When was the last time you learned a new skill? Perhaps you learned how to snowboard, edit videos, or bake a pie. Did you expect yourself to master it on the first try? No, of course not. It took time, patience, and practice. Hopefully, you also had an encouraging instructor or mentor.
And so it is with helping children to learn to write. They need lots of practice and guidance. This is why it’s important to understand the principles of guided writing.
What is guided writing?
Dr. Sharan Gibson of San Diego State University explains that guided writing lessons are “temporary, small-group lessons teaching those strategies that a group of students most need to practice with immediate guidance from you. Guided writing lessons can be taught after a whole-class lesson once other students are actively engaged in independent writing.”
These mini-lessons are strategic in nature and are “just-in-time” responses to identified needs in the class. A reflective teacher is constantly observing and annotating their students’ work and creating new learning targets as a result.
“The formation of the group, the focus, and the time they spend together is based on the teacher’s ongoing formative assessment processes,” as stated by the Department of Education for the State of Victoria, Australia. The focus could range from using descriptive language to use of punctuation to sequence of events.
The International Literacy Association (ILA) provides many engaging guided writing lesson plans.
The reading-writing connection
It’s imperative to acknowledge the vast store of research about the importance of the reading-writing connection in literacy teaching and learning. “Big thinkers” and influencers in the field, such as Richard Allington, Lucy Calkins, and Regie Routman, all attest to the necessity of showing young learners how text is written for the purpose of reading and that the two strands are inexplicably linked. Reading and writing are intertwined and both are enhanced through rich conversation. The reading-writing connection is at the core of WriteReader.
Reading, and being read to, helps young learners to develop a better vocabulary and a sense of how language works. In addition to this, reading helps a child to become a better writer by being exposed to various genres or forms, which we call mentor texts.
Over time, children also make the connection that writing is an alphabetic representation of their thoughts or speech. And in turn, they also learn that their written expressions can be read. When children write authentic text, they are better able to read it since it is their language experience story. This helps greatly with word recognition, word prediction, and fluency.
Is guided writing related to guided reading?
Guided writing is not necessarily related to guided reading, but it can be. As stated above, a responsive teacher will take notice of gaps in students’ writing and see that as an opportunity to teach a mini-lesson or have a 1:1 writer’s conference.
Having said that, the work of Dr. Jan Richardson absolutely connects guided reading levels to guided writing lessons. For instance, if the teacher is working a small group of students are reading at a particular instructional benchmark, then she must break down which skills, knowledge, or strategies that the readers must possess in order to read a book at that level. The reciprocal teaching response would be to ensure that the young learners in her class can apply this same knowledge to their writing (eg. decoding and encoding CVC words; recognizing and generating rhyme).
How WriteReader supports guided writing
WriteReader encourages authentic writing for an authentic audience. So, therefore, the students will write about what they are familiar with and the familiarity of the lived experience will help them to read their own writing or to recognize their story as their own when someone else reads aloud. The reading writing-connection is foundational to WriteReader.
Here are some ways that WriteReader could be used to support guided writing:
- Students could write a book with spelling or vocabulary words.
- Students could list describing words on the page so that they learn to become more observant and use “juicy” words in their writing.
- Teachers would collaboratively set a learning target with each student in the small group after the mini-lesson. This would help students focus on the part of writing that needs to be developed rather than be overwhelmed with “getting it all right.”
- Teachers can use the “adult writing” field to give feedback to the student as it relates to their learning target.
- The virtual bookshelves in WriteReader are a collection of students’ writing. It shows their growth and areas that need support. This is valuable data for formative assessment.
By engaging in a reflective and responsive practice, a teacher can differentiate instruction to the needs of the child and guide them towards improved writing.