"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, February 19, 2015

If You Think Reading Is Problematic, Try Writing

I asked my son why he finds writing very difficult. First, he said it was boring. So I qualified my question, "What if the subject was interesting?" My son replied that he still would not be eager to write because writing for him was something "private". We do bare ourselves when we write so my son does have a point. Teaching a child to write could be extremely challenging. I was a child once. I was not good at writing and I did not like writing at all. Not being capable at something often was a good enough reason not to like. In fact, it took me until college to write intelligibly. My writing did not go anywhere especially when I did not even have any idea of where to begin. It was like trying to squeeze something out of a dry sponge.

It was hard then. Now, it is my turn to help a child write.

I tried to use a prompt to see if that could help my son write a story. There are picture prompts available on the internet that one may use. I picked the following:

Above copied from education.com
After ten minutes, the following was my son's paragraph:
So what's happenning is that a man and a dhinosaur were having a race thorgh the woods. And the dhinosaur cried because he lost. But then the man called him a baby. So the dhinosaur went home. But then his mom also called him a baby.
 The above came with his own illustration:

Writing goes far beyond reading because it is creative. In addition, there are rules that include spelling, grammar, sentence structure, and punctuation. It is therefore not surprising to see that in reading, 34 percent of 8th graders are proficient (NAEP reading 2011), while in writing, only 27 percent are:

If research on effective ways to teach reading is lacking, it is worse with writing. Cognitively, writing requires the following steps: (1) generation and organization of ideas, (2) textualization of these ideas, (3) proof reading of the written piece. The first step can easily be the biggest stumbling block. For young children, however, the last two steps are likewise equally challenging. Interventions that focus on each of these various steps are still being developed. To gauge how effective these interventions are, reliable measures of writing are also required. For young children, writing is gauged through the following measures: total words written (TWW), words spelled correctly (WSC), and correct writing sequences (CWS).

One intervention in writing that has been given recent attention is the "Individualized Performance Feedback". The intervention is as simple as providing a student a score after each writing session. The score is the total words written (TWW). There is a writing session each week and a student is informed of his or her current TWW after each session. In addition, the student is also prompted on whether the TWW is higher or lower than that of the previous week. Whether this actually has an effect or not is the subject of a research article published by Truckenmiller and coworkers.

Apparently, it does as summarized in the following figure:

Above copied from Truckenmiller et al. Journal of School Psychology 52 (2014) 531-548

The results of the intervention are labeled Feedback (square points) in the above figure. Practice is identical to Feedback, students work on writing sessions each week but do not receive feedback on their TWW score. Students in the Control group also receive some information on their performance but these scores are based on parallel mathematics activities. Participants in this study are third-grade students from three elementary schools that serve mostly minority students. More than two thirds of the pupils in these schools also qualify for reduced-price or free lunch.

From the above figure, it seems like when students are provided a running tally of where they currently stand, it helps even in an unrelated subject since the students in the Control group also experience measurable growth. A growth of about ten words in a matter of eight weeks for the Feedback group is quite impressive. The authors have noted that this increase is equivalent to the difference between the averages of third and fourth grade students. Of course, what is measured here is just the total number of words a student writes. The authors claim that there is also a noticeable improvement in correct writing sequences. Still, these are limited to story-writing activities.

As in reading, there is fiction and non-fiction. There is reading for pleasure and there is reading for acquiring knowledge. For me, it took much more than just counting words before I really started to write. I took philosophy, theology, sociology, anthropology, psychology and a number of literature courses before I began writing intelligibly, that is, if one would consider what I write now as such....


  1. Ang pinakamalaking problema sa writing e kung itinuturo ito ng guro kung paano gawin, mula pre-writing, writing at post. Meron kasing mga guro (noon, hindi ko alam kung hanggang ngayon) ang nagbibigay ng prompt, tapos akala e nagawa na nila ang tarbaho nila.

  2. Your point is well taken, but I think this is where we need to ask if it is really possible for a teacher in a class of more than 40 pupils to do the type of instruction you mention.

  3. It is. While 40 is not an ideal setting, it's a reality one faces, especially in most schools in the Philippines.

    By using group activities in the pre-writing stage, students can help one another generate and gather ideas about the prompt (the picture in the article for example). The teacher guides the students in generating these ideas with questions like:
    What is happening?
    Who is the man in the picture?
    Why is he running?
    The students exchange ideas among their group. Some graphic organizers, a story web for example, may be of help during this stage.

    As for the writing stage itself, once the students have gotten familiarized with the structure of the text, monitoring will be a bit easier. The teacher can go around to see if students are on task, to check who needs assistance and encouragement.

    It is not impossible, but it surely takes a lot from the teachers. Just imagine marking 40 stories, multiply that by the number of classes one has. Headache. Hehe. But of course, this is the ideal scenario. I'm not taking into consideration other factors, such as teaching loads, other assignments (heading a school event, like JS Prom) that may affect a teacher's performance. Minsan, nakakapagod rin kasi sa dami ng load at hindi na ito magagawa kahit gusto pa natin.