The Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL) Project: Research-based writing practices in the classroom-Discussion Summary- Readwrite Discussion List-Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS)

The Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL) Project: Research-based writing practices in the classroom

Discussion Summary

Discussion Announcement | Guests

Discussion Background

From September 19th through September 23rd, the Reading and Writing Skill discussion list hosted a guest discussion on writing instruction and Adult Basic Education (ABE). The guest facilitators were involved with the Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL) project which provides ABE teachers with professional development related to effective teaching with an emphasis on evidence-based practices in writing instruction. Days 1 and 2 of this discussion provided an overview of research in writing instruction. Days 3-5 featured TEAL teachers who described successes and challenges in implementing research-based writing practices. Thanks to Chris Miller, a graduate student at Georgia State University, the following represents a compilation of the various guest discussion topics. Each topic contains one or more discussion threads arranged by questions and answers. All of the guest facilitators' comments are labeled with their names, while questions and comments from listserv members are labeled with first and last initials. Most of the postings were copied and pasted verbatim, with a few words edited here and there to facilitate reading. For complete postings, along with author information, go to the Reading and Writing Archives and look at postings between September 19-23, 2011.


Mary Ann Corley, Ph.D., is a Principal Research Analyst with the American Institutes for Research in Washington, DC, where she serves as Director of the Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL) project, which is designed to offer professional development and technical assistance to states to enhance the quality of adult literacy instruction. As director (2001-2008) of the California Adult Literacy Professional Development Project (CALPRO), Corley led the design and development of a comprehensive system of research-based professional development and technical assistance for California's adult education teachers and administrators, including the establishment of professional learning communities. As Director of the National Adult Literacy and Learning Disabilities (ALLD) Center (1996-1999), Corley led the development of Bridges to Practice, a nationally disseminated training module for literacy providers serving adults with learning disabilities. In 1988, the Baltimore County ABE/GED/ESL Program she directed was named "Outstanding Adult Education Program" by the U.S. Secretary of Education. She has authored numerous articles, textbooks, and professional development materials on adult literacy, with emphasis on instructional strategies in ABE, GED, and ESL as well as on serving adults with learning disabilities.

Gary A. Troia, Ph.D., is an associate professor of special education at Michigan State University and a principal investigator with the Literacy Achievement Research Center located at MSU. He was a faculty member at the University of Washington in Seattle before taking his current position at MSU. Prior to receiving his doctorate from the University of Maryland in 2000, he worked 10 years in the public schools as a special educator and speech-language pathologist, and 6 years as a university clinical supervisor. Dr. Troia is a consulting editor for several journals and an associate editor of Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. He is the editor of the book Instruction and Assessment for Struggling Writers: Evidence-Based Practices, and a co-editor of Putting Writing Research into Practice: Applications for Teacher Professional Development, both published by Guilford Press. With colleagues Froma Roth and Colleen Worthington, he has co-authored a phonological awareness intervention program called Promoting Awareness of Sounds in Speech (PASS), published by Attainment Company, for young at risk children. Along with Janine Certo and Natalie Olinghouse, he is currently developing a genre study resource for classroom teachers titled Growing Writers: Teaching Writing to Students of All Abilities. He is the principal investigator for a 4-year IES-funded grant that examines the content of states' writing standards and assessments, the Common Core writing standards, and the alignment of standards and assessments with research-based practices, postsecondary expectations, and NEAP writing performance. Dr. Troia has authored over thirty research papers and book chapters and has given numerous presentations about his work in the areas of phonological processing, writing assessment and instruction, and teacher professional development in literacy.

Deborah DeSousa teaches GED, Transition to College, and distance learning classes in all subject areas in the state of Rhode Island. She has a B.A. from Boise State University in elementary/middle school education and holds a teaching certificate (K-8). After teaching fifth grade for five years, she made the move to adult education, teaching ESL, ABE and GED classes for the next seven years. Deborah currently is working on an MA in Literacy.

Hilary Gwilt has been teaching Adult Education for almost six years. She has spent the past year as the Transitions Coordinator for Abilene Adult Education in Texas. Currently, she teaches a literacy/ABE level class as well as a GED class in conjunction with the Abilene Workforce Center.

Kristin Hott. After nearly a decade of teaching in community-based, face-to-face adult GED classes in Richmond, VA, Kristin Hott made the move to JSRCC's Middle College program, a transition/college prep program for adults 18-24 who need their GED credential to pursue higher education goals. She is a trainer in the Virginia Adult Educator Certification Program, and an online course facilitator and eLearn VA mentor with the Virginia Adult Learning Resource Center. Kristin is en route to complete her Master's degree in Adult Education at VCU with a focus on Adult Literacy.

Jonathan Moore is an ABE/GED instructor at the Grenada Adult Education Center in Grenada MS. Although his degree in education from the University of London (UK) had an emphasis in elementary education, he has been teaching adults for more than 10 years at the center and, until recently, at a local correctional facility.

Sue Pohlman is an ABE/GED instructor at Northeast Community College In Norfolk, Nebraska. She has been teaching literacy, math, and GED classes for over 25 years. She holds a B.S. in elementary education and enjoys attending professional development trainings at the state and national level.

Lynn Stewart has taught adult education in Oklahoma for 12 years and was recognized as Oklahoma's Adult Education Teacher of the Year in 2004. She holds a BS in secondary education from University of Nebraska and a master's degree in behavioral sciences from Cameron University. Her past work experiences include Family Day Care Coordinator for the U.S. Air Force in Washington, DC and in the Republic of Panama, and Ready to Learn Trainer for the OK Department of Libraries.

Sharri Turk is an ABE/GED instructor in New York State with 15 years teaching experience. She has a B.A. in Sociology, a J.D. in Law, and Secondary certification in Social Studies. For the last 5 years, Sharri has taught adult education, which has been her most rewarding teaching experience to date.

Guillermo Verdin is a STAR-trained evidence-based reading instruction (EBRI) ABE instructor at Belmont Community Adult School in Los Angeles, CA. He has been teaching Reading and Language Arts for 10 years now. Proudly, yet oddly, he holds a B.S. in Business Administration from USC and an Adult Teaching Credential from UCLA. He strongly believes in his own growth and professional development and every year strives to be a better teacher than the year before.

Recommended Reading Prior to the Discussion

Research-Based Writing Instruction

Self-Regulated Strategy Development

Technology-Supported Writing Instruction

Troia, G. Research in writing instruction: What we know and what we need to know. To appear in Pressley, M., Billman, A., Perry, K., Refitt, K., & Reynolds, J.M. (Eds.), Shaping literacy achievement: Research we have, research we need. New York: Guilford Press.

Troia, G. & Graham, S. (2003). Effective writing instruction across the grades: What every educational consultant should know. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 24(1), 75-89.


Mary Ann Corley: I am pleased to be a guest speaker for this week's discussion and to share information about the Teaching Excellence in Adult Literacy (TEAL) project, funded by the United States Department of Education, Office of Vocational and Adult Education. The purpose of TEAL is to provide professional development and resources to help adult education teachers refine their practice and provide quality instruction based on research, with an emphasis on evidence-based practices in writing instruction. We have small teams (up to 5 people) from 12 states participating in the TEAL project. During the 2010-2011 school year, we offered online courses in evidence-based practices that cut across all content areas, for example, differentiating instruction, self-regulated learning, effective lesson planning, formative assessment, and other topics. Last month, we brought all TEAL participants together for a four-day institute in which we invited nationally recognized experts and researchers in writing instruction to facilitate sessions on topics such as strategies for planning and revising writing, framing the constructed argument response, summarization strategies, and skills adult students need for postsecondary success. Our facilitators included the following university professors/researchers: Charles "Skip" MacArthur, Linda Mason, Dolores Perin, and Gary Troia.

We are delighted to have Gary Troia as our guest facilitator on this list for Monday and Tuesday this week to speak about research related to writing instruction. One of the questions that TEAL participants have asked repeatedly is how we know that research conducted primarily on K-12 or community college students applies also to adult education students. My response to this question: This research is the best we have at this point. The research on secondary education and community college students informs our practice of adult education, but we definitely need research on the adult basic education population (Hint: For those of you looking for dissertation topics, one consideration might be to use a population of ABE students and replicate a study already conducted on secondary education or community college populations to see if you obtain the same results.) What comments and questions do you have for Gary related to the need for research on writing instruction geared to the ABE population?

Preview: Joining us on Wednesday and continuing through Friday of this week are eight TEAL teachers: Guillermo Verdin (California), Jonathan Moore (Mississippi), Sue Pohlman (Nebraska), Sharri Turk (New York), Lynn Stewart (Oklahoma), Deborah De Sousa (Rhode Island), Hilary Gwilt (Texas), and Kristin Hott (Virginia). They will discuss TEAL writing strategies that they have tried as well as associated successes and challenges. Based on feedback we receive from these and all participating TEAL teachers, we will revise TEAL professional development materials and post them to the TEAL Web site ( by the summer of 2012. What comments and questions do you have for our participating TEAL teachers about the application of evidence-based practices to the ABE population? Please pose your questions for TEAL teachers beginning on Wednesday.

We look forward to an interesting and engaging discussion this week.

Gary Troia: During the next two days I am here to spend time with you as we review the research we have so far on writing instruction as well as research that's still needed. For background, you should review a book chapter I wrote several years ago, titled "Research in writing instruction: What we know and what we need to know". In that chapter, some of the main points are that struggling writers tend not to do much advance planning that truly helps them generate and organize their ideas, and that struggling writers don't frequently revise and if they do, they focus on easily correctable things such as spelling or word choice rather than points in the text that cause confusion for a reader, perhaps because they don't take the reader's perspective, or they don't set concrete goals, or they can't catch their mistakes, or they are simply reluctant to substantially change what took much effort in the first place. Some of the empirically validated instructional elements described in this chapter include (a) explicit modeling of cognitive processes used in writing, (b) the use of self-regulation components, (c) peer collaboration and conferencing, (d) procedural facilitators, (d) accommodations to remove text transcription barriers, (e) sustained time for writing instruction and writing using predictable routines, (f) examining mentor texts of varied genres, (g) teaching writing mechanics, and (g) use of a common language to communicate about the valued aspects of texts. With regard to writing assessment research, CBM and portfolio assessment systems, as part of a comprehensive data collection and management plan, seems a good bet, but there is still much to discover about how best to assess writing. The importance of teacher professional development models that are focused, sustained, and comprehensive and treat the teacher as a writer is discussed. I am wondering what you think about these points-do they resonate with you? Do you have any experiences to share to illustrate one or more points? Any questions about writing instruction and assessment and what the research says?

Cognition and Writing

CM: I am a graduate student studying Educational Psychology my research interests include adult learners, literacy, and persistence. When you are studying adult writers, how do you really get inside their head and find out how they do it? I have read about retrospective miscue analysis, etc., for reading, and I am wondering if adults are able to step back and articulate how they write as a process. Also, do you think that part of the difficulty in some classroom writing activities has to do with the fact that the writing task itself isn't usually "authentic"?

Gary: Great question about how we get "inside" a writer's head. There are four major approaches used in the research: (1) fMRI and other brain imaging techniques, (2) stimulated retrospective or real-time verbal recall analysis (similar to what you referred to in reading), (3) eye gaze, and (4) computer keystroke analyses. These are far too complex to discuss in an online post, but I am recommending some key references for each in the resource section.

