Attention! Impact & Improve For Effective Writing Instruction

Try mentally multiplying 3 x 27.

To solve this problem, I visualize the 3 below the 27, a line below that, and then take 3 times the 7, picture the 1 (from 21) below the line, and so on.

This is what writing an essay is like: When we write, we’re juggling a number of different mental tasks. 

The attention controller allows us to switch between tasks. If we do not attend, we do not understand, process, and remember….much less apply whatever skill we are/were learning. 

So how do we help our students attend to what we are teaching? Besides having interactive engaging tasks, we, in our Talk to Write pilot, used teacher language and instructional routines that required the students to be involved in and attend to the lessons we taught them. 

TEACHER LANGUAGE, An Example:  When we ran our pilot, an observing teacher noticed how many times we used this phrase: “Watch me. Watch what I do, because when I’m done, you will do it too.” We suggested that she watch the students’ reactions when we did say those words. Heads swiveled to the front of the room where we were modeling a skill or step they would soon have to do. 

WHY did this work? If we said those words all day long, the effect would soon wear off. We did not bombard our students with that same direction all lesson long. We only said it when we were modeling a skill or a lesson procedure that they would soon have to show or do. In other words, those words had credibility. 

INSTRUCTIONAL ROUTINES: Student Verbal Practice. Every skill step taught required students to  repeat when learning, and then state that step before actually performing it. 

WHY did this work? Students were able to guide their attention via use of their own verbal (internalized) directions. They learned to say: First I get a topic, then I map, Talk/Write my essay, and then check it. Supporting skills such as using a map (aka graphic organizer) to Talk/Write the essay were chunked beneath these key words. 

These are just two of the components of our highly successful Talk to Write program. Visit our website to access  videos you can use in  your classroom as well as instructional modules containing a checklist of activities in addition to all the materials (and answer keys) you will need to help your struggling writers too! 

Leave a Comment