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  • 243Learning about Learning Disabilities 2012 Elsevier Inc.

    All rights reserved.2012

    Writing InstructionCharles A. MacArthur1, Zoi Philippakos1, Steve Graham2, and Karen Harris21University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716, USA 2Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85069-3151, USA


    Chapter Contents

    Introduction 243Goals of Writing Instruction 244

    Writing Tasks 244Writing Processes 245Writing to Learn 246Basic Skills and Conventions 247

    General Recommendations for Writing Instruction 248Provide Time for Writing 248Create a Supportive Social Environment 249Integrate Writing and Reading 249

    Writing Instruction for Students with LD and other Struggling Writers 250Explicit, Systematic Instruction in Self-Regulated Strategies 251Explicit, Systematic Instruction in Basic Skills 257Application of Technology in Writing Instruction 260Computer Support for Planning Processes 265

    Concluding Comments 266References 267



    Writing is a complex cognitive and social process. Proficient writ-ing requires awareness of the audience and purpose for particular tasks, knowledge of content, effective strategies for planning and revising, criti-cal reading, language ability, motivation, and self-regulation, as well as flu-ent text production. Even for skilled adults, writing is challenging, and most students find writing difficult. The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (Salahu-Din, Persky, & Miller, 2008) reported that only 33% of eighth-grade, and 24% of twelfth-grade students were proficient. Among special education students at eighth grade, only 6% scored proficient,


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    and 46% were below basic. Students with learning disabilities (LD) perform more poorly than their normally achieving peers on all aspects of writing. They have less knowledge about writing, fewer skills with language, greater difficulties with spelling and handwriting, and less effective strategies for writing (Troia, 2006).

    The purpose of this chapter is to review research relevant to the writ-ing needs of students with LD and struggling writers and to provide specific instructional recommendations to educators. We begin with a dis-cussion of the goals of writing instruction for all students and classrooms. Next, we provide general recommendations for a sound program of writ-ing instruction for all elementary and secondary students. The largest part of the chapter focuses on instructional approaches that have been studied intensively with students with LD and other struggling writers. We focus on three instructional approaches: instruction in self-regulated strate-gies for planning and revising; instruction in the basic skills of handwrit-ing, spelling, and sentence writing; and assistive technology for writing. Throughout the chapter, whenever possible, recommendations are based on empirically validated procedures. However, we have not limited our discussion just to evidence-based practices. Promising practices are empha-sized as well.


    A reasonable place to begin a discussion of writing instruction is with the desired outcomes. What do students need to know and be able to do in order to be successful in later education and in the workplace? Desired outcomes include knowledge about writing tasks, proficiency with cogni-tive strategies and processes, ability to use writing to support learning, and skills with writing conventions and fluent text production.

    Writing TasksStudents need to learn to write for a wide range of audiences and purposes in a variety of forms. The Common Core State Standards (2010) organize writing outcomes according to three tasks with associated communicative purposes that are common to writing in school and the workplace: argu-ments to persuade; informative/explanatory texts to convey information clearly; and narratives to convey experience, real or imagined. The Writing Framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (National Assessment Governing Board, 2007) specifies the same three writing purposes: to persuade, to

  • Writing Instruction 245

    explain, and to convey experience. Within these broad purposes, there are many specific purposes and forms of writing that differ in text structure, content, language, tone, style, and other characteristics. For example, per-sonal narratives, fables, adventure stories, and mysteries are all narratives with characters and problems, but they differ in content, structure, language, and style. For older students, science reports, literary analyses, and interpre-tations of historical events all seek to explain, but have dramatically different conventions for content, organization, and style. If the writing curriculum in a school focuses on a relatively narrow range of writing tasks, such as the five-paragraph essay, then students may not be prepared for the wide vari-ety of writing tasks they will encounter in later schooling and employment. One way to broaden the range of writing tasks is to teach writing in all content-area classes, so that students learn some of the purposes and con-ventions of writing in the disciplines (Shanahan & Shanahan, 2008).

    Knowledge of genres develops gradually over the school years (Donovan & Smolkin, 2006). Cognitive studies (Hayes & Flower, 1980; Torrance & Galbraith, 2006) have found that expert writers have considerable knowl-edge of common text structures and genres, which they use in generating and organizing content. In contrast, struggling writers have limited knowl-edge of and sensitivity to such text structures (Englert & Thomas, 1987).

    Writing ProcessesIn addition to knowledge about types of writing, students need to acquire strategies for planning and revising. Proficient writers use a range of strate-gies to manage the complex processes of planning and revising. In gen-eral, younger and less skilled writers engage in far less planning than older and more proficient writers. One key difference between proficient and novice writers is that proficient writers engage in task analysis and goal setting during planning (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987; Hayes & Flower, 1980). Writers begin with general tasks but need to set sub-goals to direct their planning. In the process, they analyze the task, using knowledge about audience, purpose, and content. Experimental studies of goal set-ting have shown that directing students to set goals for planning an argu-ment (Ferretti, MacArthur, & Dowdy, 2000) or for revising an argument to consider audience (Midgette, Haria, & MacArthur, 2008) can improve the quality of their writing.

    In addition to goal setting, proficient writers engage in a variety of planning strategies to generate and organize content, including brain-storming, outlining, mapping, free-writing, self-questioning, and using

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    text structure. Recent reviews of research on cognitive strategy instruction show that teaching planning strategies, especially strategies based on text structure with mnemonics or graphic organizers as scaffolds, can have sub-stantial effects on the organization and overall quality of written products (Graham, 2006; Graham & Perin, 2007).

    Proficient writers also differ from less skilled writers in revising pro-cesses. Expert writers evaluate their texts throughout the writing process and revise to improve meaning, organization, language, and conventions, whereas, novice writers typically revise primarily for mechanical prob-lems (Fitzgerald, 1987). Revision is dependent on critical reading and self-evaluation processes. Prompting writers to ask evaluative questions, directly teaching evaluation criteria, and instruction in peer review all have been shown to support increased revision and improved writing quality (MacArthur, 2012).

    Students also need to learn self-regulation strategies. Self-regulation is important in all areas of academic performance, but it is especially so in writing because of its complexity and challenge. Use of strategies clearly helps writers to self-regulate the writing process, and self-regulation has been recognized as a critical aspect of strategy development since the 1980s (Brown & Palincsar, 1982). In addition to writing strategies, spe-cific self-regulation processes play an important role in proficient writing (Graham & Harris, 2005; Schunk & Zimmerman, 2007). Several types of self-regulation strategies have been studied with regard to writing, includ-ing self-monitoring, self-instructions, goal setting, self-reinforcement, and management of time and environment. Further discussion of strategies and self-regulation is included in a later section on strategy instruction.

    Writing to LearnOne of the main purposes of writing in school settings is to support learning. Teachers ask students to summarize reading assignments, analyze texts or learning activities, take essay exams, and write research papers, all with the purpose of enhancing content learning. Research reviews show that writing activities do enhance content learning (Bangert-Drowns, Hurley, & Wilkinson, 2004). Furthermore, writing about texts that have been read supports enhanced reading comprehension (Graham & Hebert, 2010). Graham and Hebert found moderate to strong effects on reading comprehension from responding to a text in writing (e.g., personal reac-tions, analysis), summarizing texts, writing notes, and answering ques-tions about a text in writing. Writing about texts one has read involves

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    substantial skills that go beyond writing activities based on personal expe-rience or existing knowledge. For example, summarizing requires compre-hension


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