HK: Gary, ... of the four you suggest the use of brain imaging is, I think, far and away the most controversial. Some researchers love them but there are many serious researchers and thinkers who will tell you that they are too simplistic and broad. It is certainly my view, along with many others, that although they are excellent at the job they are actually designed for (detecting anatomical abnormalities and lesions) they cannot now, and possibly never will, tell us anything useful about the processes the brain is carrying out. The brain is nowhere near well enough understood yet and is way too subtle and interconnected for us to make much of a snapshot of its bits and pieces in our field. The trend in neuropsychology is running against the use of scans for such purposes.

HB: I think that an average adult (let alone one who is still learning literacy) cannot articulate what goes on in their head to enable them to read... It requires specialist knowledge. I suspect the same is true of writing. Could be wrong...

DL: I "get inside my student's heads" by making my instruction meaningful, in an immediate way. I explain why they need to know how to write an essay, and give examples of when writing an essay saved me big money. I explain how I learned to write working as a cub reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and show them examples of how writing can be financially rewarding. If they have the will to learn, I celebrate great writing by great writers. I don't worry about what is inside their heads except as it is manifested in their writing!

BO: You could be right; I have seen a certain lack in the heads of college freshmen... But I would start by going back to the old standby language experience approach: let them articulate orally what they want to write, the teacher/tutor/class records it, and then chooses elements that they could work on to make the language writing better. That is one way...

Kristin: I believe that metacognitive skills are both modeled and explicitly taught through think alouds, writing demonstrations done by the teacher on a keyboard (with product visible on a projector for students to witness) or by doing brainstorming as a group, to name a few. The discussion that fills up a room is ripe with thoughts about how to write "well". Students given permission to talk about what they are experiencing thought wise as they try to transfer words onto paper are provided the first key to opening the door to self regulation and increased awareness of good writers experience in that transfer. They do need to see that this is a legitimate process, however.

LEA writing technique as BO described, is a fantastic way to get anyone, emerging writer or experienced prose writer, to think freely and focus more on the meaning and organization of their thoughts, separate from their ability to produce a writing product. Used as a method to break down confidence barriers for adult learners who do not have beginning literacy needs, LEA is a powerful reflexive practice aimed at reshaping a learner's self image as a writer.

I am about to compile examples of essays my current class has written recently, as a way to present examples of their higher quality and needs focused writing...all anonymous, of course. They respond well to seeing their writing "lifted" or perhaps "liberated" from the page, and placed in a positive light. Often, they are surprised that the sentence came from their writing! Alongside skills level issues, I think psychological barriers are also very much in play when a learner is reluctant or unable to articulate what they are thinking about their own writing.

MW: I especially like BO's suggestion. It works so well as story lines and ideas develop. I have used it successfully in both my ESL classes and my Spanish classes as well as in GED classes.

VY: One angle with individual learners is to take down what they want to write in shorthand, and give it back to them in print. It is amazing how well many of them can say what they want to write.

SM: It is true that writers cannot articulate everything that they think while writing. It's also true that weak writers have more trouble saying what they are thinking. On the other hand, lots of cognitive research has used think-aloud protocols to study writing, and it's been quite productive of insights. As a research tool, a think-aloud protocol involves giving the person a writing task, asking them to verbalize their thoughts as they work, and recording both what they say and what they do. We've used the technique with students as young as fifth-grade to observe their revising processes, and they are able to explain why they are making the changes they make. The most interesting aspect of the think-aloud procedure to my thinking is not the research but the educational applications. When teachers model their thought processes live for students, the students really get to see what is involved in the writing process -- including all the false starts and difficulties that are inevitable. This is a key part of strategy instruction. Also, when it is time for the students to try the strategies, teachers ask them to explain their thinking - either during the process or afterwards - with the help of their written plans. Making the writing processes of teachers and students visible in this way is very helpful to struggling writers.

Writing for the GED

SA: I have been suggesting the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) as a promising instructional approach to the GED instructors I work with as a professional developer and have suggested that the POW + TREE mnemonics can be powerful organizational tools for learners who are preparing to write the GED 2002 essay.

I wonder what you suggest for teachers who need to start preparing their learners for GED 2014's anticipated "extended constructed responses" in the Literacy and Social Studies that will replace the current essay. At this point I know that the test developers are changing the requirements
for the writing component of the test because they want GED learners to acquire writing skills beyond the traditional 5-paragraph essay format. Furthermore, the focus on college and career readiness in the Common Core State Standards influences the writing requirements for GED 2014 because test takers will be required to respond to one or more reading selections and support their positions with evidence that they draw directly from the passages - much like the current Regents writing requirements for high school students.

What are some evidence-based instructional approaches to writing instruction for the anticipated GED 2014 "extended constructed responses"?

GARY: I think the SRSD framework for strategy instruction has a proven track record and I highly recommend it. The specific planning strategy you mentioned, POW + TREE, is just one of many strategies that can be taught using this framework (a great resource is Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students by Harris, Graham, Mason, & Friedlander). I assume you are asking about what possibly to do differently in light of the changes to the GED which will require integration of reading comprehension and written expression because POW + TREE doesn't address the reading component.

One instructional approach to integrate these components that has research evidence is KWLH+, Know, Wonder, Learned, How Do I Know, and +, which is a summarization of the content read. This is what many educators know as KWL, but with the enhancements of having to identify how you know what you learned from the text is accurate/valid and the written summary using
information from the KWLH chart. Such a chart could be drawn by a student during the exam as a planning tool for their writing while they are reading, so it could be used not only for instructional purposes but also as a tactic by the adult learner while being tested.

As for your other post regarding word processing, research does indicate that word processing has a positive impact on writing performance because it mitigates (though it does not completely remove) transcription difficulties (as long as the student knows how to type and how to use the computer and the software) and makes revision easier. Of course, this does not mean students will revise more or address the most salient problems in their texts-it is just a tool that offers some affordances if the writer already has the cognitive routines in place for good writing. I am familiar with the Writing Lab approach by Nickola Nelson, Christine Bahr, and Adelia Van Meter available from Brookes Publishers. It does a nice job of presenting how writing can be taught in the context of a computer lab with not just word processors, but other computer tools for text production (e.g., Inspiration planning software, word prediction software, speech recognition and synthesis software).

SA: In addition to my previous question about evidence-based practices for GED 2014 preparation, I would also like to ask what is known about drafting written responses using word processing software on computers, as GED test takers will be required to transition from pen and paper to a computer based test after 2014. I know that there is evidence that supports the use of word-processing equipment, but I am interested in learning about any promising instructional approaches or resources that educators have used.

Jonathan: I personally like the idea that you can work on comprehension and writing together - particularly in light of recent word of upcoming changes that would appear to combine Language Arts reading and Writing on the new GED test.

Sharri: I am a GED/Adult Literacy teacher, so, therefore, my focus is on writing for the GED/Transitional student. While I use quick-writes to introduce writing to new students, I also teach the standard five-paragraph essay. I teach this as an organizational tool using: (1) Brainstorming techniques (2) Topic sentence development (3) Paragraph development (4) Creation of introductions and conclusions (5) Use of graphic organizers. Five paragraph essays are "cookie cutter" essays, but they instill enough confidence in students to enable them to branch out into other types of writing.

I also use constructed responses to reading across the subject areas. With an eye toward the 2014 GED, I have recently added Document Based Questions focusing on synthesis and analysis of previously read materials in my Social Studies curriculum. DBQ's are ambitious writing assignments that are not geared to every student. I also serve a population of students that would just like to be able to write a note to their children's school teacher, a letter to the editor, or a customer complaint letter, and not be embarrassed. That is as far as their writing interest extends. I try to include enough types of writing assignments to cover the basics given time constraints.

SM: I'll weigh in with an answer to this question about word processing. The meta-analysis of writing instruction for adolescents by Graham and Perin (2007) - Writing Next - found a moderate effect size for word processing. The effect size was larger for struggling writers. The research on word processing in this review and previous ones indicates that word processing in combination with instruction is more effective than instruction without the word processing. In my view, this reflects the fact that using a word processor makes it easier to teach and learn flexible writing processes, in particular, revising; word processing also provides spell checkers and neat final products that are particularly helpful to struggling writers. However, to benefit from word processing, students have to learn to use it effectively, and this includes learning to type with reasonable fluency. A pair of studies with high school students by Russell and colleagues compared writing for a state test via handwriting and word processing by the same students. Gains from use of a word processor were correlated with typing speed. That is, students with above average typing wrote better with a word processor and those with below average typing did better with handwriting.

RH: In your book chapter, you discuss the National Writing Project as one example of intensive professional development for learning to teach writing. Can you (or others) talk a little more about this program (or others like it) in terms of how they help teachers become better at teaching writing? Which writing genre(s) are typically taught to teachers? Are strategies for second language learners offered? Do teachers learn how to balance grammar, mechanics, etc. with the message process?

GARY: I think you'd find out much more about the National Writing Project (NWP) by visiting their website and discovering their many resources for teachers. Generally speaking, they hold a month-long summer institute (which requires an application and is somewhat expensive, but there are grants available) for teachers to cover all of the issues you raised and more—it is very teacher-focused. Then they require TCs (teacher-consultants who successfully completed the summer training) to do professional development in their local schools throughout the subsequent year, so it is a
"teacher teaching, teacher spreading" professional development network model. Each state has at least one affiliate.

AE: When I was a National Writing Project fellow, we went through a year-long professional development process. Each month during the school year, we met with other teachers who had been through the fellowship. They provided us with all kinds of things (for many different writing genres) they had learned that worked in their classrooms, and then we took these back into our classrooms and saw what worked with our students.

Not specific to English language learners per se but focused on where the learners were in their writing development. Yes, and blending the mechanics with message. A powerful professional development model that translated into getting to see positive, progressive results throughout the year.

RH: What does the research say about corrective feedback for writing? Are there differences in the type of feedback depending on the levels of students in terms of how soon it is given, the types of errors discussed, and the number of errors that should be addressed each time?

GARY: Although the Writing Next report did not separate feedback on writing as one of the components, the instructional practices listed in that report that incorporate feedback, such as collaborative writing, setting specific writing product goals, and process writing, all have positive effects on writing quality. That particular aspect, though researched, does not have enough studies and includes too much variability along the dimensions you mention (timing, focus, number, and others) to not be able to say something with great assurance about the impact of feedback. However, what research has been done suggests feedback is an important part of good writing instruction. Based on my experience and that of the teachers with whom I've worked (and the limited research in this area), feedback should be individually tailored to address the most pressing needs of the students and limited to those that will have the greatest impact on the student's writing (I typically suggest no more than two areas in any given paper). The working memory component of writing is key here-a student only has so much cognitive capacity and can easily be overwhelmed with feedback when trying to make revisions (often why they focus on superficial issues). Also, some studies by Clare and her colleagues indicate that teachers still provide way too much feedback that is superficial and focused on writing mechanics rather than enhancing communication and meaning, not that feedback on mechanics is improper, but that the balance needs to kept in mind and the ultimate rhetorical and assignment goals.

DH: Thanks for your insights into researched based writing instruction. I love your book, Instruction and Assessment for Struggling Writers Evidenced Based Practices. I would wholeheartedly recommend it as a must read to anyone on the list.

I recently stumbled across Owl: The Online Writing Lab from Purdue and wanted to see if you thought it might be a good free resource.

SM: This is a fantastic resource for writing instructors from middle school on up through college, so accessible and simply presented, this is especially good for research formats.

