formative assessment · writing workshop

Targeting Instruction to Meet Writing Challenges

As a hurried gardener who lives in a place prone to long stretches without enough rain, I find myself watering throughout the summer months. Inevitably, I pull the hose too far or too quickly, and I cut off the water supply. You might be able to envision my searching for the kink in the hose and twisting it in order to free the water flow. 

How to Find the Kink in Your Organization's Hose |

Just as hoses tend to kink, so do the writing processes of students, leaving teachers to figure out where those kinks are and what the effective twist will be in order to get those students writing. 

How do we pinpoint the instruction students need in order to grow as writers? How can we measure the effectiveness of that instruction? What constitutes writing growth over time? At a PPT this morning, a parent asked these questions, requesting bi-weekly progress monitoring reflective of her child’s progress in writing, leaving the team to create a plan of measuring and communicating skills over time. 

As often is the case, my most challenging students make me a better teacher, and I have been thinking nonstop about how to progress monitor, track growth, and communicate that growth in the clearest way possible, even when writing is a task that requires the integration of so many complex skills. My first question as I analyze an underperforming writer is around where the writer gets stuck. Is it possible to isolate the step in a complex process that becomes the metaphorical kink in the hose? One of the strategies I’ve been working on has been to analyze student writing and behavior through various lenses, and I’ve set up a chart for doing that. While it’s not perfect my any means, this chart helps target sticking places and guide subsequent and responsive instruction. 

Digital version is available to copy here.

I coach teachers to create their own grids with specific strategies and lessons that they’ve taught or emphasized. 

With identified sticking points, it’s possible to design lessons and practice opportunities that target the skill. A series of opportunities can create a series of data points that document growth. For example, if a child is struggling with word production after verbalizing and planning a written piece, then it’s possible to design a series of writing opportunities– and I’m envisioning five to ten minutes– that provide students with a pre-planned story, allowing them to use all their writing energy just on drafting and word production as opposed to generating and planning. Three panel comics, sequence cards, or teacher-created materials work really well for this. Writing is a complicated process, involving the integration of many skills, but if I know what I’m targeting, then I have a better shot at improving the outcome and increasing the progress. 

I’m guessing that a kink-free hose will be invented before I figure out the best ways to provide pathways and entry points for writers who are stuck, but the race is on! Very few professional experiences are as satisfying as figuring out an effective removal of a roadblock and providing access around it.

4 thoughts on “Targeting Instruction to Meet Writing Challenges

  1. Love the suggestions for providing quick opportunities to work out the kinks. The ideas you presented, like comics & sequence cards, are a great way to capture a child’s attention for a short period of time while zeroing in on exactly what they need to work on to grow stronger as a writer.

    On the gardening front, I should show you what we have for our hose. It’s a pretty good system.


  2. This is a great analogy to so many educational roadblocks we encounter with our students. What I love most as it relates specifically to writing, is straightening out the kick and watching the water flow with words and ideas. Maybe this resource will lead us to exactly where that kink is. I really like the analysis embedded in this resource.Thank you for sharing your ideas and resources.


  3. Loved this as I just found kinks in Christmas lights.

    So true that ” Very few professional experiences are as satisfying as figuring out an effective removal of a roadblock and providing access around it.”

    And maybe some of these can/should be considered for student-led seminars!


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