A National Study of Writing Instruction in Typical and High-Performing Schools

Sunday, 2:15

Overview of the National Study of Writing Instruction

*Arthur Applebee (University at Albany - SUNY)

*Original study was 1979 - this is not a replica, but similar

*Al ot what was going on then, was low-level thinking

* 4 Phases


*Refining issues and procedures thru 6 secondary schools in NY

* Examination of 6 best practices schools - grade 6,8,10,12

*National cross section


*Teacher survey (1520 completed)

*Interview with teachers, principals, chairs

*Students - selected by low, medium , and high achievement

High stakes exams and impact (from survey)

*Most teachers felt the state exam greatly impacted curriculum and instruction

*Open ended response on high stakes exams are not common - not even extended response - which has a major impact on the instructions of writing (it becomes a non-focus)

*Less then half of end of semester exams have short answer or essay responses

*60-85% responded that test-prep was done frequently or very frequently

*Writing - pages per week - about 1 1/2 page per week in English, about 2 pgs in other classes

Classroom Observations High Performing Schools

*Pencil on paper - about 47% of class time

*Paragraph length - about 10%

Changes from 1979 study

*A little more teacher feedback without grade (formative)

*Extending the audience from just the teacher

*More use of rubrics

*Synthesis using primary documents

Writing and Disciplinary Thinking in Math and Science

*Marc Nachowitz (University at Albany – SUNY)

*43% of science students are asked to write 1 ½ pages per week

*70% of science teachers say that reflective, observation etc writing is important

    • However, in observation, much of the writing is focuses on copying, note making, calculating

    • 18% of class time is used for short answer, 4% of class time is paragraph or more

  • Science use of writing process

  • Some prewriting, some sharing – little revision or studying of models

  • 77% of science writing is 1-2 pages long

Lots of other statistics that show that science students are not engaging in extended writing, but focused on short answer, restricted response, and copying.

*Lab reports are less then 1% of writing – yet, support higher thinking

*Lots of “knowledge telling” writing – just copying – little manipulation of the information or knowledge transforming writing.

English Language Learners and Writing Across the Disciplines

*Kristen C. Wilcox (University at Albany – SUNY)

*About 6% of classrooms are ELL

*There is little understanding of how content area teachers are instructing ELL in writing

*There are multiple boarder crossings happening for ELL – not just between their native language and dominant, but through the content and cognitive discourses.

*Ethnographic Case Study – in phase 2 of the national study (1 MS and 1 HS)

*Multi-state study – in Phase 3

*schools with lower densities of ELLs – there was a huge shift in the populations, and teacher engagement with ELLs

*schools with reputations of high achievement – inconsistent instructions for ELLs, some assumptions that ELLs should be at the same level

*Phase 3 to Phase 4

*Schools with higher % of ELL provided stronger support for both teachers and students

    • Schools with lower % relied on PD initiatives (without coordination)

    • However, across all schools, there was not systematic way to assess progress other than the mandated tests.

    • From the survey – in general, content area teachers of ELLs do believe that extended writing and higher level thinking writing is important.


*Inconsistent assessment of ELLs

*Inadequate support for content area teachers

*There are a lot of boarder crossings

*Teachers are assigning writing.

Contrasts in Writing Instruction Among Schools Serving Higher and Lower Proportions of Students in Poverty

*Judith A. Langer (University at Albany – SUNY)

  • School with 50% or more of students receiving free and reduced lunch - high poverty

  • schools with 20% or less – low poverty

  • Plus, comparison of high-Performing and typical

  • High poverty, high reputation school, spent more time on specific writing instruction

  • Most writing in classrooms were focused on note making, restricted use (thoughtless forms) with the small amount of time to writing paragraph or more

  • Teachers know what they should do and what is good for students – but feel that they can't implement it because of high stake testing.

Discussant: Steve Graham (Vanderbilt University)

  • Why aren't we seeing the actualization of thoughtful practices? Teachers know them, but aren't doing them.

  • We have way too much disparity in schools – depending on where you live.

  • The importance of this study is at the policy level – we need to know what is happening

    • We see that writing instruction is almost non-existent – so, in our move to reform teaching, we are not seeing writing as a major player. It has become too narrowed.

    • This will continue – especially as teacher pay is tied to testing performance.

    • The Problem – writing is not just about sharing information, but discovering what you know and understand.

      • The more students thoughtfully writing, reading comprehension improves

    • Teaching writing

      • We need to explicitly teach writing

      • we need to give formative feedback to students

      • we need to help students assess their own writing.

      • Machine feedback is not a bad thing – though limited

    • We need to better prepare teachers to teach writing

      • Kids need to write at least an hour a day.

      • Most teachers feel they are not prepared to teach writing

      • NWP is not enough

      • This is a shared responsibility – including teacher ed, but the teachers themselves too.