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How Can Flexible and Sustained Use of Writing Strategies Be Promoted?

Three criticisms of writing strategy instruction are that students use strategies in a non-thoughtful and robotic manner, strategy effects fade over time, and generalization of strategy effects are limited (Alexander, Graham, & Harris, 1998). While any strategy can be used in a non-thoughtful and inflexible manner, instructional approaches to teaching writing strategies, like SRSD, stress intelligent and adaptable use of writing strategies. We provide three examples to illustrate ways in which this is done (Graham & Harris, 2018). One, once students learn how to apply strategies, they discuss as a group how they might be modified to make them better. Two, students practice applying the strategies with different relevant tasks. Three, students identify other situations where they can use inculcated strategies and decide how they need to be adapted for those situations.

While concerns about maintaining learning effects are common across education, writing strategy instruction is one of the few areas in writing research where maintenance is commonly measured. While not all students maintain the effects of writing strategy instruction and the overall effects of writing strategy instruction across students diminishes over time, maintenance effects are actually quite promising. This was evident in a meta-analysis of SRSD in writing, where the average effect size for writing quality immediately following instruction was 1.75 and 1.30 at maintenance (Graham, Harris, & McKeown, 2013). The maintenance probes ranged from two weeks to 28 months. The likely reason for these relatively positive effects is that many writing strategy instructional approaches include mechanisms for facilitating maintenance (e.g., making students aware of gains from using taught strategies, setting goals for continued strategy use). Even so, there is a need to investigate the impact of writing strategy instruction over longer time periods, especially when students receive a year or more of writing strategy instruction.

Generalizability of writing strategy instruction can be challenging. Most writing strategies scientifically tested to date are genre specific (e.g., Graham & Perin, 2007). Take for instance the TREE strategy described earlier. It is likely adaptable for other persuasive writing tasks but not suitable for writing most stories. However, generalizability effects are quite robust (effect size for writing quality = 1.00; Graham, Harris, & McKeown, 2013) when generalization is assessed to a similar genre (e.g., story to personal narrative or persuasive to informative writing). These effects are based on a relatively small number of studies though, and there is little information on the instructional mechanisms responsible for such generalizability effects (see Harris, Graham, & Mason, 2006).

Final Considerations

In closing, we would like to identify several other areas in need of additional investigation. While there are many different writing strategies designed and scientifically tested (see Harris, Graham, Mason, & Friedlander, 2008), they address only a small fraction of the possible writing strategies that might be useful at school, work, and home. There is also a need to develop and test a more comprehensive suite of writing strategies that can be applied in schools or other settings where multiple types of writing occur. This should include considering how one or more writing strategies can be usefully adapted to serve multiple purposes (such as how to adapt a persuasive writing strategy so that it can be applied in different content classrooms). Further, writing strategy instruction is one aspect of teaching writing and there is a need to test how it can be effectively integrated into different approaches to teaching writing (see MacArthur, Schwartz, Graham, Molloy, & Harris, 1996).

There has been surprisingly little research examining which components of strategy instruction are responsible for learners’ gains in writing. With SRSD, prior research demonstrated that the self-regulation procedures of goal setting and self-monitoring, included in most SRSD studies (but not in Chilean case study shared earlier), account for one-half a standard deviation in SRSD writing gains (see Graham & Perin, 2007). Other studies examined when in SRSD instruction improvements in writing performance start to occur (Danoff, Harris, 8< Graham, 1993). Given that such analyses are uncommon, more component analysis research is surely needed.

Finally, teaching writing strategies is just one way of improving strategic behavior in writing. We need to examine and test other methods for promoting strategic writing behavior, including students’ designing their own strategies. Such an approach was applied by Butler (1988), but little research has occurred since.

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