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New book presents strategies to improve student writing

Jan. 2, 2008, 4:42 PM

A new book co-authored by Vanderbilt University education faculty seeks to reverse the downward trend in the quality of student writing. Powerful Writing Strategies for All Students presents a detailed program that teachers can use to help students master writing and improve their self-confidence.

“Writing is discouraging and frustrating for many students, which can lead to an avoidance of writing and contribute to poor overall academic achievement,” Karen Harris, one of the book’s co-authors and Currey Ingram Chair in Special Education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College of education and human development, said. “This book offers teachers a guide for giving students the skills and strategies they need to learn how to write while boosting their enthusiasm and confidence in their ability to write independently and well.”

The book outlines how to implement a writing instruction approach called Self-Regulated Strategy Development, or SRSD, which was designed by Harris and co-author Steve Graham, also Currey Ingram Chair in Special Education at Vanderbilt’s Peabody College. The approach has been developed through 25 years of research and its effectiveness shown in over 40 studies, including randomized field trials. “SRSD focuses on five areas that research has found are particularly difficult for students learning how to write: generating content; planning and outlining composition structure; creating goals and big-picture plans for compositions; quickly and effectively executing the mechanics of writing; and revising text and goals as needed,” Harris said. “While doing all of this, students need to be able to stay focused and to feel confident about their ability.”

The book lays out the SRSD approach for teachers in six stages: develop background knowledge with students about the writing genre and about powerful writing strategies; discuss the students’ current strategies and abilities; model effective writing strategies and the composing process; help students memorize strategies and self-instructions; support what students have learned through collaboration and revision; and establish independent performance.

“Teachers with whom I have worked have enthusiastically adopted SRSD because it is practical and easy to use in the classroom,” Robert Reid, professor of special education at the University of Nebraska, wrote in the book’s forward. “What do students think of SRSD? They love it because it helps them learn how to do a task. These strategies help to give students the perseverance they need to get through demanding tasks such as writing an essay.”

By many accounts, writing is one of the most neglected skills in America’s schools. The book cites recent results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress that found “three out of every four 4th, 8th and 12th grade students exhibited only partial mastery of the necessary writing skills and knowledge at the respective grade levels,” and “only one in 100 students demonstrated ‘advanced’ writing skills.”

The tools in the new book have been proven effective for a variety of writing genres—story, creative, narrative, expository and persuasive writing—as well as for general, at-risk and special education students from kindergarten through high school. The lessons are generally 20 to 60 minutes long and occur at least three times a week for several weeks. Teachers are encouraged to use the lessons that fit the students’ needs best in the order that suits them.

Harris and Graham’s co-authors are Linda Mason, assistant professor of educational and school psychology and special education at Pennsylvania State University; and Barbara Friedlander, a special education teacher in Montgomery County Public Schools, Potomac, Md. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. published the book.

Harris and Graham are investigators in the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center for Research on Human Development.

Media contact: Melanie Moran, 615-322-NEWS
Melanie.moran@vanderbilt.edu

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