Associate Professor, Special Education
Michigan State University
Research Guiding Writing Instruction
There is ample research to guide what we do in writing instruction for both K12 students and I think adult basic education learners, because even though the meta-analyses did not look at adult basic education populations, we can surmise based on the research that is out there with adults that the instructional principles would hold true for that population. So there is a research base that’s applicable to multiple populations. The second thing I would take away from the first presentation, the information about the meta-analyses is that there are a set of instructional components or practices that although do not form a coherent, cohesive, complete writing program, but when put together in a thoughtful manner would do well in improving the writing performance of students. So these are individual practices that are looked at. They haven’t necessarily been examined in combination with one another, so there was a question about whether or not there’s a cumulative effect or if you taught many different things, many different strategies for example, would that dilute and so I brought up the issue about dosage that it is important to have a dosage that’s high enough where it’s actually going to impact student writing performance, but you wouldn’t want to walk away and just do one or two things and think that that’s going to be a comprehensive program because it’s not.
Reviewing the Research
A meta-analyses is really the best way to kind of put together a large body of research in a succinct way and summarize it and really quantify the impact that interventions of different types have on student performance. So it’s a very effective way of taking a look at a body of literature that’s easier to do than to look at one study at a time. I just felt that it was important for the participants of TEAL to really have an understanding of what the research base is in writing instruction.
The Writing Next Report and the Writing to Read Report
The first presentation was to kind of talk about reading and writing connections and the way I wanted to do that was to present the information from the Writing Next report and the Writing to Read report and those are both meta-analyses that have taken a look at based on the quantitative quasi-experimental and experimental research that we have in writing instruction, what are the instructional practices that have an evidence base that appear to be effective in improving K12 students writing performance and in some cases that might also be related to academic content knowledge improvements or to summarization accuracy, depending on what’s being looked at. Because writing instruction is, writing assessment, writing instruction, writing policy tends to be treated as a stepchild if you will, and is often the Neglected “R” as the National Commission on Writing has called it, I think it’s important that we look at these policy instruments, these documents that summarize the research because they should have a major impact on what’s going on in terms of policies regarding writing instruction, the standards that we set for writing instruction, how we assess writing, performance, and raising the importance of writing.
Needs of ABE Students
I do think that the adult basic education learner population has somewhat different needs than K12 students, because we’re readying those adult learners for post secondary education or getting a GED or certificate or to enter some kind of work program and so all of those things have significant writing demands, but the kinds of writing that individuals are going to do are more circumscribed than what we might ask in a K12 setting.
Instructional Practices Work Across Genres
The nice thing about the set of instructional practices I presented in both the Writing Next report and the Writing to Read report are that they’ve often been studied across different genres so it’s not the case that you can only teach planning strategies, which is one of many different kinds of writing strategies that could be taught in narrative and that’s the only time it’s going to work. It works across genres, across different kinds of writing. The important thing to realize is that these are instructional techniques or components or practices that can be used with adult learners, even though they’re not learning how to write every kind of writing, for every single purpose that there might be, that we have in K12 education. So I think that’s important to walk away with.