BO: Without OWL, I could not survive. There are undoubtedly quite good sites out there I never visit because this is so complete. It explains different types of papers; has a zillion grammar and style tips; a good section on typical English Language Learning (ELL) writing issues; and, it is the most "user friendly" site on an academic format. It is presented in a way that reveals how it is organized which students find it quite helpful. The only problem is they don't treat how to cite an APA website without author, or rather, you can piece it together, but it isn't easy. When APA was going through a million error corrections after the last edition, OWL was keeping up with the corrections better than APA was, so I have trusted them implicitly ever since.


Deborah: One of the most helpful activities that I took away from this past year with the TEAL group was the Quick-Write (a part of Writer's Workshop). My students absolutely loved the activity and became more engaged in their writing as we continued throughout the year. I used various writing prompts, pictures, objects, etc., to engage their individual thoughts. The time limit was set at three minutes and each time students would make the comment, "wait, I wasn't finished or I need more time." How I remedied this situation was to give students an opportunity at the end of the week to take one of their quick-writes and complete it in essay form. They also loved and were eager to share their quick-writes with other members of the class and received positive feedback from peers. After using quick-writes on a daily basis, students would often times engage in similar activities at home. I would have students bring me in two or three essays that they are written over the weekend, or another student that just sat in her car before entering her house after class and just wrote because it was an escape for her. With the quick-writes, students were no longer hindered by a lack of confidence in spelling, grammar or structure. They were finding confidence in their writing and the often times upon completing an essay or reviewing their individual quick-writes could find mistakes on their own. They didn't feel like it was such a chore. I didn't find a challenge in the process because I like to switch things up in my classroom.

SD: Could you explain a bit more about what "quick-write" is? I think many of us may have heard the term but are not quite clear on what is and how it is used the ABE classroom.

Hilary: I use quick-writes as well. I am actually using them as a formative assessment tool in addition to just encouraging no-pressure writing. A quick-write involves giving the learner a chance to put down their thoughts in a very short amount of time. It could be prompt-driven or not; often what I'll do is ask the students to summarize what they learned from the previous day's lesson. I started with five minutes, but now I give them three and it tends to be ample time.

DP: One concept that was frequently repeated in our TEAL sessions was: "writing improves writing." Often our ABE /GED students avoid writing as it has always been difficult for them to get their thoughts down. As mentioned by RH, adult students may be overly concerned about spelling and word use. I too have used the quick-write approach for overcoming this reluctance. Quick-writes are a fun or thought provoking topic on which we ALL (teachers included) write for three minutes. It is informal, quick and nonthreatening. Afterwards, no one is required to share what they have written but I'm always amazed by those that want to. That gets the ball rolling and others begin to join in the conversation. Everyone seems to relax as we laugh, share stories and begin to bond as a group. The bonding has been a side benefit I hadn't expected and is especially appreciated when starting new groups.

Recently, I asked a student to pick a topic for our quick-write. When I didn't know what the topic would be, I, like the students drew a blank at first. From this I was able to model to the students that just writing the topic several times freed my mind to begin to think. Soon I was writing so
fast because I was afraid the timer would go off before I could finish. I imagine there are many creative ways that quick writes are used and I'd love hearing them!

VY: I knew a very successful teacher with a potentially rowdy class of disadvantaged students who spent the first two hours of each day on five minutes of writing, handwriting, spelling, mental arithmetic, quizzes, etc. with a few minutes each time looking at their work, on the principle 'Never let the little buggers have a minute's rest'. After that he needed the rest, but many students did more work in those 2 hours than in the rest of the day.

Guillermo: I, too, have had much success with the use of quick-writes. I primarily began using the q-w's to improve "writing fluency" and redirect the emphasis from mechanics to content. My approach has been slightly different but effective with my students. I incorporated a partner verbal component to "get the juices flowing" before writing the actual quick-write. The majority of my students LOVE to talk, so I used that to my advantage! The total "quick-write" activity takes about 15 minutes:

  • 5 minutes for one partner to verbally share his/her thoughts
  • +5 minutes for the other partner to verbally share his/her thoughts
  • +5 minutes to actually write out the Quick Write (using an ERASERLESS pencil provided by yours truly)
  • ____________________________________________

  • 15 minutes

Initially, they all struggled and were a little frustrated that they couldn't ERASE anything, but in time they eventually got over it and simply WROTE without worrying about mechanics. It was lots of fun watching them write with the eraser-less pencils the first time! I wish that I had videotaped it. At the end of the activity, many students freely shared with the whole class what they had written. The most recent q-w we wrote involved a humiliating experience they once had. It was lots of fun! "Humiliate" was one of the vocabulary words of the week. Since my goal for these q-ws is to improve "writing fluency", I try to choose quick-write prompts that are relevant for the week and that students have some level of "prior knowledge" of so as to make it more personal and worthwhile (as opposed to picking a prompt randomly that my students have limited knowledge of and would require me to pull their teeth to get information). On another occasion, we had been talking about the presidency throughout the week, so the qw prompt for that week involved something to do with being President.

I have also used Quick Writes to recall prior knowledge of a subject matter and as exit slips.

Lynn: This one of the TEAL philosophies in action - sharing and building upon preexisting ideas. I have done what GV mentions... in a way, but he describes it beautifully and succinctly!

DP: Eraser-less pencils. What a great idea, GV! I'm trying it! Thanks.

FE: Wonderful ideas and practices. Thank you for the sharing. It encourages me to make more of an effort to utilize this process to engage more writing that much quicker.

Lynn: I agree! More time does not mean more or better writing. I've started asking, "What's on your mind?" I write down the first two or three ideas that are vocalized. They become that day's quick-write prompts. It encourages learner involvement and gives strength to their voice.
The added benefit for me is that I am not the sole person responsible for coming up with the quick-write prompts. The added benefit to the learner is that they quickly learn to defend their ideas! This is a great transition into a higher level of writing.

Deborah: The article that describes quick-writes is taken from Voices from the Middle, Volume 10, Number 1, September, 2002. The article talks about a quick-write being a 1-3 minute written response to a short piece of writing. It gives the example of a poem and posing questions for students to write about (just short responses). I took it one step further in my classroom and actually use poems, a current event title from the newspaper or magazine, a picture taped to the white board in front of the class, or an object placed at the front of the class and students given an instruction that just states: Begin writing and after three minutes I say stop. This is a nice version of the original article because sometimes students struggle with wanting the correct structure, grammar, spelling, the correct answer. I just want my students to free-write and come up with a variety of possibilities.

The quick-writes as discussed in the article that I listed above have a more structured question approach that also work well in the classroom. Students just struggle so much with getting started when writing an essay and having ample opportunities to use quick-writes throughout the day help break down barriers in my classroom. I hoped this helped clarify a little more. The article that I have is from my TEAL experience and I'm not sure if Mary Ann can provide a link to the resource or not.

Mary Ann: Quick writes are great to help the learner find his/her voice in writing. We know from Graham and Hebert's report, Writing to Read, that it is important for us to encourage students to increase the amount that they write "students' reading comprehension is improved by having them increase how often they produce their own texts."

Lynn: I also thoroughly enjoy using the quick-write. Over the years the terms used to describe it may have changed, but the basic principle remains the same. Writing improvement comes with frequent writing experiences. The TEAL Institute refreshed my memory on writing for the exercise of writing and to experience the joy of sharing ideas via the written word.

The time allotted in my class varies from 3 to 5 minutes. I agree with DD in not giving the adult learners time to finish. The time crunch creates the desire to finish. As an added method of sharing information through the written word, the learners record the date, topic, and number of words on the top of each page. After writing for 2 weeks, they are asked to create a graph to display their results.

This gives the opportunity to "see" the result of daily writing. After creating their own graph, I then ask them to write a response about their visual results. Most of the comments are centered around environment and emotional response to topic or personal emotions at the time of the writing. This allows them, in their own words, to see that writing involves much more than pen and paper. Writing is an emotional exercise.

JE: I like the recordkeeping and graphing. What a way to build useful, relevant skills across content areas!

Sharri: I have also used quick-writes in my classroom. Quick-writes are statements that require a response such as, "Has technology helped society or has technology hurt society?" I set time guidelines (10 minutes) and minimum response (3 reasons to support your position). When I first started introducing q-w's my students hated them! So, I modified my approach and modeled my expectations. If the topic seems difficult, I try to generate some discussion to help students focus their thoughts. Now, my students ask for a q-w if I've neglected to put one out for a couple of days.

Quick-writes are the "baby steps" to the more in-depth writing process. Other strategies I've used are list making and graphic organizers. Making a list is another way to brainstorm and put your thoughts down on paper. Graphic organizers also allow for brainstorming. For some adult students this is the greatest hurdle to jump over, the "I don't know what to say/write" hurdle. Anytime my students can express something in writing, it is a success. It takes the fear factor out of writing. Each success is a step along the journey towards a full blown essay - the goal for GED students.

What I learned from the TEAL courses is that everyone's approach to writing instruction is going to be different and geared toward their student populations. As one of my student's says "It's all good!"

Jonathan: Quick writes are definitely a great way to get your students writing. I found online a couple of prompt generators that I have found useful:

JI: Here is another opportunity for practitioners to try to walk the walk (or write the writing?) I have tried to write at least 750 words a day to get myself into the habit of daily writing. Full disclosure: I did manage, over the summer, to write on 45 consecutive days. These days, not so much - but I receive an email reminder daily and try to get some writing done. My point in posting this here is to remind practitioners of the joy and the agony of writing and of the wonderful possibilities found in private, uncensored, and unstopping, writing. This is not so quick, but not so slow either. This is something for us to consider as part of our own ongoing learning and work process.

Lynn: I am in total agreement with Write the Write! When I give a quick-write prompt, I write! At first I was tempted to get three minutes of needed work done, but in the long run three minutes of writing has a much bigger reward. Modeling (another TEAL strategy) in action.

Hilary: With regard to any writing. I am in total agreement with LS--if they write, I write. Often, I'll do it right on the overhead (turned on!) so they can see that yes, I make mistakes, and yes, it's okay to edit--or not. Quick-writes and journal prompts are, in my classroom, "safe." That's where the ideas go; it's pure creation. Editing comes with essay writing.

JC: Judith Gould has a writing method for elementary and middle school students that can successfully be adapted for use with your reluctant writers. It is called Four Square Writing. Yes - it is canned writing, but some students need an organizational tool to use when they begin writing. They lack confidence in their ability to put thoughts to paper. When students finish a "4 square" write they tend to gain confidence. I believe it is because they finally are able to put their thoughts into an acceptable, organized piece. It should definitely not be the only method you present to them. It is just a start.

RH: I have never heard of Four Square Writing. Can you give a little more explanation of it and/or a resource?

MC: I use it in a series of "quick warm-up drills".... handwriting, card drills, encoding using s/s correspondence and/or word structure knowledge (phonemic and structural), write words using encoding strategies, add suffixes using spelling rules etc., write quick phrases (who/what, when, where, how) using the words encoded, write a simple, compound, and complex sentence using the same words....OR.. Use a noun (from the list) as the subject of the sentence, the object of a prepositional phrase in the sentence, the direct or indirect object of the sentence. Of course, I only choose drills that I know are "doable" and concepts I have taught. These drills show the progression of language from phoneme to sentence level in one sweep and don't take up much time. I want students to review strategies they will use when writing before they have to think of a huge idea on top of it all!

