The Principles of Teaching Writing

The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) is a premier organization for the teaching and learning of English and the language arts. For over one hundred years, NCTE has engaged in instruction, advocacy, and research and now boasts over 25,000 members. Fun fact: NCTE was founded in our hometown of Chicago in 1911!

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When we talk about student writing, people often ask us how we handle grading something so subjective. It’s not multiple choice, after all! Gaining an understanding of the role of formative feedback and how rubrics work certainly helps, but there's still something incredibly tricky about helping students become better writers.

Helpfully, NCTE offers a position statement on the professional principles that guide the effective teaching of writing. Principles are foundational truths that can be applied over and over again to many situations. So, at The Graide Network, we seek to apply these principles to the small role our Graiders play in the teaching of writing and the development of writers. 

Here’s how we align our work with these core principles: 

#1 Writing grows out of many purposes, and #2 Writing is embedded in complex social relationships. 

“Since writers outside school have many different purposes beyond demonstrating accountability and they use more diverse genres of writing, it is important that students have experiences within school that teach them how writing differs with purpose, audience, and other elements of the situation."

NCTE recommends teachers understand: 

  • Ways of organizing and transforming school curricula in order to provide students with adequate education in varied purposes for writing;
  • How to set up a course that asks students to write for varied purposes and audiences;
  • The ultimate goal is not to leave students where they are, however, but to move them toward greater flexibility, so that they can write not just for their own intimates but for wider audiences
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Our view: The Graide Network allows teachers to introduce a new audience to their students, a Graider. This may be the first time students have the opportunity to write for someone other than their classroom teacher, parent or friend. Structured as a friendly but objective classroom aide, their Graider begins to bridge students to writing for outside audiences. 

#3 Conventions of finished and edited texts are an important dimension of the relationship between writers and readers.

“Readers expect writing to conform to their expectations. On the one hand, it is important for writing to be as correct as possible and for students to be able to produce correct texts so that readers can read and make meaning from them. On the other hand, achieving correctness is only one set of things writers must be able to do; a correct document empty of ideas or unsuited to its audience or purpose is not a good piece of writing. There is no formula for resolving this tension.”
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Our view: Add this to the long list of reasons why human evaluation, rather than machine, is so critical in writing. This unsolvable tension is also why we always pair scores with feedback for each student and summary feedback for the class. Qualitative commentary helps students and teachers understand the complex judgments their Graider made. Further, when correctness does interfere with comprehension, Graiders give teachers a chance to use ratification. If an outside reader didn’t understand a student’s writing, it’s not just the teacher being a grammar stickler! 

#4 Everyone has the capacity to write; writing can be taught; and teachers can help students become better writers.

“Becoming a better writer requires that students write. This means actual writing for real audiences, not merely listening to lectures about writing, doing grammar drills, or discussing readings.”

What NCTE says this means for teaching: "Writing instruction must include ample in-class and out-of-class opportunities for writing, including writing in digital spaces, and should involve writing for a variety of purposes and audiences, including audiences beyond the classroom."

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Our view: “Ample in-class and out-of-class opportunities for writing” is wonderful in theory, but means one thing to English teachers - more papers to grade! With the support of a Graider, teachers can afford to assign more writing and offer a new audience to their students at the same time. 

#5 Writing is a process.

“Knowledge about writing is only complete when writers understand the ensemble of actions in which they engage as they produce texts. Such understanding has two aspects, at least. First is the development, through extended practice over years, of a repertory of routines, skills, strategies, and practices, for generating, revising, and editing different kinds of texts. Second is the development of reflective abilities and meta-awareness about writing.”
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Our view: NCTE’s first point regarding extended practice highlights the importance of frequent writing and revision opportunities. Its second point introduces the concept of how feedback impacts students. At The Graide Network, we have intentionally structured feedback into a synthesized half-page report with the student’s areas of strength and areas for growth. We have found this to be the most digestible for students, speeding them to self-reflection and the metacognition necessary for students to make real learning gains.  

#6 Writing is a tool for thinking.

“This insight that writing is a tool for thinking helps us to understand the process of drafting and revision as one of exploration, and is nothing like the idea of writing as transcribing from prerecorded tape.”

NCTE suggests teachers need to understand the kinds of new thinking—such as questioning, discovery, and invention—that occur when writers revise.

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Our view: Building more opportunities for questions, reflection, and revision is a core part of what The Graide Network offers. Writing is a challenging, creative process and more guidance and feedback along the way gives students more chances to refine their ideas and strengthen their thinking. 

#7 Writing has a complex relationship to talk.

“Writers sometimes confer with teachers and other writers about what to do next, how to improve their drafts, or how to clarify their ideas and purposes. Their usual ways of speaking either may or may not feed into the sentences they write, depending on intricate, continuous, important decisions.”

NCTE suggests teachers need to understand: 

  • Ways of organizing the classroom and/or schedule to permit individual teacher-student conferences;
  • Strategies for deliberate insertions of opportunities for talk into the writing process: knowing when and how students should talk about their writing.
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Our view: With capacity freed up by The Graide Network, teachers and students can spend more time conferencing one-on-one, discussing their feedback from Graiders in small groups, and journal about their next steps.

#8 Assessment of writing involves complex, informed, human judgment.

“Human beings need to make these judgments, not software programmed to score essays, because only human beings can be sensitive enough to purposes, audience, quality and relevance of evidence, truth in content, and the like. Furthermore, such judgments should be made by professionals who are educated and informed about writing, writing development, the various ways writing can be assessed, and the ways such assessments can support writers.”

NCTE suggests teachers need to understand: 

  • How to find out what student writers can do, informally, on an ongoing basis;
  • How to use that assessment in order to decide what and how to teach next;
  • How to deliver useful feedback, appropriate for the writer and the situation;
  • How to analyze and interpret both qualitative and quantitative writing assessments and make decisions about their usefulness;
  • How self-assessment and reflection contribute to a writer’s development and ability to move among genres, media, and rhetorical situations;
  • How to employ a variety of technologies—including screencasting and annotation, embedded text and voice comments, and learning management systems–to provide timely, useful, and goal-oriented feedback to students.
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Our view: Assessing writing is certainly complex. Clear and well-defined rubrics add structure and simplification to this process, and that’s why we require high-quality rubrics from teachers on The Graide Network. We also take great pride in the quality and professionalism that our highly vetted Graiders bring to their work.

The Graide Network is designed to help teachers assess what their students can do on a more consistent basis and provide relevant information to help guide what they do next. Accordingly, we keep the teacher as the facilitator (and gatekeeper) between a Graider’s feedback and students, filtering and augmenting feedback to be most appropriate for the individual student. When teachers join The Graide Network, we emphasize priming students up front to receive feedback and exercises to reflect, share, and use feedback afterwards to revise or improve on future assignments. 

Lastly, we note that NCTE encourages teachers to understand how to use various tools and resources to provide timely, useful, and goal-oriented feedback to students. That's exactly what The Graide Network is to so many teachers across the country. We hope more and more teachers come to see Graiders as another key resource for delivering effective feedback to students.

 

 

If you happen to be among the 5,000+ educators attending the annual NCTE Convention in St. Louis this week, please stop by and visit us! We’d love to show you real-life examples of how teachers are using The Graide Network to transform their classrooms and be better teachers of writing.

In the meantime, we recommend exploring the many position statements that NCTE provides on topics related to the teaching and learning of English and the language arts.