Margin Notes



As a followup to Tuesday’s post on 10 beliefs about readers and reading, we wanted to share the beliefs about writers and writing that guide our work. Here are our beliefs:

1. Students’ writing development is directly related to their volume of writing.

“Building writing stamina, the volume we write, and our commitment to developing our craft is essential. Students need to understand that writing begets writing: the more you write, the better writer you will be” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

“They need time to generate ideas, focus their attention on a topic, be engrossed in drafting a piece, play with words and craft, and get caught up in text creation” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

2. Engaged writers make decisions about topic, audience, purpose, form, and mode.

“Too often, in trying to help students, teachers do too much of the thinking. Students come to rely on formula and standardization—and when formula and standardization take hold, the energy and intellectual rigor that comes from creation gets lost. Students become disengaged” (Kelly Gallagher and Penny Kittle, “The Curse of Helicopter Teaching”).

“Writers have varied experiences. They employ different strategies when composing in different situations, for different purposes and audiences, and when using different technologies and tools. Writers also make ethical choices, and writers always have more to learn” (NCTE, Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles).

3. Honouring and developing students’ writing identities is essential.

“Because writing is linked to identity, writers represent different ideologies, values, and identities. Thus, writers’ cultures and languages influence their writing. Recognizing that students are language users with multiple literacies will help the writing instructor engage students in writing. Writers also bring their past writing and reading practices with them whenever they write or read. In short, everything they have experienced, who they are, where they have been, and what they have done impact their writing practices, literacies, and language attitudes” (NCTE, Understanding and Teaching Writing: Guiding Principles).

4. Our role is to teach the writer and not the writing.

“Too often we teach Writing Skills and the Writing Process rather than helping students find something worth communicating. How can you write to make a difference if you have nothing to say? How can you be ‘fearless’ if you lack the courage of any conviction? Why learn to write well if you have no desire to achieve any effect? Writing is ‘thinking on the paper,’ as the National Commission on Writing put it” (Grant Wiggins, “Real-World Writing: Making Purpose and Audience Matter”).

5. Writing is a tool for thinking.

“When writers actually write, they think of things they did not have in mind before they begin writing. The act of writing generates ideas; writing can be an act of discovery. This is different from the way we often think of writers—as the solitary author who works diligently to get ideas fixed in his or her head before writing them down. The notion that writing is a medium for thought is important in several ways and suggests a number of important uses for writing: to solve problems, to identify issues, to construct questions, to reconsider something one had already figures out, to try out a half-baked idea” (NCTE, Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing).

6. Writers require a caring community.

“As writing teachers, we consider it our duty, responsibility, and obligation to create safe writing spaces: places where our students can tap into their lives and know that their ideas and experiences have value; an atmosphere in which they are willing to put themselves on paper and, above all, know that their story will be received with the love, care, and respect it deserves. This requires a caring community” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

7. The process of writing must be valued as much as the product.

“First, to say that writing is a process is decidedly not to say that it should—or can—be turned into a formulaic set of steps or reduced to a set of traits. Experienced writers shift between different operations according to their audience, the purpose of the writing task, the genre, and circumstances, such as deadlines and consideration of length, style, and format. Second, writers do not accumulate process skills and strategies once and for all. They develop and refine writing skills throughout their writing lives, as they take up new tasks in new genres for new audiences. They grow continually, across personal and professional contexts, using numerous writing spaces and technologies” (NCTE, Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing).

8. Writing requires talking and reading.

“…writing exists in an environment of talk…Writers often talk in order to rehears the language and content that will go into what they write, and conversation often provides an impetus or occasion for writing. Writers sometimes confer with teachers and other writers about what to do next, how to improve their drafts, or how to clarify their ideas and purposes.”

“Writing and reading are related. People who engage in considerable reading often find writing an easier task, though the primary way a writer improves is through writing. Still, it’s self-evident that to write a particular kind of text, it helps if the writer has read that kind of text, if only because the writer has a mental model of the genre.” (NCTE, Professional Knowledge for the Teaching of Writing).

9. Teachers are writing role models.

“You are the writing teacher in your classroom. You are directly responsible for creating the writing culture and climate. We believe your students deserve a writing teacher who is knowledgeable about the craft, process, and challenges of writing. Your students are entitled to a writing teacher who provides insightful feedback, tips, and suggestions. They are also worthy of a writing teacher who incites enthusiasm and passion for writing. We cannot say it any other way. You have to be a writer, even if it’s in your own way!” (Elliott and Lynch, Cultivating Writers).

10. Authentic writing instruction and assessment reflect real-world writing.

“For assessment to be authentic, it must include tasks that are a good reflection of the real-world activities of interest. This term arose from the realization that widely employed assessment tools generally have been poor reflections of what literate people actually do when they read, write, and speak. The logic of authentic assessment suggests, for example, that merely identifying grammatical elements or proofreading for potential flaws does not yield an acceptable measure of writing ability. Writing assessment tasks should reflect the audiences and purposes expected in life outside of school, with the real challenges those conditions impose” (ILA & NCTE, Standards for the Assessment of Reading and Writing).

“Think of the many genres you know that, really, have no life outside the walls of schools: ‘five-paragraph essays,’ ‘book reports,’ ‘short answers,’ even ‘summaries’ as freestanding texts. Many of these began in ways that are related to writing outside of school. But they grow apart from their origins, becoming “school genres,” of a breed that lives nowhere outside captivity. Students can tell, and in turn they often divest themselves from writing” (Anne Elrod Whitney, “Keeping It Real: Valuing Authenticity in the Writing Classroom”).


Leave a Reply