Dr. Seuss. Andrew Clements. Avi. These authors and more spin stories that entrance readers. No doubt you have shared the work of many authors as you communicate your love of the written word. With the increased national emphasis on teaching students to write well, we have a tremendous opportunity to expand our role beyond assisting students and staff in the reading and research processes. Our involvement in supporting the writing process can make a difference for students and faculty. We must begin with a clear understanding of how the writing process works.
State Standards and the Writing Process
Most state standards refer to the writing process as one that writers use to communicate ideas with meaning and clarity for a variety of purposes and audiences. The writing process includes the stages a writer progresses through to move from a blank piece of paper to a finished piece that will be shared with the intended audience. Many teachers and library media specialists are aware of and use the term writing process, but they may differ in their understanding of how to develop effective student writers and what should happen in each stage. Examining the five steps of the writing process is a good starting point for discussion.
The Five Steps of Writing
Most writers uses a series of steps that include prewrite, draft, revise, and edit on their way to publishing writing. In practice, the steps of the writing process are recursive, not linear. Writers move back and forth among the stages as they work to communicate their ideas.
In prewriting, writers begin by collecting their ideas . They draw on their experiences to write about what they know and care about. They may also investigate a topic they are interested in and share what they learn. The writer can make lists or organize ideas on a planner. Prewrite defines the topic, audience , focus, overall message, organization , and voice . It is not a blueprint that should be followed exactly to completion. Some of the information that appears on a list or organizer will not be used in the actual piece. Prewriting may take place for a short period of time—or it may go on for days!
As students begin to put their ideas onto paper, they are drafting. The goal is to let the writing flow so it communicates information that the reader needs or will find interesting. Drafting is a sustained effort that continues as the piece develops. Drafting results in a product that has a beginning, middle, and end. The writer may pause, reread what is written, return to the prewrite stage to gather more information, or simply write non-stop.
In revision, the writer rereads the piece and analyzes what needs to be done to make the ideas and information clearer and more meaningful to the reader. Revision is different than editing, which focuses on technical details like spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Revision addresses how the writing sounds. During revision, writers read and reread their piece multiple times until they have obtained the clarity and meaning they intend. Revision should proceed from whole to part and usually has two phases that are not distinct, but blended. In the first phase, the writer decides whether the overall message and ideas are clear, what works, and what does not work. Changes may include moving information around and adding and deleting information. During the first phase of revision, we may see the writer move around from middle to end to beginning. In the second phase of revision, students may go through their work a line at a time, substituting a more precise word or including an additional example.
In editing, the writer removes the obstacles that can distract from the intended message. These culprits include spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and structure of sentences and paragraphs. Some editing, or changing how the writing looks, takes place during revision. However, editing needs to be a separate stage in the teaching of writing or novices will get distracted from their goal of meaning and clarity by spelling and punctuation. Once students start editing, they seldom find their way back to revision.
Once the writing sounds and looks the way the writer thinks it should for the audience , it may be put in a more finished form and delivered to the audience. In school, publishing takes various forms. Sometimes publishing is simply a writer reading his piece to a small group of students interested in the topic or it may mean sending the writing off to a contest.
Once published, the writing process has concluded. Usually there is a deep sigh of relief and celebration at what has been communicated and accomplished. Typically, the longer the process has been from planning to publication, the greater the joy!
Putting the Media Specialist in the Picture
Understanding the writing process opens the door for library media specialists to see ourselves as writers and to use the process in our professional and personal lives. Professionally, we prewrite when we start creating our lesson plans. As we develop them, we move into drafting. We revise as we consider ways to improve the lesson. Before we share them with others, we edit. When we send them to our co-educators, we’re publishing. On a personal level, we use the writing process in letters, creating poems or journaling. The more we use the writing process, the more comfortable we become with it.
Library media specialists play many roles in schools, including collaborator. Being familiar with and using the writing process provides one more opportunity to collaborate with teachers. Many local, state, and national assessments include a writing component, so many teachers appreciate a helping hand in teaching it. Your role may change from teacher to teacher, depending upon each person’s background knowledge and experience. In addition to helping teachers help their students, we can be a change agent by tactfully sharing some of the information we gleam from professional reading and workshops. For example:
- Be aware that individual teachers may see and teach the writing process differently. Ask them how they typically use and manage the writing process from prewrite through publishing.
- Consider providing displays of the steps of the writing process in the library or media center. Develop posters that are created by a discussion among the staff and supported by research.
- Develop a glossary of writing terminology. Update your glossary every few weeks with terms from your reading and that of your colleagues.
- Be aware of opportunities to build teacher knowledge about the writing process .
- Organize a study group.
- Discuss how the writing process in the real world is similar or different than the writing process students experience in school.
The increased interest in writing is often prompted by state and local assessments in writing. Students from kindergarten through graduation are expected to do prompted writing as a measure of their writing ability. Teachers must find ways to increase students’ interest and competence in writing for real audiences and purposes in advance of writing assessments. As library media specialists, when we know and use the writing process, we help staff teach students a process that will serve them well in their personal and educational lives.
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