One of the TEAL teachers mentioned list generation. This is one of my favorite "pre-paragraph" drills. Someone selects a topic on a slip of paper drawn randomly from a jar. The topics range from "green things", to "things that fit in your pocket", to "ways to care for the environment", to "what you would tell the president", etc. Simple or complex, the students have a given amount of time (1-3 minutes depending on who is in the group) to write down whatever comes to mind in a list form. When the time is up, we go through and have to "mark off" anything someone else has on their list. This causes them to think more of the "unusual" if possible, and we are left with the most unique items. Another thing we do with the lists is categorize them. We take the list elements that go together and group them. This is a precursor to organizing material for paragraphs. We save the lists for later development into paragraphs or essays. This also demonstrates the "license" to 'include" or 'exclude" some of the ideas. It is okay to throw out an outlier! Sometimes we will generate more ideas than we need, or will be effective in communicating our point! Students love this exercise... it is like a game.... and it really helps those "inflexible" thinkers, and those having trouble getting started!

SE: I have been scanning through the posts on Quick-writes and have loved all the ideas posted. I have used a version of quick-writes for several years in my ABE and GED classes, where I would post a quote, usually inspirational in nature, and have the respond in 5 minutes. Then after collecting the writings, I would ask for volunteers to share how they responded to the quote. Last year, because of the set up for the classes, I started one class with doing quick-writes twice a week, and the other class started with Math warm-ups. The quick-write class soon demonstrated superior writing skills on the 5 paragraph essays as compared to the other class without the quick writes. I am sold on the benefits of doing quick-writes.

RB: I'm really excited to read about what everyone is doing out there. I tried the quick-writes in my classes yesterday, and I think that the students liked them. A surprising number were willing to share what they wrote with the class. I collected them, and I think I'll return them later after everyone's done at least a couple. Maybe they'll want to expand on one of their ideas.

Jonathan: I taught a lesson this week on using metaphors and had some fun....ended up by introducing HAIKU and had even more fun trying to write just 17 syllables......Now how's that for a Quick Write? The students enjoyed it too!

RB: Six-word stories are also good. Here is a famous example by Ernest Hemingway:

For sale

Baby shoes

Never used.

Lynn: I was trying to read the early morning posts before rushing off to work, but instead I got emotional by reading six little words. Writing is so powerful. My husband is not in the educational field and when he asks a question and wants answer he is quick to say, "don't answer like a teacher." His meaning? We are often guilty of being verbose. We need to be aware of the differences between our learners and ourselves. Just because we do it, doesn't necessarily make it better.

Gotta work

Big plans

Busy day

VY: I once had a class of 10-year olds, and they made up haiku - and remembered the lessons even 18 months later. Their haiku stayed on the wall even when later teachers succeeded me.
The slowest of them could succeed.

Skill Development

Guillermo: One of things I have been applying to my lessons, in this particular case generating compound sentences, is the concept of beginning with the "end in mind" and then working backwards from there. After explaining to the students what we will be doing; why we will be doing it; and its relevance both in and out of class; I begin by showing students the final product that I will be expecting them to produce, in this case "compound sentences", alongside an evaluative criteria form indicating what makes the final product "good". It is important for students to see what the end result looks like as well as for them to have a self-guiding evaluative tool component for them to use before, during, and after generating the final product, in this case a compound sentence. In addition, I show students "good" examples meeting the evaluative criteria as well as "bad" examples which do not quite cut the mustard. Exposing the students to both types of examples and using the evaluative criteria to determine whether they are good or bad makes the student feel more at ease, lessens the fear of writing compound sentences, and ultimately empowers them. I am happy to say that that was the case with my students who participated in this lesson. Thank you, TEAL.

The challenges I faced were solved through formative assessment and by differentiating the instruction. Even after underlining the lesson as best and creatively as I could, inevitably I always have some students who take more time to process the information and/or need more explanation/clarification, so I take that into consideration and re-plan and make accommodations for those students accordingly on the spot. Keeping the "end in mind" is a great way to develop effective WIPPEA-based lesson plans WIPPEA-based lesson plans because you can use it to guide you in terms of deciding what activities they will engage in, which skills they will need and utilize, and what main concepts need to be discussed in order to successfully, and at their own pace, get them to the "end" result.

Kristin: Thank you for mentioning that showing "bad" examples is just as, if not more so, important to learners who are seeking to work towards one thing and away from another. We all benefit from knowing what people are "not" looking for in our efforts alongside what is desired. That unknown is less frightening sometimes with a few guardrails up.

Lynn: Amen to seeing what people do wrong! If we can keep our heads from being filled with over-inflated egos, we can learn not only from our own errors but the errors of others. Just today, the class was asked to write division words problems. They had a list of words to choose from and still made mistakes. Most volunteered to read their problems. It was up to us, the readers (in this case listeners) to understand what the words meant (even if we all understood what the writer meant). Meaning and actual written words don't always match. For example, "If I" have 75 cupcakes and split each one into three, how many are there?" The writer meant, "If I have 75 cupcakes and split them into three groups, how many are in each group? The class loved this problem. The writer tried very hard to defend her original wording, but had to admit that a "disconnect' happened between her mind and what she wrote. She was smiling when she rewrote it.

MD: This is great. I was at a workshop last week and the presenter was talking about mistakes. He asked, "How do you know if you learned something?" Answer, "You can do it without mistakes." So...if you are learning, then by definition, you must be making mistakes. We need to embrace mistakes and let students (and faculty) know that learning is based on making mistakes. If you are making mistakes, that is a good thing. You are trying and you are learning.

Then in school, once we stop making mistakes. The teacher just finds something else that we don't know so that we start making mistakes again.

Lynn: What a great riddle! I can hardly wait until 'the perfect time' arrives to ask the class, "How do you know if you learned something?"

SM: Showing good and bad examples along with evaluative criteria is a wonderful idea. In our strategy instruction curriculum model, when we introduce a new type of writing (e.g., narrative, persuasive), we begin by discussing the purpose of that kind of writing and when and where it might be used. Then we show a good model and discuss what makes it good. We draw out the elements of the genre and evaluative criteria. Then we look for the elements and apply the criteria to weak papers. Later, this activity becomes the basis for peer review and self-evaluation.

Guillermo: Thank you for that helpful information! I don't know if you or anyone on this discussion list can answer this question for me, but here it goes... In your opinion, how early in our Adult Learner's academic life can we realistically and effectively begin to teach "writing instruction"? In other words, is it feasible to expect our ESL colleagues to be able to do it given the language challenges they face, especially at the lower ESL levels? Are there any ESL teachers here in the discussion willing to chime in? I bring this up because the ESL colleagues that I have spoken to about "writing instruction" at the ESL level are looking at me like I'm on an unrealistic "writing high".

S: Writing, speaking, reading, and listening are all equally important at any level of English as a Second Language instruction, including pre-literate. The English Language Learner will absorb as much as they are ready for at the time.

TPS: I have taught many levels of ESL in many environments, and I now teach pre-comp classes at a community college. Writing instruction can mean a lot of things. Learning another language takes time, and writing instruction will change depending upon the levels of students. Let's say you were to take a beginning Arabic class (I'm assuming here you know no Arabic.), you would first need to learn the alphabet before you can "write". You would also need to know enough vocabulary to be able to express your ideas, and you would need to know how to "write" the words you hear. If you couldn't, you might be told you need to work on your spelling. Some teachers may go overboard with spelling worrying about -er and -or or -ei or -ie, but often when ESL teachers worry about it is because our students' spelling is so limited that other people cannot read what they are writing. Even if you understood words in Arabic, you wouldn't know which letters to write unless you had been taught that. As students continue to work on these challenges, ESL teachers, who are essentially foreign language teachers, introduce their students to how to make a sentence including word order which may be quite different in their students' first language. Then we introduce students to what makes a good paragraph in English which may be done differently than in that student's language. We can start to actually introduce more traditional writing instruction at this point including idea development. Even when students have ideas they may still not have enough vocabulary to express themselves beyond a limited number of sentences. As ESL students' English becomes stronger, they will be able to get to the point where they can become writers in the more traditional sense. Again ask yourself if you would be able to do what you are asking in a language with a different alphabet and few cognates. This doesn't mean the students don't have ideas to express, but they may not be able to communicate those ideas yet in English. So I think this may be why your ESL teachers may be cautious of what you are trying to do.

Guillermo: Thank you for your wonderful example and explanation. I understand the caution and how challenging it is.

DL: As a certified k-8 teacher, teaching Adult Basic Education over the last two years, I do not worry about low skills. In our program, ESL has a definite boundary with ABE but as second-language learners begin to recognize a need to improve their reading/writing efforts, they may gravitate toward my classes. Often, the common "language" we use to improve their English skills is mathematics! By attending my Math classes and hearing me describe operations and problem-solving, they enrich their English skills. I try to keep it simple.

MW: Excellent example and one that I never thought about before! Thanks for the tip.

Lynn: The overall strategy I use is to make the writing content purposeful for them. Often times, they are more concerned about the act of writing (penmanship) and the individual components (spelling, grammar, etc.) that make up effective writing, than they are with the finished product. In order to accomplish finding the purpose of writing, I first take the time to get to know the adult learners in my room. A form of organized chaos is what it may look like to the inexperienced observer.

One strategy I've used to meet this goal is to have the learners write at various times throughout the day. Writing time is NOT the only time they write. For example, after a specific math lesson has been taught and mastered at the 80% accuracy level, I have each learner write and solve their own math problem. This activity instantly becomes purpose driven. They quickly realize the importance of selecting the correct word so everyone will understand the thought that was previously only in THEIR head.

VY: I found the teacher who did five minutes on each element of writing and math for two hours each morning got very good results: five minutes on spelling; five minutes on good handwriting; five minutes on grammatical forms; five minutes on writing on a subject, etc . . .

RB: Sprints, I call them - with an 'energy break' between each sprint!

Lynn: Sprints! I like that. I call the quick-write an exercise. "We exercise to get into shape. Why not exercise to get into good writing shape." So many times the learners want to write too much, too soon. For the exercise analogy, it is like running a marathon without getting first being able to run 2 miles. Slow and steady is the key!

I also love to tie in conversation and speaking abilities into writing. I ask them how hard it is to stay on one topic in a conversation. It is usually difficult for many of the young women, so many distractions. I believe for this reason, they find it difficult to realize they get off the main topic in writing. Realizing what is difficult for them verbally opens the door for being able to tackle the writing problem.

VY: This is where the "five minutes" of time on each of the mechanics is useful, before the time spent on writing to communicate, in the same lesson.

RH: I have done a lot of test-prep type writing teaching/tutoring for high school and college students, as well as adults working on the GED essay. And, over the past couple of years, I have also begun working a lot more with adults reading at or below the 3rd grade level. It is fascinating to me how similar students' writing issues are across the different levels, whether it be a full essay, a paragraph, a sentence, or a short memo on a post-it note.

Students do not like to plan what they are going to write, especially, if the planning process requires any sort of writing. They focus a lot on sentence and word level issues like spelling and punctuation, especially comma placement. They also have a very difficult time telling someone what the point of their writing is supposed to be even after they have finished the draft. I could go on, but my observations seem to align with some of the findings in Troia’s book chapter, such as how teachers' writing instruction/feedback tends to focus on grammar, spelling, and punctuation types errors, with much less, if any, feedback on the actual message.

Another observation I have made across these different levels that I have taught is that, as students learn to focus more on the point they are trying to make with their writing and how to make it and support it within the assigned format, other common errors (such as fragments and run-on sentences, misplaced commas, missing words) tend to decrease a lot, even if I don't explicitly review those skills. Do you know of any research that has looked at the reduction of these types of errors (even if it's just the reduction of hyper-corrections) as students' ability to make and support a point increases?

