One of the most common questions we get from parents is how we teach writing, and this is actually a very complicated question. We want to start first by introducing one part of the teaching of writing, which is the writing process. You can view the writing process as the foundation of writing, and I’m excited to share an overview of the different stages that are part of that process today.
1. The first stage in the writing process is prewriting. Prewriting is where we think of lots of ideas based on what we are hoping to write about. At All Aboard, we teach a wide range of writing genres, so the way we prewrite can change based on the type of writing we are doing, such as opinion writing, literary essays, and persuasive speeches. Based on what we are writing, we teach a number of prewriting strategies to our writers, such as ways to generate ideas by thinking of a special person and then brainstorming special times associated with that person for personal narrative writing, or asking ourselves, “What do I know a lot about that I could teach other people?” when brainstorming ideas for informational writing. This stage is important because we think of ideas that matter to us personally, and our writers in class think of a wide range of topics that they are excited about exploring in their writing. Why is it important to think of ideas we are excited to write about? Research, and years of experience at All Aboard, shows that this helps immensely with student motivation. Suddenly, instead of a teacher telling a student what to write about so that the entire class has writing about the same topic, students are thinking of ideas that are meaningful to themselves and their own lives, which plants the seeds of interest and motivation in young writers. This also shows that we value the ideas that our writers come up with, which helps to demonstrate why writing matters and helps students learn to love writing.
2. The second stage in the writing process is drafting, and a lot of time is spent here. This is the time when students write and write and write. Our writers choose a topic from prewriting and draft. But before we even put a pencil to paper, we draft out loud as we “write in the air,” practicing how the section we are drafting might sound aloud to a partner. This helps us plan what we could write when it is time to write, and it also helps with the process of rehearsal. Our first draft of writing is sometimes called our “sloppy copy” because we are just getting a lot of writing down, but the focus initially isn’t on how neatly we are writing or having perfect spelling. Our writing might have words crossed off, and as we move sometimes into revision and then back to drafting again, we might add in chunks of writing or take parts away. We often draft more than one piece, sometimes several, throughout a unit. The point here is to write and build stamina with our writing. At this stage, we aren’t focused on spelling, punctuation, or mechanical issues with writing. We are improving the craft of writing and just getting a lot written. We use all we know about writing and apply it here, but we will refine it further when we revise and edit later in the writing process. During this stage, our students are learning writing strategies every class to improve the quality of their writing, and we learn this by watching the teacher, trying it together with our peers, and then applying what we are practicing in our own writing. At this point, you can expect to see writing that can be a little messy, but that’s okay. As we draft, we are focused on getting our ideas out and trying new things out with writing, such as adding dialogue, including more vivid imagery, or drafting a spectacular, exciting introduction that will hook our readers into our writing. It is pretty common for students who are new to our school to ask for a lot of help at this stage, so we practice how to approach writing together, providing support where needed. For example, students who are worried about spelling might need help knowing how to stretch out the sounds of words while drafting so they can try their best, write the word, and continue on with their writing. Perhaps they can circle the word to check again later. Why is this important? We are building important skills in independence that students can apply throughout their writing lives, so that whether they are writing at school or at home, they can practice these habits as writers and begin to see that they can often figure out many things on their own, which can be very empowering.
3. After we have drafted our pieces, we will choose a piece of writing that we want to get ready for publishing, which we often say is when we get our writing ready for our readers. The first stage of fixing up our writing is revising, and revision includes many important components of writing. This is where we might add or remove some words that don’t make sense or sound as good as others. We reread our writing to make sure it is interesting and we don’t use the same words too often; if we are repetitive, this is the stage when we substitute some of those words. We can also add transitions, details, and descriptions at this stage. This is the stage where we get our writing to sound better for readers before we go to the next steps in the process. Sometimes we move back and forth between drafting, revising, and editing as needed and as we continue learning new strategies each class.
4. As we continue in the writing process to the editing stage, this is the time when we really check our writing mechanics before publishing. We check capitalization, punctuation, grammar and spelling. We also don’t do our editing all by ourselves…we often work with peer editing partners and also our teacher to fix up our writing, as this can help us get a fresh perspective on what might need to get fixed. What gets fixed up at this stage is very much based on the students’ English ability levels. For example, a first-grade student who is trying to spell many complicated words like “beautiful” and “alphabetical” can practice using all he or she knows about phonics and stretching out sounds to get a spelling that is grade-level appropriate but might not be totally correct, which is okay at this stage. We use developmentally-appropriate standards to help us gauge which areas to focus on for students to give them appropriate challenges and supports, while also reinforcing that they are capable of doing a lot of this work. We wouldn’t expect the spelling or sentence complexity of a first grader to be the same as a third grader, so we make adjustments accordingly based on what each student is capable of. It really helps that we have small class sizes to really differentiate based on every writer’s needs.
5. After revising and editing, we are ready to publish! Usually each unit, only one piece of writing makes it to this final stage, and this is a very exciting stage. Our students carefully recopy or type their work in order to make it presentable for readers, and the focus on our audience is really important for young writers. It helps them understand why writing neatly is important, so other people can read it easily. This also is the stage where our students understand that they are real writers! This is the foundation for future writing, and often once students experience the thrill of writing making it to this final stage, they can’t wait for more writing! At this point, our writing gets “published,” which can be in the form of a book, a poster, an essay, or a presentation. Students design their pages, add illustrations, and ensure that their writing is ready for readers. After writing gets published, we celebrate our work from the unit and our accomplishments as writers. Sometimes we get to invite parents in for publishing parties where students can share their work, practice public speaking, and also get recognition for all of their efforts. This also helps us build community, which is an important component of All Aboard. Then we get ready to start this process again with a new genre and new writing in a new unit!
Now that you have heard a brief overview of the writing process, what questions do you have? Feel free to email us or comment to help us know areas where you’d like to learn more. Thanks for being part of the All Aboard Community, where we are empowering the world, one student at a time.