Writing Instruction in Elementary Classrooms: Why Teachers Engage or do not Engage Students in Writing

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Otago]On: 22 December 2014, At: 01:09Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Literacy Research and InstructionPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ulri20

    Writing Instruction in ElementaryClassrooms: Why Teachers Engage or donot Engage Students in WritingStan Harwarda, Nancy Petersona, Byran Korthb, Jennifer Wimmerb,Brad Wilcoxb, Timothy G. Morrisonb, Sharon Blackb, Sue Simmermana

    & Linda Pierceaa Utah Valley University, Orem, Utahb Brigham Young University, Provo, UtahPublished online: 09 May 2014.

    To cite this article: Stan Harward, Nancy Peterson, Byran Korth, Jennifer Wimmer, Brad Wilcox,Timothy G. Morrison, Sharon Black, Sue Simmerman & Linda Pierce (2014) Writing Instruction inElementary Classrooms: Why Teachers Engage or do not Engage Students in Writing, Literacy Researchand Instruction, 53:3, 205-224, DOI: 10.1080/19388071.2014.896959

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/19388071.2014.896959

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  • Literacy Research and Instruction, 53: 205224, 2014Copyright Association of Literacy Educators and ResearchersISSN: 1938-8071 print / 1938-8063 onlineDOI: 10.1080/19388071.2014.896959

    Writing Instruction in Elementary Classrooms:Why Teachers Engage or do not Engage Students

    in Writing

    STAN HARWARDAND NANCY PETERSON

    Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah

    BYRAN KORTH, JENNIFER WIMMER, BRAD WILCOX,TIMOTHY G. MORRISON, AND SHARON BLACK

    Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah

    SUE SIMMERMANAND LINDA PIERCE

    Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah

    This qualitative study explored reasons K6 teachers did or did not engage students regularly inwriting. Interviews with 14 teachers, classified as high, transitional, and low implementers of writinginstruction, revealed three themes: hindrances and helps, beliefs concerning practice, and prepa-ration and professional development. Both high and low implementers identified time constraints,varying student needs, and tensions between content and conventions as hindrances, but dealt withthem differently. High implementers reported receiving help from mentors, unlike low implementers.High implementers valued writing as a process and viewed themselves as good writers. They scaf-folded students writing and integrated writing with content. Low implementers valued writing butdid not view themselves as good writers. High and low implementers viewed university courses andprofessional development differently.

    Keywords writing, elementary, qualitative, writing instruction, writing process

    Today writing skills are especially essential. To be successful in school, at work, or in manyleisure activities, people must be able to write. During the 2000s instruction in and opportu-nities for student writing decreased (Applebee & Langer, 2006). The National Commissionon Writing in Americas Schools and Colleges (2003) called writing the neglected R(p. 9). A national survey of first, second, and third grade teachers revealed practices asso-ciated with traditional skill instruction occurred more often than those associated with theprocess writing approach (Cutler & Graham, 2008, p. 916). The median amount of timethese surveyed teachers reported spending on writing was about 20 minutes per day (Cutler& Graham, 2008). In a similar survey, intermediate grade teachers reported spending only15 minutes per day, with little expectation for students to revise or edit their work (Gilbert& Graham, 2010). Another study (Billen et al., 2011), conducted in eight school districts,indicated that teachers spent about 20 minutes per day in process-oriented writing, with the

    Address correspondence to Timothy G. Morrison, Brigham Young University, 205 MCKB, Provo, UT84602. Email: tim_morrison@byu.edu

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    mailto:tim_morrison@byu.edumailto:tim_morrison@byu.edu

  • 206 S. Harward et al.

    majority of that time dominated by explicit teacher instruction. Kara-Soteriou and Kaufman(2002) found that when teachers did engage students in process writing, they implementedit in a rigid formulaic fashion that did not reflect how writing naturally occurs.

    This decline in writing instruction may have been due in part to increased focus onreading instruction in order to improve performance on standardized tests (Brandt, 2001).Writing was not part of the national testing movement. Another possible reason was high-lighted by Applebee and Langer (2006), who reported that teachers were unclear aboutwhat process-oriented writing was and how to implement it in their classrooms.

    Currently school writing instruction is receiving increased attention due to the focusof the Common Core State Standards (2010) on three genres of writing: narrative, informa-tional, and argumentative. Some educators have been experimenting with new approachesto writing instruction to help children succeed with these specific genres (Calkins, 2010;Donovan, Milewicz, & Smolkin, 2003; Harris, Graham, Mason, & Friedlander, 2008).

    Despite these positive trends, a wide discrepancy remains among individual teachersas they implement writing instruction. Cutler and Graham (2008) reported considerablevariability in how often writing is taught. Referring to this discrepancy as troublesome,they wrote, We can only speculate on why some teachers readily apply a practice andothers do not (p. 916). Pressley, Gaskins, Solic, and Collins (2006) studied exceptionalprimary grade literacy teachers and found that among other factors their classrooms wererich with activities and practices designed to foster motivation for writing. Why are thesemissing in other classrooms?

    Purpose of This Study

    The inconsistency of current writing instruction in K6 classrooms warrants more spe-cific focus. Cutler and Graham (2008) wrote that efforts to reform writing instruction arelikely to fall short if more attention is not paid to the discrepancy between teachers who doteach writing and those who do not. The purpose of this study was to explore reasons whyK6 teachers do or do not engage students regularly in writing.

