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The majority of techniques for teaching writing actually have been applied — in terms of research and evidence-based practice — with kids who don’t have writing problems. So one of the questions that comes up repeatedly is do procedures that have been effective for struggling writers have some merit for use with kids who are average writers or above average writers? It in part depends upon what you’re teaching. So let me use one example here.

There’s considerable research that suggests that exclusively teaching kids strategies for planning, revising, monitoring, and evaluating the effects, can have a very positive effect on the writing of struggling writers. It’s a nice thing to say that there’s also research to suggest that that’s the case for kids who are not struggling with writers. You have to ask why is that the case? But if you think about those processes, they take place inside somebody’s head. They’re not visible to young writers as they’re developing.

What that strategy instruction does is it takes them out of their head and makes them visible for teacher modeling and teacher support for kids, giving them the kind of assistance they need to be able to apply the same kinds of strategies. And since you can’t see it, it has a beneficial effect for not only struggling writers but average writers as well. Now, the effect is stronger for struggling writers. But it’s also very positive for average writers as well.

If you’re going to teach a strategy or a process, to a student who struggles, there are a couple of things that are very important. One of the things that we try to do is we boil that down into either heuristic or series of steps for carrying out the strategy. We try to put that in kid-friendly language, something they’ll understand. If we need to teach something in advance (for example, vocabulary), we’ll do that up front, because we don’t want confusion between the vocabulary and the strategy steps.

Second, we need to help kids be clear about why they’re doing each of the steps in the strategy, what the rationale behind each step is. And we want to be sure that we do that in simple language that kids understand.

When we model, it’s a whole different ball of wax. Because what we want to do when we model, we want to make a process that’s going on inside our head visible to kids. So if we have a strategy, we’ll show it, making it visible and in simple language. And we’ll use those words as we show. We also do a lot of other talk and it’s purposeful. So we’ll say things to ourselves, such as: what is it I have to do? Well, you know, one of the things I really want to do today is I want to write a story that my friend will enjoy.

So we set a purpose. We use talk that sets goals. We also use talk as we’re working through this that helps show how we cope with difficulties. So if we’re trying to generate ideas for what we’re going to say up front and we’re teaching kids how to brainstorm, remind students that you don’t start evaluating the ideas right away. Or, if we get to a part that’s pretty difficult as we’re modeling and the students are helping us do this, we’ll say something positive to ourselves to keep going.

We don’t overdo it, but we want to make the “self talk” that goes on inside our heads visible to kids. So once we’ve done the strategy, the kids have helped us generate the ideas and helped us craft the story that we’re writing, then we hold a conversation with the kids about what kinds of “self-talk” helped us with this writing. For kids with learning disabilities, we work on one thing that you will say to yourself as you’re writing that will help you.

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