The Right Tool for the Job: Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom

Melody Arabo, Jonathan Budd, Shannon Garrison, and Tabitha Pacheco (March 2017). The Right Tool for the Job Improving Reading and Writing in the Classroom. Washington, DC: The Thomas Fordham Institute.

This report presents in-depth reviews of nine promising online reading and writing tools for ELA classrooms. Overall, reviewers found these new resources mostly reflect the instructional shifts called for by Common Core (such as including a balance of text types and text-dependent questions for reading and writing). They also lauded the innovative nature and usefulness of text sets as instructional tools, as well as online resources’ student assessment and data reporting capabilities. However, our reviewers cite a lack of information regarding accessibility and accommodations for students with learning disabilities.

Young Children's Knowledge of the Symbolic Nature of Writing

Treiman, R., Hompluem, L., Gordon, J., Decker, K. and Markson, L. (2016), Young Children's Knowledge of the Symbolic Nature of Writing. Child Development. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12478.

This research study shows that even before learning their ABCs, youngsters start to recognize that a written word symbolizes language in a way a drawing doesn't — a developmental step on the path to reading. Two experiments with one hundred and fourteen 3- to 5-year-old children examined whether children understand that a printed word represents a specific spoken word and that it differs in this way from a drawing. When an experimenter read a word to children and then a puppet used a different but related label for it, such as “dog” for the word ‹puppy›, children often stated the puppet's label was incorrect. In an analogous task with drawings, children were more likely to state that the puppet was correct in using an alternative label. The results suggest that even young children who cannot yet read have some understanding that a written word stands for a specific linguistic unit in a way that a drawing does not.

A Written Language Intervention for At-Risk Second Grade Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial of the Process Assessment of the Learner Lesson Plans in a Tier 2 Response-to-Intervention (RtI) Model

Hooper, S. R., Costa, L. C., McBee, M., Anderson, K. L., Yerby, D. C., Childress, A., & Knuth, S. B. (2013). A written language intervention for at-risk second grade students: A randomized controlled trial of the process assessment of the learner lesson plans in a tier 2 response-to-intervention (RtI) model. Annals of Dyslexia, 66(1), 44–64.

The study examined the effects of Process Assessment of the Learner (PAL), a writing expression curriculum. The program was tested with second grade students in a suburban–rural school district in the southeastern United States. Three sections of PAL lessons were implemented in the district as a small-group curriculum supplement — Talking Letters, Spelling, and Handwriting and Composition. The study found that the average written expression skills of the PAL intervention group were higher than those of the comparison group at the beginning of third grade. However, a review of the findings by What Works Clearinghouse did not confirm that the observed effect of the PAL intervention on growth in written expression skills was statistically significant.

Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers

Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Olsen, C.B., D'Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., Olinghouse, N. (2012). Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers. Washington, DC: What Works Clearinghouse, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

This practice guide provides four recommendations for improving elementary students' writing. Each recommendation includes implementation steps and solutions for common roadblocks. The recommendations also summarize and rate supporting evidence. This guide is geared toward teachers, literacy coaches, and other educators who want to improve the writing of their elementary students.

Informing Writing: The Benefits of Formative Assessment

Graham, S., Harris, K., and Hebert, M. Informing writing: the benefits of formative assessment (2011). Vanderbilt University and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

This report examines the effectiveness of formative writing assessment and answers two questions: (1) does formative assessment enhance student writing, and (2) how can teachers improve formative writing assessments in the classroom. Writing is a critical literacy component for the achievement of the Common Core State Standards and college and career readiness. Based on the findings of a meta-analysis, authors of this report Steve Graham, Karen Harris, and Michael Hebert provide three recommendations for all schools, including those receiving School Improvement Grants (SIG), and describe examples of classroom application

Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading

Graham, S., and Hebert, M.A. (2010). Writing to read: Evidence for how writing can improve reading. A Carnegie Corporation Time to Act Report. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

Writing to Read is a new Carnegie Corporation report published by the Alliance for Excellent Education which finds that while reading and writing are closely connected, writing is an often-overlooked tool for improving reading skills and content learning. Writing to Read identifies three core instructional practices that have been shown to be effective in improving student reading: having students write about the content-area texts they have read; teaching students the writing skills and processes that go into creating text; and increasing the amount of writing students do.

Teaching Young Students Strategies for Planning and Drafting Stories: The Impact of Self-Regulated Strategy Development

Tracy, B., Graham, S., and Reid, R., Teaching Young Students Strategies for Planning and Drafting Stories: The Impact of Self-Regulated Strategy Development (2009). The Journal of Educational Research 102: 5.
In the present study, participants were 127 3rd-grade students, to 64 of whom (33 boys, 31 girls) the authors taught a general strategy and a genre-specific strategy for planning and writing stories; procedures for regulating the use of these strategies, the writing process, and their writing behaviors; and knowledge about the basic purpose and characteristics of good stories. The other 63 3rd-grade students (30 boys, 33 girls) formed the comparison group and received traditional-skills writing instruction (mostly on spelling, grammar, and so forth). Strategy-instructed students wrote stories that were longer, schematically stronger, and qualitatively better. Strategy-instructed students maintained over a short period of time the gains that they had made from pretest to posttest. In addition, the impact of story-writing strategy instruction transferred to writing a similar but untaught genre, that of a narrative about a personal experience. Strategy-instructed students wrote longer, schematically stronger, and qualitatively better personal narratives than did children in the control condition.

