Good writing is essential for success in school and the 21st Century workplace. Writing is a complex combination of skills which is best taught by breaking down the process. The writing process involves a series of steps to follow in producing a finished piece of writing. Educators have found that by focusing on the process of writing, almost everyone learns to write successfully. By breaking down writing step-by-step, the mystery is removed and writer’s block is reduced. Most importantly, students discover the benefits of constructive feedback on their writing, and they progressively master, and even enjoy, writing.
Steps in the Writing Process
1. Pre-writing: This is the planning phase of the writing process, when students brainstorm, research, gather and outline ideas, often using diagrams for mapping out their thoughts. Audience and purpose should be considered at this point, and for the older students, a working thesis statement needs to be started.
2. Drafting: Students create their initial composition by writing down all their ideas in an organized way to convey a particular idea or present an argument. Audience and purpose need to be finalized.
3. Revising: Students review, modify, and reorganize their work by rearranging, adding, or deleting content, and by making the tone, style, and content appropriate for the intended audience. The goal of this phase of the writing process is to improve the draft.
4. Editing: At this point in the writing process, writers proofread and correct errors in grammar and mechanics, and edit to improve style and clarity. Having another writer’s feedback in this stage is helpful.
5. Publishing: In this last step of the writing process, the final writing is shared with the group. Sharing can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and with the help of computers, it can even be printed or published online.
Time4Writing emphasizes the writing process because it emphasizes the value of dialogue as a teaching technique. Teaching the writing process empowers students by asking them to talk about their writing at every step of the writing process. Students submit work according to a set schedule of lessons and assignments, and instructors provide feedback on the work, mixing encouragement with constructive criticism. Students apply these comments to the next step in that assignment. Both exchange comments about the writing, creating a conversation between instructor and student — both about the content of the writing and about the process of doing the work.
Historically, educators have struggled with the challenge of teaching students how to write well, traditionally focusing on the finished product. Since the 1970s, writing instruction has been changing. Teachers no longer emphasize the finished product; instead, they teach the “writing process.” One of the strengths of the structure of the writing process is its usefulness for a wide range of diverse learners. Students are taught a variety of styles to structure their thinking, ranging from analytical outlines to highly visual graphic organizers. Students explore ways for organizing and visualizing their ideas that is the most effective for them. For instance, many right-brained visual thinkers find the highly-graphical spatial bubble-diagram organizers most effective in the pre-writing stage. Verbal thinkers like to use lists, charts and free writing to organize their thoughts.
At Time4Writing, the process begins with this kind of brainstorming. Some advanced writers will try to start with a prewriting outline or collection of ideas that exists only in their head, but they are required to put it in writing, either by way of a graphic organizer or in a more linear format, like listing or free writing. Students also create a topical outline to help organize their ideas, and the advanced students are required to develop a working thesis statement. The goal is for students to become personally invested in their work.
Because writing is recursive and any of the steps can be repeated, most academic or professional writers recognize that writing can be a messy process. Teachers and students alike regard rough drafts as “sloppy copies” due to the number of changes and corrections that are noted on them. During the writing process, the writer moves fluidly back and forth between the tasks that contribute to creating the final written product. For instance, once they draft their essay, the first step in revision might be to realize that the structure does not work. The initially conceived structure might be incomplete, poorly organized, or include too many divergent ideas that don’t support their topic or thesis. At this point, the writer might return to the key points in a graphic organizer or outline as a way of reconsidering the structure. The writers might add, delete or change things on their outlines, while also rereading their essay and editing some of the passages to improve content and clarity. If the writer decides on a new structure, whole paragraphs may be moved around, deleted or rewritten. Having someone else read the revised writing helps the writer see if it needs further revision. When the writer is satisfied with content and organization, it’s time to proofread for any issues in grammar, usage and mechanics. Finally, the writer will fine-tune the writing, maybe rework some of the transitions as a final editorial revision, and then publish the work to their audience. The process is complete.
For many students, writing can be intimidating, upsetting and mystifying. Parents who try to teach writing find that their children can be defensive about any criticism on their writing, and without any kind of teacher’s guide, critiquing their children’s writing can be a surprisingly difficult process and source of friction. At Time4Writing, because the emphasis is on the process of writing rather than the finished product, much of the sensitivity about receiving constructive criticism is eliminated; in fact, comments from students indicate they love the feedback. By approaching writing as a process, instructors encourage students to postpone closure on a piece of writing until they have explored all of its possibilities. Breaking the act of writing down into distinct steps enables students to maintain perspective on their writing, to understand that the feedback is about a specific aspect of their writing, and to discover they can master and yes, even enjoy writing!
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