    Methods

    In this qualitative study the researchers observed and interviewed 14 teachers. Theseteachers were purposively selected from among participants in two larger studies (Billenet al., 2011; Simmerman et al., 2012). The small number of participants in this currentstudy allowed us to explore a full array of factors that the distinguished high and lowimplementers identified in previous studies.

    Context

    The studies reported by Billen et al. (2011) and Simmerman et al. (2012) were conducted inelementary schools located in eight suburban and rural school districts in the state of Utah,which had long-established partnerships with two local universities. Each of these districtsexpected teachers to implement process writing within a writing workshop at elementarylevels. Utah is ranked in approximately the lowest 20% to 30% of states in writing achieve-ment (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2002, 2011). At the time of this study,the only statewide elementary writing assessment, which occurred in fifth grade, asked stu-dents to write a persuasive essay in response to a prompt. Results were machine-scored.The eight districts reported achieving average to above-average scores on this test.

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  • Writing Instruction in Elementary Classrooms 207

    The 14 teachers who participated in this study all taught in separate schools: two taughtkindergarten, two taught 1st grade; three 2nd, three 3rd, one 4th; one 5th, and two 6th.Five of the schools were located in high socioeconomic status (SES) neighborhoods, fourin medium, and five in lowclassifications based on the number of students receivingfree and reduced-price lunch. A total of 9,940 students were enrolled in these schools.Approximately 51% were male, 49% were female. Ethnicity demographics included 85%White, almost 10% Latino(a), about 3% Asian/Pacific Islander, with the other 2% African-American and Native American.

    Participants

    In previous research (Billen et al., 2011; Simmerman et al., 2012) a sample of177 K6 teachers were surveyed and observed. Each teacher and his or her classroomenvironment were observed once for an entire school day over the course of one week.Data from these studies allowed researchers to identify four high, six transitional, andfour low implementers of process writing. Teachers responses on a survey about the valuethey placed on various aspects of writing instruction, as well as their self-reported imple-mentation of these aspects were part of the selection process. In addition, observations ofteachers writing instructional practices and their classroom writing environments providedinformation used to identify the 14 teachers for this study. This process allowed us to clas-sify all teachers in three categories (high, transitional, and low implementers). Within eachcategory, we made a selection of teachers from high, medium, and low SES levels. Moreteachers in the transitional implementation category were selected because more teacherswere in this category overall.

    The teachers classified as high implementers reported on the teacher survey that theyvalued and used the writing process, writing workshop, and Six Traits writing assessment.They also reported using needs-based writing instruction and integrating writing with con-tent areas. Survey data also showed they used a variety of writing genres and groupingmethods for instruction. They reported modeling writing, collaborating with students, andallowing time for independent writing. Observations of classroom environments showedevidence of process writing instruction, such as posters of the traits of writing and phasesof the writing workshop as well as displays of student writing. Many classrooms had anauthors chair in addition to stacks of journals, and portfolios. Observations of instruc-tion showed that these teachers generally incorporated morning messages, mini-lessons,independent work time, and sharing time.

    Those teachers categorized as transitional implementers reported on the survey thatthey valued process writing, writing workshop, and Six Traits writing assessment, butdid not implement them regularly. They reported using explicit writing instruction dur-ing the language arts block, but not implementing writing across the content areas. Surveydata showed they tended to emphasize the same writing genre for long periods and taughtlessons to the whole class rather than allowing students to work in small groups or inde-pendently. They rarely modeled writing, but they did occasionally collaborate with studentson projects and allowed time for journals and other independent writing. Observations ofclassroom environments showed that these teachers displayed some student writing in theirclassrooms. However, there was little evidence of process writing instruction. Observationsof teaching showed that these teachers spent a majority of time on mini lessons and writingexperiences with little expectation of revision.

    Teachers who were classified as low implementers reported on the survey that theyvalued the writing process, but did not use it in their teaching. They reported very little

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  • 208 S. Harward et al.

    writing instruction during the literacy block and none across the content areas. Survey datashowed they rarely exposed students to genres beyond personal narrative and made no effortto group for instruction. They did not model writing, collaborate with students on writingprojects, or allow time for independent writing. Observations of classroom environmentsshowed few examples of student writing and no evidence of process writing instruction.Observations showed that these teachers never incorporated morning messages, work time,or sharing time. The occasional mini lessons were primarily introductions of skills, with noattempt to connect to authentic writing contexts.

    Of the four high implementers, one taught in a high SES school, two in mediumschools, and one in a low school. Three of six teachers who were classified as transi-tional implementers taught in high SES schools, one in a medium school, and two inlow SES schools. Two of the four low implementers were in low SES schools, one in amedium school, and one in a high SES school. Different SES levels were represented ineach of the implementation groups because we recognize that the constraints on a teacherimplementing writing instruction may vary due to school level directives and populations.

    Of the 14 teachers in this study, 12 were female and 2 were male. All listed theirrace/ethnicity as White. The ranges of their ages and years of experience were fairly evenlydistributed (six were ages 2229, four were ages 4049, and four were ages 5059), withfive having taught for 15 years, three for 610 years, one for 1115 years, and five for1620+ years. All the teachers held a bachelors degree; one teacher also had a mastersdegree.

    Although the number of pa...

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