Jonathan: I have been using a combination of the RAP strategy for summarizing (Read - Ask Questions - Write and Say More) along with a 5w +h strategy to help with overall comprehension of a particular text in the LA reading / Social Studies / Science area; then following up with POW + Tree strategy for writing also using 5w+h to springboard writing using the prior comprehension strategy to provide the student with a sufficient knowledge base. Most times I am suggesting a short paragraph response to a simplified prompt (quick write) but we are beginning to test the waters as far as longer 'essay' length writing goes. The RAP strategy may also prove useful at the close of a writing assignment, when trying to come up with an adequate concluding paragraph. I am finding that each strategy needs repeated practice and reinforcement in order to be effective. It is still a little early to tell whether or not the majority of students have bought into its underlying concepts. I am continuing to search for creative and relevant ideas that will enable me to mix reading for comprehension with opportunities for written responses.

Guillermo: During a class discussion a while ago, I asked my students to explain their definition of "writing", and almost all of them mentioned spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammar. One student literally said, "I'm not a good writer because my spelling is horrible". Another student stated that he needed to learn his punctuation rules first in order for him to consider himself a good writer. More so now since I joined the TEAL project, I have been on a mission promoting the importance of focusing on the writing "content" over writing "mechanics" with my students in my ABE classes, with my ABE colleagues, and slowly (with resistance) with some ESL instructors at my school. I've been stressing the importance of focusing primarily on knowing what message you are trying to communicate instead of worrying about whether the comma belongs here or there.

Initially, with my students, it was an uphill battle I have to admit, since the majority of my ABE students are so hung up on the writing mechanics because "writing mechanics" IS writing to them. I've also been planting "writing content" seeds in the minds of my ABE/ESL colleagues, many of whom do place more, if not all, emphasis on grammar and mechanics over content. It's quite a hot topic I have to say, especially with the ESL teachers because, according to ESL teachers I spoke to, "how can you generate a message without the grammar and mechanics, especially at the lower ESL levels?" Many of my ABE colleagues ask and strongly focus on what "book" I am using, as if there is a one magical book that has everything you need to make proficient writers out of our ABE students.

I have been able to convince the majority of my students to hop on board the "writing content" train, this whole concept of writing a clear message first without worrying about the mechanics by showing examples initially at the sentence level of "clearly communicated messages" with mechanical errors contrasted with "perfectly written sentences mechanically" with unclear or no message at all. My students are seeing the considerable difference between the two, and I am happy to report that the shift HAS BEEN and IS taking place in my classroom. The Quick Writes especially were extremely helpful.

I admit that I have been included in that shift as well, since I have been guilty of initially providing feedback on the "superficial" errors Gary spoke about in his posts instead of focusing primarily on the message being communicated. For my own growth professionally, I had to admit to myself and bring awareness to myself what role I subconsciously played in promoting "writing mechanics" over "writing content". This shift MUST occur with the instructor; otherwise, the message will continue to get lost in the mechanics. Thank you, TEAL.

Here are some other questions this whole discussion has me thinking about:

  • How do your students' define writing? Why do you they think that?
  • Have you ever been guilty of focusing on the "superficial errors" that Gary mentioned, or was it just me? (I was guilty, but I have reformed, I promise!)
  • What does "writing instruction" look like at the ESL level in your programs? How is that impacting your ABE students? How can we help our fellow ESL colleagues to help us in ABE in terms of writing instruction?

JE: For a long time I have felt pretty "lonely" with my belief that writing a message/reaction/critique/5 paragraph GED essay is so much more than mechanics. With no organization, evidence of thoughtful development or clear direction, spelling, usage and punctuation serve little purpose. In ESL, especially the low levels, modeling correct grammar is, in my opinion, so much more beneficial than drilling and grilling grammar when the student is struggling to get enough language out to carry a message. I am so onboard with the idea that our students don't connect writing with conveying ideas and thoughts, but rather with fighting the spelling and grammar. Don't get me wrong, those things are considerations, but come later and as enhancing, revising and polishing the thoughts and ideas the student is trying to convey.

VY: The mechanics don't come later but simultaneously, in the five minutes separately per lesson. If they come later, they are harder for students to integrate. In the 'five minute' lessons they do not have to integrate them into their writing, but they are there for them.

MC: I agree with VY. It seems to me, as other posts clearly indicate, that students are focused on spelling, grammar, and even fluent handwriting because that is what they are struggling with. Isn't this the "let the student drive the teaching" concept here? I think that this is a clear cry for help on their part. My own experience of many years is that the students are not "short on content", but they cannot get their "content/ ideas" on paper because they are struggling with mechanics, spelling and handwriting.... what I call "output". Alleviating these fears , by giving them what they need to "output" ideas, frees them to write more fluently without having to go back and struggle to revise what was poorly written in the first place, which takes an enormous amount of unnecessary time compared to revising that which was reasonably correct to begin with.

I use a program called "Framing your Thoughts" and while geared towards children, the basic tenets of this program to develop good sentences through practice along with teaching the paragraph or essay. In "quick warm-up drills", students respond to writing from oral prompts to sound spellings, using encoding strategies, spelling generalizations, "non-phonetic" spelling, phrase writing, and sentence writing with given parameters. All of this incorporates "following oral directions". This leads to student confidence that when they have a good idea to convey, they are able to do so! It takes much continued practice, but it is well worth the effort. Good ideas are only worthwhile if they convey clear messages, and that is "why" we have the "rules".

PC: During my career in public school teaching language arts to middle school children, I learned many things about their understanding or misunderstanding of the writing process. As I moved into teaching adult education, I also saw some of the same problems. Many of the students had difficulty getting started writing. With the adults, it was easier to talk to them and discuss what they wanted to write. Having developed my own system to help students organize their thoughts, I used that same system with the adults. However, what was always a factor in every case was getting started with the writing. Once a student was able to do that, he or she was able to expand the writing. The SRSD technique is very similar to the basic strategies I used. Some of those strategies were outlining, webbing, notes and others. Students could choose the one strategy they were most comfortable with in the writing. There is a basic need to stress the importance of the first paragraph as it sets up the entire paper for them. As others have mentioned, modeling, self-correcting, group discussion and one-on-one student teacher instruction is imperative. With the adult students, the one-on-one seemed to work better. If there are grammatical problems, these can be reviewed in a group or individually. As I think about the upcoming writing tests on computer, it seems logical to me to emphasize that paragraph which starts the story will be of the utmost importance.

Kristin: I have been most affected in the TEAL experience by taking a deeper look at Universal Design for Learning and Strategy Instruction, though Self Regulated Learning was also of great interest to me as a college transition/GED program instructor. My class is reading The Catcher in the Rye this semester, and though they do not yet know this (slow release), their final writing project due in November, will have multi-modal options. One choice will be to create a "mix-tape/CD" for Holden Caulfield, the songs on which must be explained as relevant for both musical style and lyrical content. I found this idea online ...good ideas are best when shared, right?

Universal Design for Learning has at its core the promise of choice for learners, both in their way of expressing understanding, and in the way they receive information. Though we have just begun reading the first 3 chapters, next week I will bring in the audio/cd version of the book to support the reading of passages we want to review. I don't often have students read aloud in class. They know that they may check out a cd version from the library to support their reading practice, in part because this can help develop fluency. Most students are reading independently, however.

To introduce the book, I showed the following very creative, but fake "movie trailers" (trailer 1; trailer 2; trailer 3) for the book, made by students for their own school projects. It was a blast watching them, and the students seemed genuinely interested in diving into the first chapters after this multi-sensory warm up activity.

HSP: Thank you to all the TEAL'ers and listserv responders who are contributing to this week's discussion on writing. Your focus on writing is right in step with the research recommendations. A new report, "Informing Writing: The Benefits of Formative Assessment", was released last week by the Alliance for Excellence in Education and the Carnegie Foundation. This report adds to the substantial body of work undertaken by the Alliance and Carnegie on the importance of writing, referenced earlier this week ("Writing Next" and "Writing to Read"). The new report adds a solid body of evidence-based recommendations on the importance and value of teacher and peer feedback in improving student writing. In the Q&A portion of the report release event, I was able to ask the authors' advice for lessening the time burden of giving high-quality feedback. (We worked on this in TEAL courses, too.) They were very sympathetic to the question and all three authors contributed to the tips below.

My question to the list is: Given these tips, can adult education teachers add specific, timely, action-oriented feedback, to their writing instruction? How can we help educators make the time and learn how to do it well?

Their responses included:

  • Don't comment on everything in a single piece of writing or even every piece of writing. Students cannot process all the feedback and targeted feedback is more valuable.
  • Pick two or three issues to focus on per student paper and provide action steps for improvement.
  • Use peer feedback which is very powerful.
  • Use short pieces of writing for assessments.
  • Do less written pieces in a semester, but take those fewer pieces through multiple iterations (think writing process approach) so that each piece grows and improves toward a final. Use peers to review drafts against a shared rubric.

JR: I would like to hear people's comments on their experiences with peer feedback. I have a hard time making it productive since most of the peers are at varying levels of ability and don't know how to recognize errors because they themselves are making them. Plus, my students are very reluctant about sharing their writing with others. I work in an urban area where many of my students aren't from the same "part of town" and there is conflict brewing that makes the bonding that much more challenging: if you know what I mean. Any suggestions?

SM: I have two suggestions about peer feedback. The first applies to all sorts of evaluation - self-evaluation, peer evaluation, and teacher grading.

1. Teach more specific evaluation criteria. Students need to learn evaluation criteria and how to apply them to writing. General criteria, such as content, organization, conventions, are not very helpful to students. Instead teach specific criteria for specific types of writing. For example, if you are teaching persuasive writing, have students identify (find and underline) the thesis (or position), the reasons, opposing reasons, and so forth. Then have them evaluate those elements with specific questions, such as "Is there a clear thesis that states the author's position?" "Are the reasons connected to the thesis?" "Is each reason supported by evidence?" Students can rate them 0 (element missing), 1 (present but needs improvement), 2 (good). It takes time, but students can learn specific criteria and apply them to their own papers.

2. Teach evaluation and revision before engaging in peer review. Peer review is great. Students learn from giving feedback as much as from receiving it. But it is not productive unless students know how to evaluate writing and how to make suggestions. We start work on peer review by asking students to evaluate and revise papers by unknown students (from a previous class or another section). Because the papers are anonymous, students are free to be critical. Also, they can go ahead and actually make revisions to see what works. We practice as a whole class at first, so the instructor can model the process and students can collaborate. This makes the thinking processes visible. Then students can work in groups or pairs on more anonymous papers. When they are ready, they can then help each other in peer review.

