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New Study Says Emphasize Quality Over Quantity In Teaching Writing, But I Don’t Think That’s Most Important Finding

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A big new study on writing instruction just came out, and it was shared on Twitter by Renee Moore and The National Writing Project.

When More Is Less is the headline of the article summarizing the study, which is freely available online (The Contributions of Writing to Learning and Development:Results from a Large-Scale Multi-institutional Study).

The article highlights that quality of instruction is more important than quantity. Perhaps I’m missing something, but it’s hard for me to believe that this is a big surprise to anybody.

More important for practical teacher instruction, however, I think the study highlights three practices that we should keep in mind when we teach. The researchers find that they all result in improved student writing and learning (their words are in italics; my commentary is not):

  • Interactive Writing Processes, which involve the student writers communicating orally or in writing with one or more persons at some point between receiving an assignment and submitting the final draft (teacher conferences, peer review).
  • Meaning-Making Writing Tasks, which require students to engage in some form of integrative, critical, or original thinking.  Based on the researcher’s description of what these kinds of tasks looked like, it appears that they are specifically talking about learning transfer (see The Best Resources For Learning About The Concept Of “Transfer” — Help Me Find More): Examples include asking students to apply a concept learned in class to their past experience, relate knowledge learned in another class to knowledge presented in the current class, support a contestable claim with evidence, or evaluate a policy, practice, or position.
  • Clear Writing Expectations, which involve instructors providing students with an accurate understanding of what they are asking their students to show that they can do in an assignment and the criteria by which the instructors will evaluate the students’ submissions. Here, they refer to giving written instructions and to using rubrics. I am surprised that they don’t even mention sharing models and examples, particularly since recent research shows that this strategy can be more effective than rubrics (see Dylan Wiliam advises: Forget the Rubric; Use Work Samples Instead is a pretty important post by Doug Lemov. Be sure to also check out Dylan William’s comment on it). Also see The Best Rubric Sites (And A Beginning Discussion About Their Use).

Those seem to me to be pretty useful teaching guidelines.

You might also find these two resources related and useful:

New Study Says That Half Of “Evidence-Based Practices” In Writing Instruction Not “Signaled” By Common Core

The Best Posts On Writing Instruction

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. It particular it is not a dubious question nowadays. Quality or Quantity? What a question! Gucci or Zara? Sorry for my French, so to say, but not everyone can write. The symbiosis of talent, skills and knowledge about stylistic means and devices is a prerequisite to any writer, even for beginners. The fact that students care less and less about uniqueness of their assignments makes me sad. Need to write an essay – ”Just Google it”. It is boring. It is boring to write the same things! But fortunately, technologies help us to break through these terrible barriers of plagiarism. All teachers can check essays for similarity. Personally, I use Unplag https://unplag.com/ and my students know that there is no chance to copy and paste. Haunting them like a linguistic shadow, I believe, I will teach them how to write.

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