Category Archives: Disciplinary Literacy

Make Writing

Inspired by Angela Stockman’s new book Make Writing, today my students brainstormed ways they could demonstrate their knowledge of the historical novel The Plot Against America without writing to a prompt that I created for them.

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Pictures are posted below and my review on Angela’s new book will be published in a couple of days.

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Angela’s book turns conventional writing strategies and teaching upside down. She spills you out of your chair, shreds your lined paper, and launches you and your writers workshop into the maker space! Who even knew this was possible?

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Stockman provides five right-now writing strategies that reinvent instruction and inspire both young and adult writers to express ideas with tools and in ways that have rarely, if ever, been considered.

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Many schools are converting classrooms to maker spaces–vibrant places where students demonstrate learning by constructing things, using newly-acquired skills and applying newly-learned concepts.

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With inspired creativity and ingenuity, Stockman shows you how to bring modern maker moves into your writers workshop, giving birth to new environment  that rockets writers to places that were previously unimaginable.

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We will see how well my students’ projects on the Philip Roth novel turn out.

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History Book vs Video Lecture

I operate flipped classroom where students watch video lectures with Zaption questions embedded in them for homework, then we read, practice writing and note-taking drills and complete projects in class. After three years of this work I developed two hypotheses: 1) Students with higher reading scores prefer reading the book to viewing the video lectures; and 2) Students with lower reading scores prefer viewing the video lectures to reading the book.

This week, I asked two samples of students to describe which learning format they preferred. The results soundly debunked my assumptions. While both groups of students preferred the video lectures to the textbook, 36% of students with lower reading levels preferred taking notes from the book rather than viewing video lectures.

Book v VL

Students who favored the video lecture to the book made comments like:

  • I think I am learning more from the videos because they give off more information, they clarify what the topic is about, and I can rewind the video in case I didn’t get that last piece of information.
  • Personally, the video lectures help a lot more than taking notes on the book. I can spend more time on the video, the book is more flat. In the video, main points are emphasized. It’s slightly harder to pick out key points from the book. My brain works better when it comes to listening because when it comes to reading, my eyes tend to skim and I can miss key information.
  • I like the video lecture better because it tells us what to write. You can take your time and you can rewind the video. In the book, it takes a long time looking for what information you are going to write in your notes. When I open the book it’s just like no and it’s not interesting. The book doesn’t capture my attention.

Students who preferred the book to the video lectures made comments like:

  • I think the book helps me better because you can go back and easily find something you missed, you can easily flip through pages to find something, and it is less distracting.
  • Taking notes from the book helps you go at your own pace. You can read as fast or as slow as you want. The book is easier to go back to a sentence or paragraph than the video. The book makes it more simple because you can study and annotate in a way that you will understand.
  • I work better with books, they have less complications. I am a hands-on learner, books get to the point. Video-lectures can have complications. WiFi can go down, you run out of data, problems can happen. Books are always there to be picked up and read.

These results seem to validate the flipped classroom approach. When students view video lectures which preview vocabulary terms, names and events first, they are building background knowledge. Then, when students encounter these terms, names, and events in their reading, they have familiarity with them and it is easier for the new knowledge to “stick.” Regardless of which learning method students prefer when these two methods are paired, the video acts as an anticipation guide priming the pump in a student’s memory and reinforcing the stickiness of the information in the reading. My big takeaway? Remember to listen to your students. It turns out they also are your customers.

Writing Instruction Research

Instructional research in writing is not as robust as the body of research that has examined reading.

Gary TrioaGary A. Trioa contributed a 42 page chapter: Research in Writing Instruction: What We Know and What We Need to Know to the book Shaping Literacy Achievement. Trioa organized contemporary research into four categories: (1) characteristics of struggling writers’ products and processes, (2) essential instructional content and processes, (3) assessment, and (4) teachers’ practices and professional development.