Procedural Facilitators and Cognitive Strategies:Tools for Unraveling the Mysteries of Comprehension and the Writing Process, and for Providing Meaningful Access to the General Curriculum

Baker, S., Gersten, R., & Scanlon, D. (2002). Procedural Facilitators and Cognitive Strategies: Tools for Unraveling the Mysteries of Comprehension and the Writing Process, and for Providing Meaningful Access to the General Curriculum. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 17, 65-77.

A solid, emerging research base exists to inform how we provide meaningful access to the general education curriculum for students with learning disabilities. For example, the presentation of challenging content to academically diverse learners can be demystified using content enhancement techniques. Additionally, a range of strategies can be taught to enhance reading comprehension and expressive writing abilities. Examples from several lines of research in comprehension and writing are used to highlight the underlying features of these empirically based approaches and to introduce the reader to the history of this expanding body of research.

Writer's Workshop, Graphic Organizers, and Six-Trait Assessment: A Winning Writing Strategy Combo

James, L., Abbott, M., & Greenwood, C. R. (2001). Writer's workshop, graphic organizers, and six-trait assessment: A winning writing strategy combo. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33 (3), 30-37.

Adam is a 9-year-old fourthgrade boy from a low-income, two-parent home who receives special education services in the areas of speech/language and learning disabilities. He is withdrawn and quiet, typically speaking only when asked a question. Adam had little confidence in his overall academic ability and was leery of writing. At the beginning of his fourth-grade year, Adam scored at first grade, fifth month on the Individual Reading Inventory (Aoki et al., 1997); and his writing pretest was only five words long. During the writing workshop described in this article, Adam made substantial gains in all areas of the writing assessment. His posttest writing contained 54 words and showed marked improvement in content and form. His learning was no longer stagnant, but progressive and enthusiastic. In addition, the teacher and other staff members noticed a change in Adam’s demeanor. He initiated conversations; took a more active role in the larger classroom setting; and, for the first time, even made jokes. Adam continued to prosper academically and socially the following year. The writing workshop and its combination of strategies seemed to be the most beneficial of a number of alternatives the teachers had tried to facilitate Adam’s academic and social growth.

Reconceptualizing Spelling Development and Instruction

Templeton, S., & Morris, D. (2001, October). Reconceptualizing spelling development and instruction. Reading Online, 5(3). Available:

Over the years, researchers' thinking about "spelling" has evolved. Once seen simply as a tool for writing, it's now acknowledged that spelling offers perhaps the best window on what an individual knows about words. Learn how spelling has been reconceptualized, and the implications for spelling instruction.

What's In a Name? Children's Name Writing and Literacy Acquisition

Bloodgood, J. (1999). What's in a name? Children's name writing and literacy acquisition. Reading Research Quarterly, 34, 342-367.

Literacy development among a group of preschool and kindergarten children was examined through changes in the form, function, and perception of their written names. Sixty-seven 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds, their teachers, instructional aides, and six case-study parents participated in a yearlong qualitative and quantitative study. Literacy skills were assessed in the fall and spring; instructional methods, classroom interactions, and student writing efforts were observed. Preschool and kindergarten teachers and instructional aides as well as the parents of six case-study children responded to interviews and participated in informal discussions of children's early literacy growth.

Literacy Instruction in Nine First-Grade Classrooms: Teacher Characteristics and Student Achievement

Wharton-McDonald, R., Pressley, M., & Hampston, J.M. (1998). Literacy instruction in nine first-grade classrooms: Teacher characteristics and student achievement. The Elementary School Journal, 99, 101-128.

Classroom observations and in-depth interviews were used to study 9 first-grade teachers from 4 districts who had been nominated by language arts coordinators as outstanding or typical in their ability to help students develop literacy skills. Based on observational measures of student reading and writing achievement and student engagement, 3 groups of teachers emerged from the original 9. The following practices and beliefs distinguished the instruction of the 3 teachers (2 nominated as outstanding, 1 as typical) whose students demonstrated the highest levels on these measures: (a) coherent and thorough integration of skills with high-quality reading and writing experiences, (b) a high density of instruction (integration of multiple goals in a single lesson), (c) extensive use of scaffolding, (d) encouragement of student self-regulation, (e) a thorough integration of reading and writing activities, (f) high expectations for all students, (g) masterful classroom management, and (h) an awareness of their practices and the goals underlying them. Teaching practices observed in 7 of the 9 classrooms are also discussed. The data reported here highlight the complexity of primary literacy instruction and support the conclusion that effective primary-level literacy instruction is a balanced integration of high-quality reading and writing experiences and explicit instruction of basic literacy skills.

