How Every Teacher Can Teach Writing

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By Nancy Roberts, co-author with Mary Shea of Using FIVES for Writing

When writing Using FIVES for Writing with Mary Shea, it was important for us to remember why we are doing what we’re doing, and whom we are doing it for. Many times, we had heard the statement, “I don’t know how to teach writing; I’m a science teacher!” Well, slightly discouraged teachers, this blog is for you. Whether you teach history or biology, math or art, writing takes place in every area of study and every k-12 classroom (yes, sometimes even in gym class!) and you can help your students learn this valuable life skill.  Why is this important? Because teaching reading and writing is our job as educators. Period. But how do we do that?

First Step: The Essentials

Before you can make groundbreaking changes, it is essential to look at the reality of your classroom and the students who make up that classroom. More likely than not, your classroom includes students with disabilities as well as those still learning the English language. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but modeling to students a process for reading (the what and how with the FIVES strategy) and connecting this to a simple writing process (the what and how with the ABBC strategy) gives students at all levels a way to apply their knowledge and engage with their own learning.

Before we jump into strategy, we as educators must remember the essentials of learning anything — teacher modeling, lesson scaffolding, guided practice, and the feedback students need to develop not only ability, but the confidence needed to grow.  We are responsible for providing deeper questions, providing probes as writing prompts, and engaging students in meaningful and interested research through reading that ultimately allows for the “payoff” of a job well done. So, how can you improve your students’ writing skills in your classroom daily? Richard Allington has some advice.

Richard Allington’s 6 Ts

Writing is a learned skill, and like any skill, it takes more than just time. Richard Allington outlines this idea in his article, The Six Ts of Effective Elementary Literacy Instruction — time, text, teach, talk, tasks, and tests. His approach suggests, first and foremost, that we need to spend time reading and writing, ideally, for about half the school day. “In many classrooms, 20 minutes of actual reading across the school day (Knapp, 1995) is a common event, which includes reading in science, social studies, math, and other subjects.”

Furthermore, we need to provide an interesting text for learning that has connections to our student population as well as providing variety and time for engagement as an individual, in a small group, and as a whole class.

The third T, Teaching, can and should be happening all day. Reading and writing strategies must be addressed within each subject area and direct modeling should be employed. For example, reading and writing can be utilized in all subjects, all day long using The FIVES for Reading Comprehension and Using FIVES for Writing and the ABBC strategies.. Not only do these strategies become second nature, there is comfort in knowing HOW to address learning in a cohesive, scaffolded manner.

Talk is the area I fear many of us as teachers have pushed to the side as state requirements tend to eat up more minutes of the day. Yet, it is the time taken to talk and converse with students that will build lasting learning skills and the desire to engage, learn and share more.

The tasks should be meaningful and offer students the ability to practice, develop, and learn the processes of writing and reading and to develop and define who they are as learners and identify how they can best succeed.

Testing is the last of Allington’s 6 Ts. Testing is the time to evaluate not only what the student has learned and can apply to the best of their ability, but also to evaluate what you as a teacher need to address, or readdress. Testing should allow students to be evaluated on effort and improvement, rather than whether they meet a certain achievement level.

Using the FIVES

To be successful writers, students need clear modeling of the writing process from defining what the prompt or writing task is, to adopting a step-by-step (ABBC) model of how to address it. Using FIVES for Writing does just this. Whether you are an English or chemistry teacher, this book can break down an effective writing strategy that you can incorporate in your classroom to fulfill Arlington’s 6 Ts for effective literacy instruction. Mary Shea and I have worked to provide this tool for teachers so that the comment, “I don’t know how to teach writing…I teach history, math, science…” won’t be heard, but rather addressed.

All our students want a “way” and/or a “how” to start any learning.  As teachers, we need to give students a toolbox to enable them to build upon their learning. For some it is a visual/auditory tool of the acronym and for others it is the visual conceptualization of the ABBC House, and the action of writing in notes to use.  But in the end, no matter what the reason, it offers direction and security and allows for the highest level of success in writing to communicate their learning and share it with a level of confidence they may not have ever known.

“Using Fives for Writing” is now available for preorder. Order your copy today.