The Role of the Teacher in Helping Students Learn to Read Like Writers
Dissertation Proposal: Robin Griffith

Long history of governmental involvement in education
– 1997 National Reading Panel (lots of controversy surrounding this)
– 2001: No Child Left Behind

Because of mandates from these events, educators are being led in a particular direction related to reading instruction (toward scripted reading programs)

these scripted reading programs requires a lot of instructional time
– teachers have to eliminate many things from their curriculum
– many teachers are saying, “I don’t have time to teach writing”

These are critical issues
– writing pedagogy and instruction is often neglected
– writing portion of the SAT, as well as writing in TAKS testing in Texas also focuses on writing

Thinking about the role of writing in our society
– everyone in this room is a writer
– everyone who creates media has to be good writers, speeches, contracts, politicians, etc.
– writing instruction must not be ignored

2 big components of writing
– conventions of writing: spelling, punctuation, grammar
— necessary for good communication
– craft: defined in this study as “the other subtleties of language that allow the writer to communicate effectively”

Good writing is well-crafted writing

Statement of the problem
– writing instructions requires attention to convention and craft
– many teachers report they are more comfortable teaching the conventions rather than the craft
– problem exists: teachers must become more knowledgeable about how to teach the writer’s craft in effective ways
– Robin’s goal for this study: add to the body of knowledge about learning the craft of writing by reading the work of others

some experts
– Frank Smith (1983) “reading like a writer”

Many studies have documented cases of young writers reading like writers
– those studies don’t talk about HOW that happens
– Robin’s hunch: the teacher plays a big role
– Donald Graves (2004) reports that the teacher does play a critical role
— tho there is little research on this, focusing on the critical role of the teacher

Main research question: how do elementary school teachers help children learn about and employ the craft of writing by reading the works of published authors during the writing workshop?

Other questions:
– what elements of craft do the teachers address?
– what evidence exists of students adopting craft techniques from mentor texts within their independent writing samples
– how do teachers help the students use these crafting techniques on their own?

history of research on writing in the elementary school
– writing research in elementary education is relatively young compared to reading (50-100 years behind, but catching up very quickly) – Farnan & Dahl 2003

Research on the writing process
Research on writing acquisition
– on the craft on writing
– reading writing connections
– reading like a writer
– role of the teacher

what is the writing process?
– dyson and freedman 2003: how writers write”
— when the writer consciously or unconsciously selects a topic, and continues until the piece is published

terms that researchers use to break down the writing process (these from Donald Graves 1983)
– planning / rehearsal
– drafting
– revising
– editing

Until 1970s, most research focused on the product not the process of writing
– Janet Emig (1971) published a landmark study of 12th graders
– before this, we obtained info about the writing process from textbooks
– Donald Graves in 1975 looked at 7 year olds
— informal and formal classroom environments: defined by how much choice students have
— found that students who were in classrooms with lots of choice wrote more and in greater detail
— showed CHOICE is important for writers

Lucy Calkins (1983) a mentee of Donald Graves continued this with study of 4th graders
– published “Lessons from a Child”

Writing process is influenced by the audience
– it is flexible and idiosyncratic
– recursive, marked by pauses, starts, and redirections

How do young children come to develop their own writing processes (writing acquisition)
– put a pen in a child’s hand early, all the things they see in the home before school leads to writing acquisition
– emergency literacy (termed coined my Maurie Clay in 1970s) says all those things that happen in the home early are very important
– 1975 Clay study of 5 year olds in New Zealand found that they understood a LOT about writing (letter orientation, spacing, lots of other things that are pieces of knowledge about writing that children must acquire)
– Stages of Writing Development

Most of this focuses on CONVENTIONS

So what is the craft of writing and what research is out there on it?
– not a lot of studies that say “we have studied craft”
– most articles say: these are things we have learned over the years

Writing extends far beyond mastering grammar and punctuation
– into the craft of writing

Grave defines craft as the refinement and shaping of an item so it is worthy of reading
Worsham 2001 says good writing appeals to the reader by creating vivid images in the reader’s mind
Mem Fox 1999 says good writing comes from writers who care, read every sentence aloud, and listen for the slightest hiccup
Georgia Heard 2002 says crafted writing is pleasing to the ear

Examples of craft
– voice
– powerful endings
– unforgettable language

we’ll see what emerges from this research

Can the elements of craft be taught?
– how did we learn craft?
– William Zinsser 1994 believes craft can be learned
— says it is learned by imitation, reading the men and women doing the kind of writing I want to do, and copying it

Research on reading/writing connections
– Loban (1963) found upper elementary students who were good readers were typically good writers, and vice versa: poor readers are typically poor writers
– other studies support this too

Research on reading like a writer
– 1983 Frank smith coined term “reading like a writer”
– read with a writer’s eye
– notice

Clay’s 1975 study
– inadvertently found that very young children borrow from text

Eckhoff in 1984 studied classrooms: found that students in basal A classroom (less structured) wrote more and better

Dressel in 1990 studied 5th graders, students listening to high and lower quality literature, and the impact on their writing

Lancia 1997: “literary borrowing” — students appropriating elements from literature they were exposed to in the classroom

Robin looking at the role of the teacher
– Graves article in 2004, believes the teacher makes a far greater difference than any methodology

Teachers struggle with the craft
– some say their own experiences contributes to this
– many teachers do not view themselves as writers

Frank Smith: intros concept of reading like a writer
– thinks it just happens
– teacher’s role is to just help students “join the literacy club”

Robin thinks that does occur in some settings, but there are other studies indicating how important structured lessons are

Calkins and Rickards & Hawes: importance of modeling
– others say instruction must be explicit

Summarize: numerous studies suggest children develop over time and can learn to improve their writing
– can appropriate techniques of writers
– studies indicating teachers are important
– few studies link these

This will be a qualitative study, conducting case studies in 2 elementary school classrooms
– will observe the phenomenon as it is occurring
– I want to understand how this comes about
– will be an observer as participant, will mainly be the observer
– only interacting when I need to probe for more information
– “talk little and listen a lot” – Wolcott 1990
– in 2 elementary classrooms in a local charter school: 3rd and 4th grade teachers
— these teachers use literature, provide choice for students

Robin will be looking at both students and teachers, 6 case study students from each classroom: 2 self-extending (top) writers, 2 transitional writers, and 2 emerging writers

Robin will be gathering lots of data
– field notes
– interviews
– documents

working on data triangulation

will collect primary documents (writing workshop lesson plans and conference notes– what teachers talk to their students about during the workshop)
– secondary documents: student writing samples, children’s literature shared during writing workshop

In data analysis: will do open coding, axial coding, and member checking

Data management plan
– be in classrooms 3 ays a week during fall semester

Goal of the study: help teachers and teacher trainers, to give them tools to help teachers be able to teach writing craft more effectively

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