Before we can or should characterize a student writer as “struggling,” it is essential to consider what steps have been already taken to develop and support the writer. When we think about response to intervention models, considering the instruction provided for the student is key. Students should not be labeled if their weaknesses resulted from deficits in instruction. Therefore, the type of writing instruction provided in the regular classroom should be evaluated.
But what does quality writing instruction look like in the regular classroom environment? The following questions are important to consider when evaluating classroom writing instruction.
- How often are students provided with opportunities to write? Are students writing daily? Weekly? Rarely? Only for assessment purposes? Is there a culture of writing in the classroom or is writing just an item to be checked off in a daily lesson plan?
- What types of writing are encouraged? Are students limited to short responses to their reading? Do they just write to complete worksheets and to answer questions? Are they encouraged to write in a variety of genres? Do they produce only formulaic pieces? How much choice is offered?
- Are students engaged in writing across the curriculum? Is writing separated from all areas of the curriculum or is it integrated through the school day?
- How are students provided with feedback about their writing? Do students have opportunities to confer with the teacher about their writing? What do conferences look like? How does the teacher approach conferences with student-writers? Does the teacher provide written feedback? Verbal feedback? A combination of written and verbal feedback?
- Does the teacher provide whole-group instruction? Small-group instruction? Mini lessons? Does the teacher provide a combination of these instructional formats?
- What does the writing process look like in the classroom? How are students guided through this process? What types of support are available to students? Are students provided with modeling and guided practice?
- Do students have the opportunity to share their work with others? What opportunities are provided for this purpose? Are these opportunities limited to the classroom?
- How is technology incorporated into writing instruction and activities? What tools are available for teachers and students?
- Has the teacher been provided with ample opportunities for professional development in the area of writing? Does the teacher take advantage of these opportunities?
- Is the teacher a writer? This statement doesn’t mean that the teacher has to be a formally published author or have certain credentials, but teachers who write serve as powerful models for their students by not only writing with their students, but also through sharing their writing. They can “practice what they preach.”
The answers to these questions can stimulate conversations and encourage an honest assessment of classroom writing instruction. We have to provide students with the best environment in order for them to grow as writers. Our students deserve nothing less.