Writing the book on writing


Erik Ketcherside
Steve Graham knows writing — not just how to do it, but how to teach it, how it’s learned and what kinds of individual differences make writing harder for some people than others. One of his most recent writing projects brought together all his areas of expertise as Graham chaired the panel that researched and produced “Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively” for the What Works Clearinghouse. The 90-page book is part of a series of more than 20 such guides offered free of charge to educators by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, a unit of the U.S. Department of Education.

Graham is a Mary Emily Warner Professor in the Division of Leadership and Innovation at ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. In four decades of research he has written or co-written four books on writing as a building block of education (two of them with his wife, Karen Harris, also a Warner professor in the college), edited 14 others, authored dozens of articles, reports and white papers, and presented at more than 600 conferences and colloquia on four continents.

Steve Graham answered some questions about the book, how he and his panel created it and and how he got involved.

Why is this guide important?

These practice guides from the What Works Clearinghouse are used by administrators and teachers across the country to guide instruction. In the case of this book, it will influence how writing is taught to middle and high school students in English, history, math, science and other subject areas. The recommendations in the guide are based on the strongest research evidence in writing available.

What makes it research-based?

We conducted a comprehensive search of writing intervention literature, then subjected each article to a rigorous evaluation to identify studies that met stringent criteria for quality. These high-quality studies were then used to craft the recommendations.

What’s new in this guide?

The guide emphasizes three things. One, it is important to teach students how to engage in the thinking aspects of writing. Those are planning, evaluating, and revising. Two, greater achievement in writing will occur if reading and writing are used to support each other and are taught together when possible.  And three, it is important to assess students’ progress as they write, using this information to enhance writing instruction and students’ writing.

How were you selected to chair the panel?

I served as chairman of the What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide for Elementary Writing, so I guess I had an inside track on this. In addition, I published a meta-analysis on effective writing practices at the secondary level funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The meta-analysis was titled “Writing Next,” and it was downloaded by over a million people, so I suspect that played a role, too.

“Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively” is a free download available from the Institute for Education Sciences.