Kristin: On Tuesday, I handed my students two pages of writing samples, one titled "Gems - Look at 'em shine!", the other "Diamonds in the Rough - Needs some polishing." Each page had about 12-15 sentences listed with heart shaped bullet points, which had been lifted from their recent essay writing. We reviewed the "Gems" and celebrated the variety, solid construction and correct use of punctuation, subordination, and of course spelling and vocabulary. The students had fun trying to match sentences to students, though this was not easy. It was obvious they wanted credit for their sentences, too, when others reacted positively to some aspect. Their "homework" for today was to attempt to "correct or revise" the "Diamonds in the Rough" sentences, also from the class essays. The students came prepared, even though they may have struggled to find or correct all of the errors. (It's kind of like a "pre-test" assessment for editing)

This morning in class, my students went over the "diamonds in the rough" page and I was so impressed at how respectful, attentive, and genuinely interested they all were at solving the "problems" of each sentence, and how much students offered suggestions about corrections, even if they weren't sure. This was a kind of "warm up" to a peer editing activity, which lowered anxiety about offering suggestions because it was anonymous, but encouraged participation because everyone had something to gain. We will move toward dyad or triad peer editing of paragraphs, after we have tackled additional editing strategies and addressed mechanics and usage needs presented in student writing.

Kristin: Just as an aside...I made sure to choose sentences that had a similar "error theme", if you will, so that our initial discussion was not "all over the place." Lots of comma errors, homonyms, apostrophe, and a kicker.... parallel structure (verb forms). We had already made clear connections to the 3 types of test questions on the GED Writing test as well: Correction, Revision, and Construction Shift. They could see that our activity was much like the correction type of question, in that no indicator is given about where or what type of error needs correction. In revision test questions, the area is underlined.

Lynn: It is peer editing at the class level. Simple and profound! Thanks for the idea!

FE: For those of you who teach African American students, I utilize the translation of Ebonics to Standard English as a humorous, witty, and highly effective and receptive way to get students engaged with grammar, writing and social studies. My handbook, From Ebonics to Standard English, is a FREE manual of typical errors and tendencies which occur in the daily speech and writing of our students. I have versions of the Gettysburg Address, The Declaration of Independence, Hamlet's soliloquy and other famous documents in the booklet. My students have a hoot recognizing and translating the documents to Standard English, and it aids teachers in identifying the hard areas for students. They have also gained tremendous experience recognizing and correcting grammatical errors as well. Anyone interested in obtaining a copy may contact me via this email address or at I would be more than happy to mail you a booklet. It is culturally appealing, nonthreatening and very effective. Everyone who has used it in his classrooms has given wonderful feedback.

Kristin: Code switching is an area of personal interest and research... I have been using David West Brown's In Other Words, which has some really wonderful lessons and activities to use with habitual be and use of singular third person verb forms. I find it very respectful to the learner, while providing background information, full lesson templates, and easily reproducible handouts for teachers. I always incorporate a few video clips to support the concepts.

The movie "Akeelah and the Bee" has a great scene between Akeelah and Lawrence Fishburne's character in his garden, where she makes a wonderful switch using both vocabulary and grammar. It demonstrates code switching where appropriate to the situation, not trying to changing the person's home language, which should not necessarily be the ultimate goal, in my opinion. Another clip comes from Chris Rock's movie "Head of State", where he makes the "It Ain't Right!" speech. I used that to demonstrate how certain use of language, while not formal English, is purposeful, better suited for the emotional or cultural context of the story.

Lynn: In a college course I took several years ago, the professor asked us to sign a release form for her to use our work as examples in the writing course. She would type the selected portion of the paper that she wanted to address and post it in class - using technology. Together, the class would determine the error and find ways to correct it. For master level students preparing for thesis or ABE students preparing for GED essay, this procedure works great. I stress to my ABE students the importance of learning from their own mistakes and not reading mistakes that someone wrote on purpose to demonstrate a writing error. Most of the "authors" will fess up to the errors that belong to them and elaborate on why they had believed it to be correct. This usually leads to a great discussion on generational and geographic grammar patterns. As my mom would say, "I seen it all the time."

PM: As I hear you talking strategies, I'm wondering if, in your TEAL training, something like the topic of "genre theory" has been explored. In other words have you all worked on/tried out helping students use the kinds of strategies you are describing to plan, draft and revise particular kinds of written texts that serve specific purposes/audiences/contexts and meet specific writing needs?

I am especially interested in the work that those of you are doing who are teaching writing to students at the "transition" level of adult education. So for instance, if we think about what we have been hearing about the 2014 GED and the kind of writing that will be required of test takers (which is supposed to better reflect the kind of writing that students need to be able to accomplish in the postsecondary context), it would seem that one kind of writing to focus on would be constructed responses to prompts (kind of writing) that ask students to demonstrate their understanding of something they just read (purpose). There are certainly other particular kinds of writing that postsecondary students (and for that matter, adult workers, citizens, family members and humans in general!) are called on to produce to address specific goals, interests and needs in their lives -- the GED is just one interesting example! I'd welcome hearing other examples from you all!

Do any of you have some good stories to share about how you have tried to help students select and use strategies in order to plan, draft and revise some specific kind of text to serve a particular purpose/audience/context? Especially, if you are working with students whose goal it is to transition to postsecondary education?

Deborah: Because I am also completing my MA in Literacy while teaching GED/College Readiness, I am able to pull ideas and strategies from my curriculum there and modify it for adult students. One book that I am currently using is Teaching Writing Genres across the Curriculum - Strategies for Middle School Teachers (edited by: Dr. Susan Lee Pasquarelli). What I also love about the book is the way it incorporates the reading of text, along with explicitly teaching of strategies prior to having students attempt to write on a particular prompt. Students need to be able to experience the type of writing they will undertake by first looking at a similar piece of writing and breaking it down the parts. This is followed by the important exercise of explicitly modeling for students the writing steps for each type of genre, as it comes up, during the course. There are many graphic organizers and checklists that I can modify to fit the needs of my adult students. The checklists ask students to identify the purpose for writing the piece, to which audience (helps with word choice), and how much my audience knows about the topic (how much detail goes into the piece). The Peer Feedback Form helps provide feedback on the opening or lead capturing the reader's attention, organization of the piece, and strengths/improvement areas. I know that others on the discussion list have expressed difficulty sometimes with how to use peer feedback. I think that it begins with the first day of class and setting up the sense of community and ensuring students understand that we all come from different backgrounds and life experiences and this just helps to enrich our classroom learning experience. We all learn and communicate in various ways and therefore, it is important to set that tone from the beginning in a classroom (what we discovered in TEAL with our Differentiated Instruction unit).

PM: I am especially impressed by your explicit instructional focus on identifying writing purpose and audience in the planning stage of writing, so that your students can then experience how writers select the kind of writing and particular writing strategies to employ in order to best address that purpose/audience.

And your mention of using examples of a particular writing genre, as well as actually modeling the steps in producing it, is also really important, I think. It reminded me of something Skip Macarthur said in an earlier posting and that feels important to call out again. When we talk about "using" examples (whether "good" or "bad") of the kinds of writing we want students to be able to produce, I think our "using" needs to do way more than "show and tell" . We can take the opportunity to let students examine the text, reflect and discover for themselves, for instance, what makes a narrative a narrative as opposed to a persuasive piece, or what makes for a good summary of an excerpt from a Social Studies text. I think that, as students assist in "pulling out" the characteristics of a given kind of writing in this way, they are building on their prior knowledge and becoming better equipped to understand the criteria upon which their own writing will be evaluated (and, by extension, better equipped to engage in self- and peer review of their work). Seems like a chance for a pretty powerful learning experience!

Kristin: I am addressing college ready writing in my class, by attaching a final essay to the semester workload. We also have a final exam. Students receive an unofficial grade for the course and we do exit interviews with each student to discuss college ready behaviors, work ethic and movement toward independence. So far, the students have responded positively to this cumulative feedback. While most 70%+ earn their GED with us, some "fail" the class.

In preparing students to successfully transfer into an ENG 111 class, for example, we attach writing to literature, or current events (although not as much). I too, have used the curriculum available from NPR, This I Believe, with students and have been successful in modeling the use of quotations, references and persuasive writing elements, over the more narrative style that is commonly thought of as the "GED essay".

An important discussion for students is one about plagiarism. Students also need to understand that plagiarism is dangerous, yet easy to be accused of, when using internet sources for information or "inspiration". We cover our college policy on plagiarism, and look at examples of proper citing of others' ideas.

Writing at this level, does not allow for much individual feedback, one-to-one. Marking and group activities are the primary mode of feedback and instruction is both face to face and provided in our online software. Regular quick-writes offer a lot of "material" to sink teeth into. If done at least weekly. A revision/editing tactic might be to have students read over their writing that same day, looking to revise or at least circle a specific issue (like correctly used homonyms or commas).

Hilary: This is the "peril" of TEAL. I am, once again, BUZZING with ideas and the need to share. As a writer who is not a certified teacher, I have to come from what I know, and that means creating, structuring and editing in that order. An example:

Today's ABE writing lesson was threefold: First, we brainstorm. And we brainstorm. And we brainstorm. The strategy behind that is STOP-LIST (Stop and Think Of Purpose, List Ideas and Sequence them). We did five essay topics before I finally chose one for the students to write. We use graphic organizers, mental maps, outlining, word lists. Sometimes we use markers to identify our topic areas, sometimes we draw shapes, sometimes we number. I tell my students that this is a toolkit. I hand them the box, they pick the thing that works.

Second, we structure. I encourage, at minimum, a five-paragraph essay. I have a very fine example of one that is seven paragraphs long, and I have the standard examples available on the Steck-Vaughn website that show what a "1" looks like, etc. We build the introductory paragraph based on their brainstorming. We categorize and sort, and we make sure that our ideas go together. We look for similarities of subject and we look to create transitions, but we're still writing at this point, not editing.

Third, we edit: COPS (Capitalization, Overall, Punctuation, Spelling). I explain that it is very difficult to write (create) and edit at the same time. Creating is hard to do when you're already thinking about fixing what you've created. When I edit their work, I discuss with them the rules that need to be followed and have them rewrite. Using this method, I find that they can correct those mistakes within about two or three drafts, and by the time they've written two papers, maybe three, they are no longer making those mistakes. It's AMAZING how fast these strategies work when they're used consistently.

Deborah: I have taught the five paragraph essay in the past, but slowly moving away from that type of writing. The reason for this is the struggle that students have once they move on to college writing course which are not cookie cutter and many students struggle with this. As with various types of genre writing (expository for one), the essay doesn't necessarily fit into that five paragraph essay mold. It is important for students to have a strong opening, body (which could be a couple paragraphs or several) and a conclusion. It we look at the rubrics, nothing on them states number of paragraphs. It talks about organization of ideas and content. I think if we put more of an emphasis on content (word choice and a variety in sentence structure), this captures the reader's attention much more than the order of paragraphs. Just some thoughts and I would like more feedback on this topic as I think many of us struggle to understand what's right.

MM: I have been reading the posts with interest -- and gleaning some good ideas. These practical suggestions come right at the time when the WE LEARN Women's Perspectives Committee is crafting our Call for Writings for Women's Perspectives: A Journal of Writing and Artwork by Adult Learners #7 (March 2012). The theme for the next issue is "Communications." Each year, the Call for Writings includes the theme, some ideas of what we're looking for, submissions forms and deadlines AND pre-writing activities and (sometimes) lesson plans. (We hope to have the call available by early October). fyi - the committee includes adult learners as well as teachers.

In the past, the committee often uses the theme to suggest related topics -- or to create activities to encourage students to really explore the topic. However, this year (in addition to that), evolving from the theme of communications, the team (especially the students) would like to address many forms of writing as a process for communication. The committee wants to encourage alternative forms of writing -- beyond the GED 5 paragraph essay, memoir, and acrostic poems. Their ideas include: - interviews and/or oral histories - fiction - or short stories - and (in a different but related way) storytelling -- such as cultural traditions or lessons passed through storytelling - "how to" essays - writing that evolves from journaling - journal writing (and, of course, also memoirs, poetry, and essays)

So, I have some specific questions....