Juzwik et al. (2005) found writing research has historically been (a) comparably underfunded, (b) mostly descriptive rather than experimental in nature, and (c) typically conducted in post-secondary education settings. Further investment in writing instruction is necessary for the field to flourish and draw the attention it deserves from various stakeholders.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 70 percent of teachers indicated they use process instruction to teach composition, yet less than a third of those same teachers spent 90 minutes or more per week teaching writing (1999). Research has shown that 90 minutes per week is a bare minimum when using a process approach to teaching writing (Graves, 1983).

In a number of studies, not all students who are taught a strategy actually use it after treatment (instruction) is discontinued. Changes in writing behaviors and performance can be maintained for a month or so, but mainly disappear after that.

Researchers need to investigate why strategy interventions are not more successful in helping struggling writers. Future studies should examine the effectiveness of combinations of writing strategy instruction and components of strong writing programs. How can writing strategies and increased performance can be maintained over time? What techniques for producing high-quality writing assignments can be generalized across subjects and text types?.

Shaping Lit AchPlanning strategies are rarely examined in conjunction with revision or editing strategies to determine their impact on writing behavior and performance. This should be done both separately and in combination.

Revising is an essential part of advanced writing instruction and less time needs to be devoted to planning instruction. The relationships between these two aspects of the writing process are highly variable across tasks and deserve more empirical scrutiny.

Embedding strategy training in meaningful writing activities may produce more positive outcomes in the fidelity, maintenance, and transfer of writing skills across subjects. More sophisticated research designs may be beneficial in increasing theoretical advances in this area.

Researchers need to develop integrated writing assessment systems that provide immediate, instructionally relevant data to teachers so that they are better equipped for pinpointing writing problems and responding accordingly. Identifying instructional adaptations that are valid and readily integrated into practice will help teachers maximize the writing potential of all students.

Dr. Trioa’s work suggests that sophisticated, large-scale research into the relationships between the components of writing programs, strategy interventions, and editing/revision processes could reveal new insights for the field. Peer review, automated essay scoring systems, and revision assistants offer students immediate feedback and produce large data sets for analysis. With the emergence of MOOCs, online education, and social media, these studies appear to be less burdensome for researchers to conduct.


Trioa, G. A., (2007) Research in Writing Instruction: What We Know and What We Need to Know. In M. Pressley, A. Billman, K. Perry, K. Refitt, & J. M. Reynolds (Eds.), Shaping literacy achievement: Research we have, research we need. New York: Guilford Press.

Writing to Read

It turns out there is a large body of evidence on how writing can improve reading. Three closely related instructional practices are continually effective when used to improve students’ reading comprehension. Graham & Hebert (2010) grouped these best practices in order of effectiveness. It should be noted that these effects were all positive and that social science researchers generally interpret effect sizes as small = .20; medium = .50; and large = .80.

Graham Effect Sizes

  1. Have students write about the texts they read. (Student comprehension of social studies is improved when they write about what they read).
    1. Respond to a text in writing, perhaps by writing personal reactions, or by analyzing and interpreting texts. How do students apply the material that was read, or covered in class? What can be created from this passage? Write the Russian response to the Long Telegram. Make six points from this passage. Give me three reasons why? Extended writing has a strong and consistent positive impact on reading. Why did Kennan write the Long Telegram? Analytic essays: Describe three inventions that drove industrial growth during the 19th century. Provide reasons and/or examples for each choice.
    2. Write summaries of texts (six word memoirs/definitions, Collins 10% summaries). This technique has a stronger effect on elementary students than on middle and high school students.
      1. Identify main information
      2. Delete trivial information
      3. Eliminate redundant information
      4. Write a short synopsis of the main and supporting information for each paragraph.
      5. Teachers need to explain each step, model the strategy, and allow students time to practice applying these new skills.
      6. Summarization of longer texts requires a skeleton outline, thesis, main idea subheadings each containing 2-3 important details. Later a student should convert the outline to a written summary of the entire text.
    3. Write notes about a text (paraphrasing, dual column close reading with primary sources). Consistently has a positive impact on reading comprehension.
      1. Structured note-taking (alpha-numeric, Cornell)
      2. Concept mapping
      3. 15 minute history example. Divide class into 4 groups.
    4. Answer questions about a text in writing, or create and answer written questions about a text (Kahoot Kompetitions, effective questioning)
  2. Teach students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text
    1. Teach the process of writing
    2. Text structures for writing
    3. Paragraph or sentence construction skills.
    4. (All of these improve reading comprehension).
  3. Increase how much students write
    1. Reading comprehension is improved by increasing how often students produce their own texts.
    2. NWP (2003) study asked teachers to double the amount of writing they assign in class.

