Supporting Our Beliefs about the Teaching of Writing

Marci Glaus, English Language Arts Education Consultant for the Wisconsin Dept of Public Instruction, showcases a professional learning module housed by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

If someone asked you to describe your beliefs related to the teaching of writing, how would you respond? How do you think your colleagues would respond? Routman (2014) emphasizes that “the only way for sanity to prevail is for us as knowledgeable educators to know and value what we believe and for those beliefs to align with effective, research-based, and experience-based practices” (p. 84). If we spent some time reflecting on our beliefs about the teaching of writing, we could attach them to myriad teaching experiences, and even some of the research. However, how often do we revisit these beliefs? What opportunities are available to build on your beliefs related to the teaching of writing?

Fortunately, there are several shoulders to stand on regarding characteristics of effective writing instruction. Recently, I created a professional learning module dedicated to research, standards, and instruction related to particular aspects of the teaching of writing. After vetting these materials with a group of talented English/language arts educators from across Wisconsin, the materials were organized on the Department of Public Instruction English language arts professional learning page. The following is a sample of how these materials provide support and research connected to many of our beliefs about the teaching of writing.

Much of what we explore begins with three familiar words: audience, task, and purpose. Keeping these at the forefront for teaching and learning purposes establishes a precedent for the types of expectations we have for students’ writing. When possible, beginning with an authentic purpose and audience for writing in any genre will make a more meaningful experience for students. James Moffet shares this sentiment:

Writing has to be learned in school very much the same way that it is practiced outside of school. This means that the writer has a reason to write, an intended audience, and control of subject and form. It also means that composing is staged across various phases of rumination, investigation, consultation with others, drafting, feedback, revision, and perfecting. (as cited in National Writing Project & Nagin, 2006, p. 10)

Moffet integrates an extensive collection of the research on characteristics of effective writing instruction here. First, a tenet supporting effective writing instruction is to require that all students write (Graham and Harris, 2011, p. 238). Writing is defined as composing as opposed to filling in a worksheet or taking notes. When students have a reason to write that includes an intended audience, the purpose for writing can become more meaningful.

Second, a large portion of Moffet’s statement is dedicated to writing as a process. The principle-based definition of the writing process approach from Graham and Sandmel (2011) emphasizes that students work among cycles that include planning, putting a writing plan into action, and reviewing based on real purposes for writing and audiences (p. 396). Writing processes vary depending on the writer, but the important matter here is to treat writing not as a three step process, but as recursive in nature with teacher support along the way. For example, the writing process shared in this short video highlights different stages of the writing process and how the writer rarely stays put in a particular action for too long. Sharing our own writing process is one way to model what we do and how we do it when it comes to both developing an understanding of the recursive nature of writing and explicitly teaching how writers in various genres come up with ideas, what is expected related to form among those genres, or even reasons for revision.

The research supports explicitly teaching strategies for generating ideas, drafting, revising, and editing (Dawson, 2013; Graham & Harris, 2011). Using mentor texts is also an effective method for supporting writers as they establish their own ideas and begin drafting. Mentor texts can establish that authentic purpose for writing, and depending on the text, provide a built-in audience. For example, for students working in persuasion or argumentation, mentor texts like letters to the editor, submitted essays, articles, or even comments sections from articles naturally involve the audience for whom each text was written as part of conversation surrounding form and style. This also speaks to research on effective writing instruction related to discussion. Educators can facilitate and emphasize authentic discussion and writing tasks based in inquiry, as writers focus on purpose, audience, desired effects, and strategies that might achieve these effects (Dawson, 2013; National Writing Project & Nagin, 2006). Investigating different mentor texts with questions particular to planning readies students for their own writing processes.

The instructional practices mentioned here are supported by research and innumerable teaching experiences from a variety of contexts. They are also just a sample of the examples and resources available from Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction for professional learning related to the teaching of writing. For an expanded exploration of these ideas and other resources for teaching writing among the genres, visit the Department of Public Instruction English language arts professional learning page. Topics include 21st century expectations related to task, purpose, and audience; technology tools and writing; and formative practices related to writing within a balanced assessment system. The materials are made to be downloaded and customized for facilitation in your context.


Dawson, C. (2013). Writing in the English language arts. In A. N. Applebee & J. A. Langer (Eds.), Writing instruction that works: Proven methods for middle and high school classrooms (pp. 28-49). New York: Teachers College Press.

Graham, S., & Harris, K. (2011). Writing difficulties. In A. McGill-Franzen & R. L. Allington (Eds.), Handbook of reading disability research (pp. 232- 241). New York: Routledge.

Graham, S., & Sandmel, K. (2011). The process writing approach: A meta-analysis. Journal of Educational Research, 104(6), 396-407.

National Writing Project, & Nagin, C. (2006). Because writing matters: Improving student writing in our schools (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Routman, R. (2014). Read, write, lead: Breakthrough strategies for schoolwide literacy success. Alexandria: ASCD.

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