Monday, August 2, 2010

Developing Effective Writing Programs: Help for High Schools

The new book Taking Initiative on Writing: A Guide for Instructional Leaders by Anne Ruggles Gere, Hannah A. Dickinson, Melinda J. McBee Orzulak, and Stephanie Moody (copublished by NCTE and NASSP) offers practical strategies and extensive resources to help principals and teachers develop effective writing programs in their high schools. Read on for a taste of this book, taken from the opening chapter:

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The headline reads, “Writing Scores Drop Again,” and your phone has been ringing all day with parents, board members, and media representatives asking how you plan to improve writing instruction in your school.

or

A group of business leaders meets with you to talk about how your school can help prepare students for the world of work. They emphasize that they need employees who can write effectively, and they imply that students from your school don’t meet their standards.

or

On a return visit, a recent graduate of your school, an excellent student who went on to the university, says that she felt very well prepared in math and science, but she didn’t feel ready for college writing.

As an instructional leader, you have probably experienced a scenario like one of these—or it is a situation you are trying to avoid. You no doubt know that writing is increasingly important in the twenty-first century. You may be aware that U.S. workers write more now than at any time in history and that colleges expect students to be able to write well. The responsibility of preparing students to be college- and career-ready writers may be weighing heavily on you, and you might be feeling increasing pressure to take some action. The challenges of high-stakes writing tests; the expectations of stakeholders, including parents, board members, and central administration; and underprepared faculty all contribute to the weight.

You’ve been dealing with local and state writing standards for several years, and now national core standards for writing have emerged. You’re likely wondering how to help teachers in your school face the challenges of preparing students for national graduation and workplace standards such as the following:

  • Establish and refine a topic or thesis that addresses a specific task and audience.
  • Support and illustrate arguments and explanations with relevant details, examples, and evidence.
  • Create a logical progression of ideas and events, and convey the relationships among them.
  • Develop and maintain a style and tone appropriate to the purpose and audience.
  • Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard written English, including grammar, usage, and mechanics.
  • Write effectively in a variety of school subjects.
  • Assess the quality of one’s writing and strengthen it through revision.
  • Use technology as a tool to produce, edit, and distribute writing.

English language arts teachers do play key roles in helping students become writers who can meet standards like these, but they cannot do it alone. In fact, some English teachers are not entirely confident about teaching writing. It will take a team effort. You have probably been an instructional leader long enough to know that improving student learning requires effort from many people headed in the same direction. Perhaps you’d like to exert leadership in developing an effective program of writing instruction in your school, but you’re not sure where to begin.

This book will help you. It recognizes that you are a busy and cost-conscious instructional leader who needs a way to move forward. It lays out a full sequence of activities designed to assist you in creating an effective program of writing instruction in your school, an effective writing initiative. This sequence includes assessing the current program, developing a plan, implementing action steps, and continuing to sustain and improve the teaching of writing in your school.

Each chapter lays out a series of steps to make the process manageable, and each chapter includes the evaluative tools, checklists, and guides that you will need. Each chapter also includes links to online resources developed by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), the association known for its effective professional development for writing teachers.

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Have you participated in the development of a schoolwide writing program? Share your experiences in the comments!

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