It is essential to vary these techniques in order to keep students from falling into routines where they may become bored with note-taking and writing. Social Studies teachers have a larger burden than other content teachers when preparing writing tasks that help students understand what they read, as disciplinary reading within our field makes up the majority of a student’s academic vocabulary (See below).

Marzano 55%

Future Research Should:

  1. Focus on low-achieving students.
  2. Cross-comparisons on the effects of different writing practices.
  3. Comparisons on different aspects of performance.
  4. How to bring writing practices to scale.
  5. Combining writing practices. Do more complex, multi-component practices yield stronger reading gains?
  6. Establish a greater range of writing about texts strategies.
  7. What are the long-term effects of writing and writing instruction on reading?
  8. Do students become better readers due to increased instruction in planning and revising?


Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading: A report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Graham, S., Harris, K., & Hebert, M. (2011). Informing writing: The benefits of formative assessment. A Report from Carnegie Corporation of New York. Carnegie Corporation of New York.

Reading Next

Biancarosa & Snow (2004) outline 15 elements of effective literacy interventions. RN Cover Subsequent research should focus on identifying an optimal mix that will increase the literacy of middle and high school students while simultaneously building their knowledge base. The following fifteen elements are research-based best practices aimed at improving middle and high school literacy achievement:

  1. Direct, explicit comprehension instruction, which is instruction in the strategies and processes that proficient readers use to understand what they read, including summarizing, keeping track of one’s own understanding, and a host of other practices
  2. Effective instructional principles embedded in content, including language arts teachers using content-area texts and content-area teachers providing instruction and practice in reading and writing skills specific to their subject area
  3. Motivation and self-directed learning, which includes building motivation to read and learn and providing students with the instruction and supports needed for independent learning tasks they will face after graduation
  4. Text-based collaborative learning, which involves students interacting with one another around a variety of texts
  5. Strategic tutoring, which provides students with intense individualized reading, writing, and content instruction as needed
  6. Diverse texts, which are texts at a variety of difficulty levels and on a variety of topics
  7. Intensive writing, including instruction connected to the kinds of writing tasks students will have to perform well in high school and beyond
  8. A technology component, which includes technology as a tool for and a topic of literacy instruction
  9. Ongoing formative assessment of students, which is informal, often daily assessment of how students are progressing under current instructional practices
  10. Extended time for literacy, which includes approximately two to four hours of literacy instruction and practice that takes place in language arts and content-area classes
  11. Professional development that is both long term and ongoing
  12. Ongoing summative assessment of students and programs, which is more formal and provides data that are reported for accountability and research purposes
  13. Teacher teams, which are interdisciplinary teams that meet regularly to discuss students and align instruction
  14. Leadership, which can come from principals and teachers who have a solid understanding of how to teach reading and writing to the full array of students present in schools
  15. A comprehensive and coordinated literacy program, which is interdisciplinary and interdepartmental and may even coordinate with out-of-school organizations and the local community

Lit Ach Elements

Since educational research has not identified an overall strategy for directing and coordinating remedial tools for students at risk of academic failure, teachers are encouraged to experiment with these elements and report out any effective combinations. The authors recommend that three specific elements: professional development, formative assessment, and summative assessment be included in order to ensure instructional effectiveness and measuring effects.