Best practices for developing proficient writers


From prewriting to brainstorming, here's how to help students master the fundamentals

Next, still in the prewriting phase, educators should work on how to brainstorm. Students may be worried about coming up with right and wrong answers. The goal is to make them comfortable with sharing ideas and to have content that will let them move forward in the process. Brainstorming can also help identify areas where students need to do more research.

Once students have sufficient ideas, they need to learn how to plan their writing. Hamilton said many students get stuck on the idea of an outline because it seems too rigid and focuses more on Roman numerals than the actual content. She suggested looking at a variety of methods that allow students to move around their content and recognize how it’s addressing the assignment.

Now students are ready to write a draft, but Hamilton says students shouldn’t see this as just the rough draft or as a step that’s completed once the last sentence is written. Instead, she sees writing, revising, and editing as a continuous cycle that ends only when the student is ready to create the final copy. Depending on the assignment, students may share early drafts and even be asked to peer edit. Hamilton believes, though, that students need lessons in providing feedback before they can be inserted into the process. If students haven’t been taught how to comment on each other’s writing in a productive manner, then the peer feedback might not help the students improve their work.

Timing is the most important piece of this writing strategy. Each of the steps should be discussed over multiple days. For example, teachers should not talk about brainstorming one day and then planning the next. They should ask students to brainstorm about different topics every day until the students are able to lead the process themselves. Then, they can learn about the planning stage. Give students small moments of success so they develop a positive attitude towards writing.

Moreover, this process should also repeat itself over a student’s education career. “What the research told me … is that writing instruction really isn’t that different depending on the student,” said Hamilton. “The elements of good writing will always be there. It’s the depth of knowledge that I’m seeking that really changes. The basics tenets of good writing really don’t change.”

About the Presenter

Jenny Hamilton, M.Ed., has been a tireless advocate for students who struggle to achieve academic success. Her training and background in behavior management enable her to share practical solutions regarding classroom management issues. She also works with teachers to raise awareness of the emotional damage that accompanies academic failure. Hamilton’s depth of experience in teaching elementary, middle, and high school students lends authenticity to her delivery when she trains and coaches teachers. A deep interest in the research behind best practices and the science of learning allows her to share with teachers and administrators current and relevant data on how the brain works and what can be done to change the trajectory of struggling readers and writers. She is currently an independent consultant focusing on literacy.

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