  1. What kind of activities have you (or would you) use to encourage these different/alternative not-so-typical basic types of writing genres?
  2. How would you use the theme of communications -- and these writing genres -- to appeal to the broad range of learner writing proficiencies -- from new writers, emerging writers, and more advanced/higher-level?
  3. Have you had the opportunity for your students to have writing published? what have you done to motivate them to this possibility? What would it take for educators to encourage students to write for a national publication?

SM: We've done a nice unit based on NPR's This I Believe series. It gives students something real to read, and listen to.

Deborah: I think that the way to get students interested in writing for publications is giving them an opportunity to read publications with articles written by adult education students. When I worked with ESL students, we read articles from Easy English News. Now I am teaching in Rhode Island and have used the publication Change Agent. The students really enjoy reading the articles. It sparks an interest in real community and world events. There is discussion, various research activities involved and a writing component for each article. If students are a little skeptical at first, perhaps begin with a class publication and then move on to a community, state and national publications (i.e., letters to the editor, emails and/or letters to political representatives, etc.). I think it also important that students understand the benefits of writing about their thoughts and beliefs and being a good community citizen; that everyone's voice matters.

DH: My students really enjoy submitting their writing each year to the Minnesota Literacy Council's Journeys: An Anthology of Adult Student Writings. Those whose entries are selected for publication are thrilled to see their work in print. Others may have their entries posted on the MLC website. The website offers resources for teachers as well.

JAF: The Center for Literacy in Philadelphia publishes a SpeakOut book every year. All students and teachers are encouraged to write and everyone's writing is included. When the book is ready for distribution, there is a public celebration at the main library where about 10 writers read their selections--often very touching and cause for lots of tears. Everyone who writes for the book gets a free copy. It's quite an undertaking each year.

MC: I agree with you, DH. A big complaint of the colleges these days is that student writing is "formulaic" across the board. Teaching only the 5-paragraph essay, which lends itself fairly well to the persuasive essay that has been typically required on the GED in the past, leaves a lot of uncharted territory if a student is looking to further his/her education. As you have said, the purpose and audience need to dictate the structure and organization. I have seen many an essay that has mediocre content in an attempt to achieve the "five paragraphs". Comparing and Contrasting and a response to literature, for example, need a different structural organization of ideas than persuading, etc. Unfortunately, so many students are more interested in getting past the GED, and don't plan further ahead to what they might need as they move forward in careers of further education. We have little time with our students in the scheme of things!

BO: DH, Brava! I came into writing center work and English composition from a different background than an MFA or even an English major; my PhD was in French literary criticism, and writing assistance as well as foreign language teaching has derived from ABE and ESL CBOs. I never understood, beyond its being a minimum amount of text to construct a logical development, the pre-eminence of the 5 paragraph essay. Students would complain that the 'model' writing given them to learn rhetorical modes in textbooks did not match that model, nor essays involving analysis, critique, and synthesis across the disciplines, and, since our university in its wisdom abolished the comp and lit course, it's now too big a gap between basic composition and more strategic analytical writing. Professors in other disciplines also equate good writing with mechanics, instead of teaching students the structures needed to write purposeful papers in their fields. I would say that many of our students' levels are those of 'transitional' students. What 'instruction' strategies can writing center practitioners use to assist students in this quantum leap?

SM: I probably should have introduced myself along with my previous posts. I work at the U of Delaware, and my colleagues and I have been working with students and instructors of developmental writing classes in community colleges. The students are not much different from those working toward their GEDs.

One activity that we have included in our curriculum is summary writing. The research shows that learning to write summaries improves both writing and reading comprehension. We have used summaries to introduce forms, or genres, of writing. In order to write a summary, students need to see the structure of the essay -- find the overall thesis and main supporting points. The summary writing is relevant to the issue of the 5-paragraph essay. The value of the 5-paragraph, or 4 or 6 paragraph essay, is that the formulaic structure makes comprehension and writing easier. So we start the summarizing with typical 5-paragraph essays and help students learn to find the thesis and main points. Then we ask them to apply those skills to more naturally organized persuasive essays. (The 5-paragraph essay doesn't exist in nature.) We give them essays with more implicit positions, essays that discuss both sides without taking a position, and essays that start out with the opposing position (very common). Our hope is that this approach will lead to more flexible writing. Also, students will need to read and understand authentic essays when they get to writing research papers.

KK: I am a former ABE/GED teacher who now does professional development in writing instruction for ABE teachers. Writing summaries is a complex task for many students. In order to write a summary, they must be able to identify main ideas and details and determine how much or how little information to include; those skills can be challenging. Rick Wormeli, in his book, Summarization in Any Subject, stresses the importance of background knowledge. He states that if we want students to pick out important elements from a text, we must make sure they begin with enough background knowledge to gather those understandings. For example, before he has science students read and summarize an article about how microscopes work, he sets aside time for them to play with actual microscopes and learn the parts and how they work. Afterward, when they read the technical passage, their comprehension is increased and they have a better chance to determine key ideas and details for their summaries. I highly recommend his book.

PM: I actually don't currently work directly with students in an adult education program (though I did for many years as an instructor in a community-based literacy project for women in Philadelphia, PA). I work for the Center for Literacy Studies, the University of Tennessee. My Master's Degree concentration was in the teaching of writing, and one of the things I do now in my job is to plan and conduct both online and in-person professional development for adult education instructors around standards-based teaching, learning and assessment of writing. So I am blessed to talk to and work with a lot of teachers like those who have been contributing to this discussion that are experiencing first-hand the joys and challenges of supporting adult learners in their development as writers.

With that backdrop, to your question: My big issue is that I want adult education to be about helping all of our students (whatever their "levels") to have the writing knowledge, skills and strategies they need to be successful in reaching their real-life adult writing purposes and goals (as I said in an earlier post, not just as students but as workers, citizens, family members, humans!)

And because I am especially interested in supporting adult education students in writing for successful transition to and persistence in postsecondary education, the issues I'm most concerned about in that context are related to how very few GED completers who enroll in postsecondary institutions persist long enough to obtain any kind of degree or certification, and (I believe a closely-related point) how many students trying to make it in postsecondary education really struggle with the writing they are required to do in their courses. So what I care about -- the issues I want to keep tackling in my work -- are about what we in adult education can and ought to be doing to prepare our students at the "transition" level to accomplish the kinds of writing they will be asked to do in college -- and ultimately, to better equip them for postsecondary success.

CKF: These are all exciting ideas! I work with students who are typically around the age of ordinary high school students, and our program is set up such that they work for each of the GED tests in a separate class. One of my top challenges (which has risen to the fore recently, when I tried to combine the social studies and writing classes) is that my students know what each GED looks like, they have a specific idea of what they have to learn for that test, and they're adamantly resistant to learning or doing anything that doesn't fit in with that package. I wanted to integrate some college-ready stuff this semester, but there was a class mutiny-even though most of them do hope to go on to college, their ideas of what they'll encounter there are not often very realistic. (And like many teens, they believe that if anyone over 18 says it, it must be wrong!) Has anyone had any success doing this kind of thing with adolescent students?

RB: My focus recently has been improving my math instruction, but I'm getting the sense that it's time to look at my writing classes again. In my experience, the key to change is to do it little by little and to be upfront about my reasoning when questioned. It helps to have a good working relationship with my students-it's great when the other students can help a newbie adjust to the classroom culture. I also keep in mind that GED class may be the most stable thing in my student's life, and it's important to respect that-flexibility is a skill that has to be learned like anything else.

Kristin: I like your reference to the culture of your class. It is really the foundation on which all best practices find long term or meaningful connection, in my experience. Trying out something new while holding on to established traditions is a great goal, and learners who feel a part of something they help to foster or create or change is essential to maintain a respectful, responsive learning environment. Thanks for that reminder!

DL: It appears to me that you are teaching Adult Basic Education as a high school program many of your students have already failed or rejected. In my experience the entire GED test is first and foremost a reading test. Social Studies are an extension of Reading; Science is an extension of Reading; and Math requires Reading skills before Math skills to pass the GED test. I have had students who passed the Reading portion of the GED test and determined they only needed to attend my Math classes. After two semesters of Math only classes, I suggested they should attend my Reading/Writing classes and within a couple of months they both passed the Math.

Your students who are "typically around the age of ordinary high school students" may be tiring of the redundancy of 1) Reading, 2) Math, 3)Writing, 4)Social Studies (which is Reading), and 5) Science (which is Reading). In our program we teach specifically math, reading, and writing. Students who fail the Social Studies or Science portions in the Official Practice Tests are tutored in those areas and re-tested after a requisite number of hours of instruction.

Students who come to our program from the prison system typically tell us they have ONLY the Math and Reading/Writing to do since they already completed the Science and Social Studies. Yeah, sure...

DP: Often my students who are struggling writers fail to see the connection between reading and writing. After we read a short story in class, I point out that the author of that story planned his writing carefully so that we, as the readers, would be clear about what the author meant. I model outlining the story using a graphic organizer and then have students work collaboratively outlining several other short stories.

This next activity, which I received from a TEAL colleague, is a fun way to reinforce the importance of planning. Each student picks a short story to read and then outlines the story in a graphic organizer. The outlines are scrambled and given to another student who tries to write the story based on the outline. Sometimes the stories are close and other times not even in the same ball park. The students can't wait to see what another student wrote based on their outlines. This makes for a great discussion about how planning effectively helps writing!

SM: I think outlining using a graphic organizer is a great activity. Another way to use it is during peer review. As part of planning instruction, we have taught students about the structure of a particular type of writing (narrative, persuasive, comparison) and how to use a graphic organizer during planning. Then for peer review, one activity we use is to have the peer editor outline the partner's paper on the graphic organizer. We call it 'reverse mapping.' It forces the peer editor to analyze the parts of the essay carefully.

GG: I have found that the following Website is really helpful for many students for organizing their writing.

AN: The process on this website assumes you have already organized your thinking in your head before you start. Nothing I've ever written has followed that process.

DL: I agree. It seems that in our desire to create a formula for entangling our learners we come up with contrived ways to make them follow our breadcrumbs. This only works when there are no birds around...

AN: I would like to ask our guests to comment on teaching a revision process that not only yields a coherent product, but actually helps the writer hone their ideas. What I have found is that instructors often jump quickly from an initial draft to having students organize those ideas and perhaps reframe them for their audience. Especially when peer feedback is used early, this can have the effect of shaping the piece more by reader questions than by helping the author work to find what they really want to say.

In her book, ListeningUp: Reinventing Ourselves as Teachers and Students, Rachel Martin describes a technique whereby, after a first draft, she asks the author to underline "the most important thing" that they are saying, and then has them use that as the starting point for a new draft. Done a couple of times, this really helps writers find the crux of their point and then build from there. Can you talk about other revision strategies?

AN: This reminds me of a strategy my friend just used with young GED students who were struggling to understand "main idea." She asked them what they would say if they were going to Tweet a friend about their idea, and they got it immediately.

Lynn: I like that idea. Again, more is not always better. That is using technology thinking without using technology.

SS: Haikus make great quick-writes! My ESL students love to write Haikus. Thanks for sharing!

MLC: I agree with SM on the importance of explicit instruction in all areas, writing as well as reading and math. I have found I can never make any assumptions about the existing knowledge gaps in my students. Teaching what the specific evaluation criteria means before using it is one example of giving students those evaluative and analytical skills they may never have encountered before. Many of my students express surprise that there is such a structured, consistent way to approach writing (reading & math too).

