Many best practices for writing instruction left out by Common Core

iStock_000016876858XSmallWriting teachers are among the most resistant to incorporating research-based practices in instruction, preferring to rely on the advice of professional authors and successful teachers of writing instead, according to a new study in School Psychology Review.

The adoption of the Common Core State Standards puts pressure on educators across the curriculum to pay attention to standards and evidence-based practices when teaching writing.  But researchers say the standards don’t touch on a number of evidence-based practices that help students improve their writing skills.

Fewer than half of 36 identified evidence-based writing instruction and assessment practices that represent current theoretical models of writing are addressed in the standards,  according to two researchers who reviewed the standards against these practices.  The 36 practices were developed from a review of meta-analyses and research syntheses related to writing instruction.

“The CCS-WL (CCSS for Writing and Language) do not address writing motivation at all, although there is evidence that at least two aspects of motivation, goal setting and self-efficacy, directly affect writing performance and are amenable to instruction,” the researchers write.

Among the instructional practices for which there is strong evidence of effectiveness in the research but are missing from the Common Core are:

  •  Using text models after grade 2:  Teaching students to recognize and emulate different forms of writing
  • Sentence-combining instruction after grade 5:  Constructing more complex and sophisticated sentences by combining simpler sentences
  • Summarization: Explicitly teaching students how to summarize text
  • Free writing: Allowing students to write about their choice of topic without concern for grading (journaling)
  • Process writing instruction: Providing students with the opportunity to write for authentic purposes and audiences (other than the teacher), engaging students in cycles of planning, translating and reviewing and encouraging a sense of responsibility and ownership for writing projects.
  • Feedback after grade 2:  Verbal and written feedback from peers and adults during the writing process
  • Writing to learn: Learning content through the constructive processes of writing

Other practices with strong evidence of effectiveness that are not “signaled” in the Common Core standards, according to the researchers, include:

  • Using rubrics:  Teaching students to use a rubric in revising their work
  • Self-regulation and metacognitive reflection: Use of reflection, monitoring and evaluation of behaviors to regulate quality and productivity of writing
  • Setting product goals: Setting observable, specific and individual goals for what students are to accomplish in their writing
  • Teaching prewriting/planning/drafting: Showing students how to use graphic organizers, brainstorming and other strategies to generate and organize ideas
  • Transcription skills instruction: Teaching students spelling, handwriting and keyboarding (typing) to improve quality of writing

Especially with regard to writing instruction, teachers need to be informed about the limits of professional wisdom and the benefits of using rigorous replicated research to select teaching practices.  The authors believe school psychologists can play a role in professional development on writing instruction  and in making the case that teachers need to supplement the CCSS-WL with other pedagogical skills and knowledge.

 “The Common Core State Standards and Evidence-Based Educational Practices: The Case of Writing,” by Gary Troia and Natalie Olinghouse, School Psychology Review, 2013, Volume 42, No. 3, pp. 343-357. 

 

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