrated Writing Instruction Cont. (MacArthur, Graham, & Schwarz, 1993 )

    • Student Writing. During the session, substantial time is set aside for students to write. Their writing assignment might be one handed out that day or part of a longer composition (e.g., story, extended essay) that the student is writing and editing across multiple days. When possible, student writers are encouraged to use computers as aids in composing and editing their work.
    • Peer & Teacher Conferences. At the end of the daily writing block, the student may sit with a classmate to review each other's work, using a structured peer editing strategy. During this discussion time, the teacher also holds brief individual conferences with students to review their work, have students evaluate how successfully they completed their writing goals for the day, and hear writers' thoughts about how they might plan to further develop a writing assignment.

Integrated Writing Instruction Cont. (MacArthur, Graham, & Schwarz, 1993 )

    • Group Sharing or Publishing. At the end of each session, writing produced that day is shared with the whole class. Students might volunteer to read passages aloud from their compositions. Students are encouraged to choose more polished work and post it on the classroom wall or bulletin board, have their work displayed in a public area of the school, publish the work in an anthology of school writings, read it aloud at school assemblies, or publish it on a school Internet site.
  • The amount of grammer and usage error’s today is astounding. Not to mention spelling. If I was a teacher, I’d feel badly that less and less students seem to understand the basic principals of good writing. Neither the oldest high school students nor the youngest kindergartner know proper usage. A student often thinks they can depend on word processing programs to correct they’re errors. Know way!
  • Watching TV all the time, its easy to see why their having trouble. TV interferes with them studying and it’s strong affect on children has alot to due with their grades. There’s other factors, too, including the indifference of parents. A Mom or Dad often doesn’t know grammer themselves. They should tell there children to study hard and to watch less TV then their classmates.
  • Source: Sandy LaFave, West Valley College, Saratoga, CA http://instruct.westvalley.edu/lafave/writsamp0.htm
  • Interventionist TIP: Don’t Forget That… Writing Interventions Are Embedded in a Larger Web of Potential Academic Intervention Strategies
  • Writing
  • Homework
  • Note-Taking
  • Reading Comprehension
  • Reading Fluency
  • Time Management
  • Test Taking


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