The ability to successfully communicate ideas through the written word remains one of the most crucial skills an education can provide. Imparting this knowledge calls for the teacher and the student to examine writing from two different lenses, the conventions and the craft. The element of conventions requires students to apply the rules of grammar and spelling they are learning in the classroom in order to effectively convey their ideas. This makes it possible for the audience to read the author’s message and understand it clearly. The element of craft, on the other hand, requires students to focus on the ideas, voice, organization, word choice, and style of a particular piece as they construct it, mindful of the purpose of the genre they are writing in (to entertain, to inform, etc…), their particular audience, and the task at hand given in the form of a writing prompt.
There are scaffolded stages of writing that students grow through as they develop writing skills and move through the grades, becoming steadily more independent in the writing process. When students and teachers look at writing as just that, a process, then students can view their own progress in both the conventions and the craft as part of their continuous growth as a writer which provides limitless room to improve.
Throughout each school year, teachers introduce and students practice many different genres of writing such as poetry, letters, narratives, and expository pieces such as reports and informative essays. A teacher will introduce a unit of writing by identifying the task, purpose, and audience of the piece. Teachers use mentor texts to show examples of structure and craft that a published author may use. The teacher will model how to write the genre by using the writing process.
Students are constantly given opportunities to write across the entire curriculum, but there are a few highlight pieces that students look forward to diving into each year in Language Arts. In Grade 1 students begin their journey into writing with whole class letters to their families, followed by acrostic poems, animal reports, and a snowman adventure story. In Grade 2, students write friendly letters to classmates, an informational piece on how to make a milkshake, and a personal narrative. In Grade 3 students take their writing to the next level with biography reports, biome reports, narratives, and expository pieces on how to have an awesome snow day. In Grade 4 students write saint reports, Harris Burdick mystery stories, and a Polar Express business letter. Grade 5 develops winter haikus, spooky Halloween stories, and letters to the future president. Grade 6 writes their first Science Fair report, and letters to their parents. Grades 7 and 8 both write research papers on their science fair project topics and respond to various writing prompts that encourage critical thinking and the formation of an argument. Creativity is encouraged in the writing of poetry, narratives, open letters to inanimate objects. Seventh graders write a process paper explaining the steps involved in a specific holiday tradition or recipe. Eighth graders write scripts and research papers on a History Day topic.
No matter what the genre, throughout the writing process the students at each grade level meet and conference with teachers and read their drafts to classmates to hear how their work sounds out loud and to gain feedback to see what areas require improvement. Over time, students learn the necessary steps to creating a successful writing piece, beginning with pre-writing which involves brainstorming and planning. After viewing models, students are typically guided to develop their own original ideas using various tools such as graphic organizers and are encouraged to discuss potential ideas with their peers and teacher. Next, students fit their ideas into a given structure, often outlined by the teacher so that their writing follows a logical order based on the genre. Using the devised plan, students then set out to accomplish the task keeping in mind their purpose and audience. Once the first draft is completed, students are given various opportunities to look over the work themselves and to gain feedback from peer and adult editors not only on how to fix spelling and grammatical errors--the conventions, but also how to improve the content of their writing--the craft. This process may be repeated multiple times until the student develops a final version that is ready to be published. Teachers often have students read their work to others and display it in the classroom and in the hallways at school for others to admire.
While the level of difficulty and amount of scaffolding provided by the teacher may change from year to year, the writing process and instruction in conventions and craft remain at the heart of writing instruction for teachers and skill acquisition for students. This process lays the groundwork for every student to become a mastery learner, constantly seeking opportunities for growth as a successful writer across all genres.