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Why is a community of writers so important?

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Produced by Reading Universe, a partnership of WETA, Barksdale Reading Institute, and First Book
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While there is not as much research about effective writing instruction as we have with reading, there is still an awful lot out there. The IES — Institute of Education Sciences — put out a meta-analysis report. Steve Graham and colleagues were the lead authors on this, and they identified what were the most effective things you could do for elementary students, including K to grades two or three students, to begin to help them learn to write and grow their writing ability. And one of the findings, one of the recommendations in that report is to establish a situation where you have a community of writers ... that that's an important goal. And what does that include? So that can include everything from finding opportunities for young children to work with their peers. It could be at the thinking stage, the planning stage. They could write or draw together. They can give one another feedback, which is the early stages of revision.

So it's that providing opportunities to collaborate. Because one of the other findings in the research is that when students of all ages have an opportunity to collaborate with others — their peers, maybe their teacher, — it ends up keeping them more engaged and they're more motivated. A community of writers means establishing a situation where everybody feels comfortable about writing or drawing or sharing what's on their mind, that it's a safe place. Another thing about a community of writers that's included in the IES recommendation is that teachers show students that they're writers themselves and they maybe model writing. So they might have a group of young students who are maybe not able to write the words themselves, but they might do a shared writing test where the teacher on the board or on a chart paper, the students are thinking about what they all want to say, the student models, the teacher models how to do it. Another important role for the teacher is to show students that you struggle with writing. That writing isn't easy for you, that you have to think things through, that you have to sometimes rewrite it. And then finally, modeling for students that writing is a way of communication. And that as a writer, I as a teacher, am using writing in my personal life and my professional life. So there are a lot of things that fall under a community of writers, but I think it's a really important recommendation that comes out of the research.

Reading Universe is made possible by generous support from Jim & Donna Barksdale, the AFT, the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and three anonymous donors.

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