Flexibility and Teaching the Writing Process

This summer, students in READ 6313 Literacy Development and Language Study were asked to contribute a post to this blog.

By Joel West

The reading-writing connection is something that scholars have been discussing for many years and studying in earnest for decades now.  While it may seem like common sense to most Reading and Language Arts teachers that these two skillsets are interrelated, many still teach these skills in isolation with the hope that students will eventually be able to “put it all together” in the end.

Writing is a necessary component of literacy that is all-too-often set aside in order to teach reading skills and strategies related to high-stakes tests, especially when writing skills are only assessed at very specific intervals.  Usually, several years go by between these writing assessments and students aren’t given enough opportunities in the interim to develop and hone their skills as writers.  When they are finally given these opportunities, it occurs under the looming shadow of yet another high-stakes test—and the vicious cycle continues.

When the time comes to address writing skills with regard to high-stakes testing, teachers must invest a lot of time in teaching writing strategies, more specifically, the Writing Process.  The Writing Process, as it is generally presented, is a linear strategy made up of the following components: Pre-writing, Drafting, Revising, Editing, and Publication/Performance.  With some variation, these steps follow the standard approach to teaching writing to students, often prescriptively.

A book could be written about any of the steps mentioned above in relation to the Writing Process.  However, it is in the instructional approach in teaching the Writing Process that the connections between reading and writing can sometimes become fuzzy.  Sure, the piece of writing students may be working on does have a connection to what has been read or what will soon be read in class, but often the topics have been decided upon by the teacher, which doesn’t allow students to explore topics that may have come up within their own explorations of the text.

While it is great to learn all of these aspects of the Writing Process, it might be better for all parties involved to recognize the cyclical nature of the writing process.  Sometimes, when a writer is at the revision step, it is necessary to go back and explore the topic further.  Although it’s not pre-writing necessarily, the strategies taught as such might need to be employed once again.  Editing may have to happen more than once.  And, as most prolific writers know, there is no such thing as a final product.  There is rarely an example of perfect writing.  Final drafts are just that—drafts.  They can still be revisited for additions, amendments, and further revision.

All writers use a process of some sort, yet ask any writer about their process, and you might hear an entirely different answer from one individual to the next.  There should be a sense of flexibility with each individual’s approach to writing.  We should be sharing guidelines and best practices rather than hard and fast rules with young writers.

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