I feel it is our responsibility to help them see the whole process, not just the disjointed creation and final details. With the emphasis on college readiness and post secondary transition, these transferable skills create learners, who are part of their own process, not just passive recipients of processes they don't connect to. Context, context, context. Thanks again for thought-provoking comments and great ideas.

PM: I really like and appreciate how in this, and in some of your other contributions, you reinforce the notion that the strategies we teach folks for the planning stages of writing come around to also be of great value in the revision stages -- especially in activities related to review/evaluation of drafts (whether it's being done by self, peer or instructor). Makes that entire planning look pretty darned important!

I'm also reminded by your post to be clear that the full writing process in which we ask students to learn and use these strategies is one not made up of a set of fixed linear steps to be taken, but one that sort of doubles back on itself then pushes forward a bit further-- with the writing getting
stronger each time it takes writers through. That is a challenge for instruction, but one worth pursuing, I think!

Jonathan: I feel that we become better writers when we discover the freedom to express ourselves. As we become better editors or proof readers then we can 'fix' the mechanics. I have worked with a lot of "headliners", who are people who can verbally express themselves but have a real problem with getting it down on paper. To dwell on punctuation and spelling rather than content with such students is to miss the point. I have even tried transcribing their conversation in order to demonstrate just how much they have to say. It is a little time consuming but rewarding to have someone declare, "Did I really 'say' all that?!"

Local Concerns

CM: I noticed that you all come from many states. How much of an impact does geography have on your classrooms? Do you share funding sources or are they unique to each state. Also, are your curriculums developed on site, by state, region, etc? Do you have circumstances in your state which you believe make your needs or challenges unique? In your programs, what are some ways that research based practices have been implemented? How successful have they been? What are some of the barriers to uniting research and practice? Is it difficult to get funding for new materials? How often are you able to assess and revamp your curriculum?

DL: I am a certified K-8 teacher in Alaska who has been teaching High School completion/GED more than 4 years after teaching 6th grade in rural Alaska and doing a number of teaching gigs including two years as a tutor for Sylvan Learning Center in Anchorage. Because I have become a working teacher later in life (50+ years old) I have gained a base in research from the certification program. However, where I work we have very seasoned directors who have tailored our program for success, and it seems to be working pretty well as public education appears to be imploding while ever more public funds are thrown at it. Suffice it to say we do have major challenges in Alaska due to geography, and unique challenges, but I am a "meat and potatoes" ABE (adult basic education) instructor, who was successful in my previous careers, and I model a no-nonsense "get-'er-done" approach to life. My classes are in one of the poorest parts of Anchorage and consistency is paramount.

Kristin: CM's questions cover a lot of ground, and partly focus on the logistics and financial investment made by programs or localities to support this kind of ongoing (2-year) professional development. I appreciate that this is something folks want to address in assessing how this kind of project might be replicated in their program and with their teachers. In Virginia, the four teachers and our state coordinator have been offered a stipend to participate in the TEAL initiative, paid out once annually, not associated with an hourly rate. My individual program supports me by allowing me time to participate in monthly TEAL team webinars during work hours, and time off for the recent Institute (conference) in DC, as well as generally supporting access to my professional development as a practitioner. I would say that my entire experience in my program is about professional development, actually. It is a wonderful place to be and to work. I came to it after almost 10 years in local programming, which forced me to be creative, transcend my lack of materials and resources, and collaborate with others to make my classes dynamic and meaningful...this does not mean I don't still do those things, I just don't have the same resource issues now.

It is no secret that teachers are not paid adequately for the amount and quality of planning they actually do (K-12 and Higher Ed, too), and participation in this kind of initiative is certainly something that adds to the workload for teachers, most of whom, I'm sure are not able to be fully compensated for the time and effort. What I found, however, is that the teachers participating in TEAL are those who while mindful of their time and compensation, want to be involved in efforts that help them deliver top quality instruction, stimulate them as learners themselves, and attempt to solve recurring issues their students face, namely in developing reading, writing, and math skills that will help them advance on the job, in their personal lives, and in college. TEAL teachers impressed me as those who seek out opportunities to implement what works, regardless of the limitation on time and money... well, perhaps in spite of.

I am the curriculum developer for my program, which is not a Virginia Department of Education funded one. Middle College in Virginia is supported by the Virginia Community College System, and, at my college, by our foundation, and by several local grantors. We are a college-readiness/transition program serving 18-24 year olds, providing simultaneous GED preparation and college academic prep, along-side a one credit college course on student success skills (SDV 100). Our programs run over a 15-week semester and are located on the college campus, where students have full access to college facilities and resources.

Much of our success stems from the partnerships we maintain. We partner with local agencies like the Community College Workforce Alliance, Goodwill Industries, Capital One and others, to provide vocational and financial/digital literacy training for our students over the semester. Our curriculum therefore is multi-dimensional. In my "GED/College Prep" classroom, curriculum is determined by assessment of the individual student and is supported by online programming. In Virginia, we have Adult Education Content Standards that are still in draft form, though they are in use by many programs, including my own. We also have a newly rolled out Adult Educator Certification Program, which according to VDOE policy will cover the entire field of adult education teachers; particularly those in DOE funded programs.

Jonathan: I'm not sure I can answer for the whole state of Mississippi, but at our local center we are a partnership between the State, our local school district and a community based literacy program. Our primary funding comes through the State and they draw Federal matching funds. Practically speaking we have made use of grant opportunities to enhance our program, as well as volunteering to pilot various evidence-based programs such as S.T.A.R. and TEAL.

That has helped provide many needed resources as well as ongoing practical professional development. That being said; you still have to have teachers willing to try to be creative and innovative in a classroom setting. Personally, I have often been inspired by these trainings to create lesson plans that, hopefully, are tailor-made for our students. Though it may mean extra preparation - it also means that we are more invested in our students and I hope that makes a difference.

As far as barriers go - the main ones are 1) having enough planning time set aside to develop curriculum and lessons 2) transforming the typical methodology of a ABE classroom from a glorified study hall to predominantly a 'direct instruction' approach, and 3) encountering resistance from administrators to allowing change to take place (I am NOT referring to my situation - I have a wonderful director who is head of our MS TEAL team!!)

Lastly, regarding the uniting of research and practice, I would simply say that it's a lot harder in the trenches to effect change. It may take some time before the strategies we are teaching really begin to take hold. I for one must learn patience!!

JI: As a state level supporter/team facilitator I would add that not only was the content offered of use and interest to our cohort, but the process of meeting together regularly to discuss our learning was a critical component of the work. Living in a state as small as Rhode Island, TEAL offered us the opportunity to meet face to face regularly, in addition to sharing, learning via email, and through the online course.


Writing from the Internet:

List of writing prompts: ; and

This resource explains how to use a poem or short piece of writing as the stimulus for a quick write. Keep in mind that much of what has been written is geared for K-12, but you will get ideas from this and other resources.

This Web page lists 100 prompts that can be used for quick writes. Again, some of these topics relate better to a K-12 audience, but some of these are useful as well for adult learners.

This page explains six ways that quick writes can be used, including across the content areas.

On the GED Connection videos made by KET, Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing down the Bones, speaks about free writing in a dynamic way in a short clip called "Getting Ideas on Paper".

The Catcher in the Rye multi-media project idea

750 words a day

OWL - Purdue Writing and Editing Assistance

Curriculum Programs and Methods:

Framing-your-Thoughts. While geared towards children, the basic tenets of this program to develop good sentences through practice along with teaching the paragraph or essay. In "quick warm-up drills", students respond to writing from oral prompts.... sound spellings, using encoding strategies, spelling generalizations, "non-phonetic" spelling, phrase writing, and sentence writing with given parameters. All of this incorporates "following oral directions". This leads to student confidence that when they have a good idea to convey, they are able to do so!

Judith Gould has a writing method for elementary and middle school students that can successfully be adapted for use with your reluctant writers called Four Square Writing and here is an example.

Here is the Our Voices curriculum developed by the adult ESOL program in Prince William County, VA. Our Voices focuses on taking a process writing approach and includes materials for beginner as well as more advanced ESOL students. Beginners may be drawing or captioning picture stories instead of writing paragraphs or full narratives, but they have the opportunity to practice brainstorming, organizing ideas, and revising. (Meanwhile, these beginner classrooms are probably spending much of their time on speaking/listening skills, including grammar issues like tense, basic sentence structure, etc. The Our Voices materials introduce and scaffold peer review, which can be another opportunity to practice oral communication skills.) Prince William has offered a lot of PD support to their teachers and encourage them to incorporate a process writing approach; the Our Voices teacher materials include an introduction to process writing noting that neither a process-only nor a product-only focus is ideal if improving writing is the goal. To read more about how Prince William has introduced the curriculum.

Research Articles and Books:

David West Brown's In Other Words (Code switching and grammar)

Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students (by Harris, Graham, Mason, & Friedlander).

The Writing Lab approach by Nickola Nelson, Christine Bahr, and Adelia Van Meter available from Brookes Publishers. This does a nice job of presenting how writing can be taught in the context of a computer lab with not just word processors, but other computer tools for text production (e.g., Inspiration planning software, word prediction software, speech recognition and synthesis software).

Beers, S., Quinlan, T., & Harbaugh, A. G. (2010). Adolescent students' reading during writing behaviors and relationships with text quality: An eye tracking study. Reading and Writing, 23, 743-775.

Sullivan, K. P. H., & Lindgren, E. (Eds.). (2006). Studies in Writing: Computer keystroke logging and writing. Oxford: Elsevier.

Olive, T. (2004). Working memory in writing: Empirical evidence from the dual-task technique. European Psychologist, 9, 32-42.

Berninger, V. W., & Winn, W. D. (2006). Implications of advancements in brain research and technology for writing development, writing instruction, and educational evolution. In C. A. MacArthur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research (pp. 96-114). New York: Guilford.

Graham and Perin (2007) - Writing Next

Troia, Gary. Instruction and Assessment for Struggling Writers Evidenced Based Practices

A new report, "Informing Writing: The Benefits of Formative Assessment" adds a solid body of evidence-based recommendations on the importance and value of teacher and peer feedback in improving student writing.

My handbook, From Ebonics To Standard English, is a FREE manual of typical errors and tendencies which occur in the daily speech and writing of our students. I have versions of the Gettysburg Address, The Declaration of Independence, Hamlet's soliloquy and other famous documents in the booklet.

Teaching Writing Genres Across the Curriculum - Strategies for Middle School Teachers edited by: Dr. Susan Lee Pasquarelli

Rick Wormeli's Summarization in Any Subject,

WELEARN Literacy Website --

Here is an article by Kate Nonesuch in an NCSALL journal: It's called "Changing Practice, Expanding Minds." I found it to be pretty useful when I was changing the way that I teach math, but I think the ideas will help with any subject matter.

Research-Based Writing Instruction
Self-Regulated Strategy Development
Technology-Supported Writing Instruction

Troia, G. Research in writing instruction: What we know and what we need to know. To appear in Pressley, M., Billman, A., Perry, K., Refitt, K., & Reynolds, J.M. (Eds.), Shaping literacy achievement: Research we have, research we need. New York: Guilford Press.

Troia, G. & Graham, S. (2003). Effective writing instruction across the grades: What every educational consultant should know. Journal of Educational and Psychological Consultation, 24(1), 75-89.