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Penny Judson

© 2001

Action Research

How will direct instruction in prewriting strategies affect the quality of written products and student attitude toward their writing?

What I know:
I know that how I present a writing assignment makes a difference in the quality of the products that I receive. For the past seven years I have focused on presenting the requirements of my writing assignments in print and I have modeled every step of the writing process. As a result I have received some well-written pieces from my above average and gifted students. About two students per year have been published in a national newspaper, The Elementary School Writer. My learning disabled and below average students have also experienced success because the guidelines are so clear. I am concerned that my students are producing decent written products just to please me instead of taking ownership of their creative expressions, producing written products for themselves. I am also concerned that they have not been experimenting with different genre. In fact, they are reluctant to experiment with different ways to express their thoughts.

Prewriting is any event or experience in which the writer is actively involved that encourages him to write. this stage of the writing process represents 85% of the time spent by good writers (Wong 1996). However, prewriting is often neglected. This is the stage in which a writer takes ownership of the written product by thinking about and planning what he will write. The prewriting stage encourages experimentation while giving the first draft organization and purpose. Questions to be answered include:

1) Why am I writing? (purpose)
2) What will I write about? (subject)
3) What will I say? (content)
4) How will I say it? (voice)
5) For whom am I writing? (audience)

Brainstorming, webbing, and journal writing are common prewriting strategies. Teachers tend to assume the students know how to use these strategies because we have modeled them. Research shows that there are a number of other strategies including visual imagery, doodling, conversing, the writing wheel, free association, sentence stubs, looping, writing roulette, and wet ink writing. Would students produce higher quality written products and feel better about their ability as writers when these strategies are directly taught?

Why I am interested in this topic:
My goal is to help students take ownership of their writing so that they feel that they have control of what they write about and they are proud of their written products. I would like students to experiment with a variety of types of writing because they feel that they can experiment and succeed.

Plan: I have two groups of language arts students for ninety minutes each. I will give both classes a questionnaire asking how they feel about writing and what prewriting strategies they use. For the first quarter, I will present writing assignments in the control group the same way that I have been for the past several years. In the experimental group, I will give direct instruction and modeling in eight prewriting strategies. As I conference with them, I will ask students to tell which prewriting strategy they have used. I will monitor the quality and variety of student writing in both groups. At the end of the quarter I will re-administer the questionnaire to assess student attitudes and awareness.

Carol, Joyce Armstrong, and Wilson, Edward E. Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing. Englewood, CO: Teacher Ideas Press, 1993.
This is a resource book that explains, gives implementation guidelines, and has teacher remarks about numerous prewriting strategies. Some of the strategies covered are free writing, free association, writing roulette (fosters fluencY), sentence stubs, drawing, looping, reporter’s formula, classical invention (based on Aristotle’s principles found in his Art of Rhetoric), cubing (which teaches students to look a t topic from different perspectives), and hexagonal writing (based on Bloom’s Taxonomy).

First, Cynthia MacMillan, and Levy, Colleen. “Writing Process Versatility.” Intervention in School and Clinic 31:1 (1995): 21-27.
Clustering was used as a prewriting strategy in this article. However, this time the authors color coded ideas that were related. This seemed to help students organize their ideas when they wrote.

LaRoche, Kelli Morrison. “A Focus on Using Prewriting Strategies and Knowledge Level Strategies and Skills to Improve the Attitudes and Writing Skills of Middle School Students.” A Practicum Report for Nova University. December 1993.
This article discussed the results of a study in which prewriting strategies were directly taught to intermediate school students. The prewriting strategies use were clustering, brainstorming, freewriting, and charting. The author measured student attitudes toward writing and student written products using the state writing rubric. There are some good examples of questionnaires to measure student attitudes.

Marchisan, Marti and Alber, Sheila. “The Write Way: Tips for Teaching the Writing Process to Resistant Writers.” Intervention in School and Clinic. 36.3 (2001): 154-62.
Lucy Calkins was referenced in this article, saying that the writing process stresses student ownership and decision making. Prewriting was seen as the part of the process that emphasizes this the most. The authors suggested that teachers model various prewriting strategies, talking aloud about the thoughts that go into each strategy. The strategies emphasized in this article were visual imagery and webbing.


Creative Writing

Silently Waiting

Tattered blue Raleigh
waiting patiently on a hook.
Chain dangling, gears bent, seat held high.
Mud splattered,
you don’t seem to care.

You have traveled 100 plus miles on a 98 degree day
through missed turns, back tracking, dog bites.
To carry your master home
safely exhausted.

A major mode of transportation
summers long ago.
Speeding recklessly along back roads
toward a destination in time.

Vehicle of leisurely rides
along paved trails through the woods.
Talking, sharing
while yellow butterflies fluttered overhead.

A point of contact,
a reason to venture out.
Hanging silently,
injured yet waiting
to be called upon again.



Adrift, alone, struggling silently
Brave yet afraid of what will become
A strong imposing figure
Once independent and focused
Now buffeted about by multicolored emotions and fears.

Questioning, doubting, resisting
Reclusive, yet craving human contact.
A respected member
Dependable, helpful, pleasing.
Dark seas swirl beneath the mask.

Small white boat
Floating about, seeking direction, meaning.
Yet beneath it all, an undercurrent
Like a breeze, a glimmer on the horizon.
A helping hand, a caring soul
Reaches out