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Issues and future research

What Writing Strategies Are Applied within and across Contexts?

Presently, we do not have a clear picture of the types of writing strategies applied or valued in different writing communities. Even in schools, where National, State, or local guidelines favor certain types of writing (e.g., Common Core State Standards, 2010), we know very little about how these types of writing are actualized from one classroom to the next, or if students are taught strategies for carrying out one or more aspects of these writing tasks. In addition, we possess only the haziest pictures of the types of writing strategies taught or the form they take across and within schools. There is some evidence, however, from survey and observational studies that many teachers do not spend enough time teaching writing process or strategies (Graham, 2019), even though there is considerable evidence that such instruction is effective (Graham & Harris, 2017).

This lack of evidence about writing tasks, writing strategies, and writing strategy instruction stems in part from the types of questions asked by researchers when they query teachers about their writing practices in surveys (e.g., Graham, Cappizi, Harris, Hebert, & Morphy, 2014). Questions are broad in their orientation asking about the types of writing students are assigned (e.g., story, persuasive, informative) and how frequently planning and revising strategies are taught. This does not allow researchers to develop a fine-grained sense of what writing or strategy instruction looks like on the ground so to speak. Additional research is also needed to determine if teachers and learners view writing strategy instruction as acceptable (e.g., Troia & Graham, 2017), and explore why teachers do and do not apply such instruction.

Future research needs to examine more broadly how writing and writing strategies differ across writing communities as well as cultures. For example, the forms and purposes of persuasive writing differ in China and the United States, with the former using a less direct approach to presenting an argument, resulting in different strategies for writing in the two cultures (Cai, 1993). Greater knowledge about how writing and strategy instruction is conceptualized and viewed in different writing communities and cultures, will provide a richer base for evaluating and advancing writing strategy instruction, including the development and testing of new writing strategies and approaches for teaching them.

Why Is Writing Strategy Instruction Not More Common in Schools?

While most teachers indicate they teach strategies for planning and revising text, neither writing, writing instruction, nor writing strategy instruction in particular are allocated sufficient time in most classrooms (see Graham, 2019). One likely reason for this is that many teachers’ worldwide indicate that their preparation to teach writing is not adequate (e.g., De Smedt, Van Keer, & Merchie, 2016). As the SRSD example from Chile illustrated, writing strategy instruction is demanding and complex. Teachers are less likely to apply such teaching techniques if they are not properly prepared to do so or do not have needed support material. In the United States, several organizations now exist that provide teachers and school systems with training and support to carry out writing strategy instruction (e.g., thinkSRSD and SRSD Online).

There is surprisingly little research investigating professional development (PD) methods for teaching writing strategies. In fact most available strategy instructional studies provide little information about PD for writing strategy instruction. One exception is the work of Harris and colleagues (e.g., Harris et al., 2012), where a practice-based professional development model is used to (1) create a supportive community where teachers can learn to apply SRSD effectively; (2) help teachers modify their own classroom environment so that it is conducive to SRSD instruction; (3) provide teachers with the knowledge, understanding, skills, and beliefs needed to teach SRSD effectively and efficiently in their classrooms; (4) create opportunities for active learning, practice, and feedback in applying SRSD with peers before applying it in the classroom; (5) use materials and other artifacts during PD identical to those teachers will use in the classroom; and (6) provide ongoing classroom support in applying SRSD (see Graham and Harris, 2018 for a detailed explanation as well as how this approach is consistent with the WWC model).

If the promise of writing strategy instruction is to be realized, additional attention to teacher preparation must be undertaken. Such preparation may fall mostly on schools and individual teachers, as colleges of education have proven to be unreliable partners in preparing teachers to teach writing (Graham, 2019). Research is also needed to determine how to bring writing strategy instruction to scale, so that it is a more prominent and effective feature of writing instruction in schools.

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