In the Middle : New Understanding About Writing, Reading, and Learning

Atwell, N. (1998). In the Middle : New Understanding About Writing, Reading, and Learning. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook.

When first published in 1987, this seminal work was widely hailed for its honest examination of how teachers teach, how students learn, and the gap that lies in between. In depicting her own classroom struggles, Nancy Atwell shook our orthodox assumptions about skill-and-drill-based curriculum and became a pioneer of responsive teaching. Now, in the long-awaited second edition, Atwell reflects on the next ten years of her experience, rethinks and clarifies old methods, and demonstrates new, more effective approaches.

Emergent Literacy

Sulzby, E. & Teale, W.H. (1991). Emergent literacy. In R. Barr, M.L. Kamil, P. Mosenthal, and P.D. Pearson (Eds.) Handbook of Reading Research: Vol. 2 (pp. 727-757). New York: Longman.

Learning to Read and Write: A Longitudinal Study of 54 Children From First Through Fourth Grades

Juel, C. (1988). Learning to read and write: A longitudinal study of 54 children from first through fourth grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 243-255.

In this study, of particular concern were these questions: Do the same children remain poor readers year after year? Do the same children remain poor writers year after year? What skills do the poor readers lack? What skills do the poor writers lack? What factors seem to keep poor readers from improving? What factors seem to keep poor writers from improving? The probability that a child would remain a poor reader at the end of 4th grade if the child was a poor reader at the end of 1st grade was 0.88. Early writing skill did not predict later writing skill as well as early reading ability predicted later reading ability. Children who become poor readers entered 1st grade with little phonemic awareness. By the end of 4th grade, the poor readers had still not achieved the level of decoding skill that the good readers had achieved at the beginning of 2nd grade. Good readers read considerably more than the poor readers both in and out of school, which appeared to contribute to the good readers' growth in some reading and writing skills. Poor readers tended to become poor writers.

The Art of Teaching Writing

Calkins, L.M. (1994). The art of teaching writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann Educational Books.

From Amazon:
The Art of Teaching Writing, New Edition, has major new chapters on assessment, thematic studies, writing throughout the day, reading/writing relationships, publication, curriculum development, nonfiction writing and home/school connections.

From Scribbles to Scrabble: Preschool Children’s Developing Knowledge of Written Language

Puranik, C.S. and Lonigan, C.J. From scribbles to scrabble: preschool children’s developing knowledge of written language (2011) National Institutes of Health.

This document discusses a research study focused on the emergent writing skills of young children. Investigators Cynthia Puranik and Christopher Lonigan found evidence to support the developmental progression of emergent writing skills. The findings also indicate that children as young as three years old have advanced knowledge of writing their own names when compared with other writing tasks. Implications of these findings include the recommendation that teachers should facilitate young children’s development of writing skills, using a differentiated approach to instruction.

Common Core State Standards, Writing, and Students with LD: Recommendations

Graham, S. and Harris, K. R. (2013), Common Core State Standards, Writing, and Students with LD: Recommendations. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 28: 28–37. doi: 10.1111/ldrp.12004
This article examines the Common Core State Standards as they apply to writing and students with learning disabilities (LD). We first consider why the implementation of these standards is advantageous to writing instruction for students with LD as well as the challenges in implementing them. Next, we make the following four recommendations in terms of their implementation: (1) increase general and special education teachers’ knowledge about writing development; (2) create a writing environment in which students with LD can thrive; (3) employ evidence-based writing practices in general education classes (where most students with LD are taught); and (4) use evidence-based writing practices effective with students with LD. We conclude by considering research that still needs to be undertaken to help educators maximize the probability that students with and without LD meet the writing benchmarks proposed in these Standards.

The Effects of Self-Regulated Strategy Development on the Writing Performance of Second-Grade Students With Behavioral and Writing Difficulties

Lane, K.L., Harris, K.R., Graham, S., Weisenbach, J.L., Brindle, M. and Morphy, P., The Effects of Self-Regulated Strategy Development on the Writing Performance of Second-Grade Students With Behavioral and Writing Difficulties (2008). Journal of Special Education 41: 234-253

The effects of a secondary academic intervention, embedded in the context of a positive behavior support model, on the writing of second-grade students at risk for emotional and behavioral disorder and writing problems were examined in this study. Students were taught how to plan and draft a story using the self-regulated strategy development model. Results of this multiple-probe design revealed lasting improvements in story completeness, length, and quality for all 6 students. Students and teachers rated the intervention favorably, with some indicating that the intervention exceeded their expectations. Limitations and directions for future research are discussed.
"There is no substitute for books in the life of a child." — May Ellen Chase