What the “Writers Matter” Approach is all About

In this blog entry, Deborah Yost, Robert Vogel, and Kimberly Lewinski, co-authors of Empowering Young Writers discuss their successful program that helps improve students’ skills in the context of personal growth.

Why do many students lack motivation to write or perfect their writing in school? Could it be that school-based writing tasks are boring, unrelated to young adolescents’ personal experiences, and focused on the five-paragraph structure learned over and over in school from elementary to high school? We know that kids write all of the time through blogs, twitter, and texts. How can we captivate their motivation to learn how to write and write well in school?

MAP_WM_AT_KINGThe Writers Matter approach provides a unique and innovative opportunity for elementary, middle, and lower high school students to learn critical writing skills using journal writing as a vehicle for self-expression. Through writing about their lives, the students find an effective emotional outlet at a time in their lives when personal expression and having their voices heard is so important. Writers Matter is a motivational strategy that encourages students to share personal stories with each other, listen to other voices, and develop effective personal relationships with peers to provide more tolerance and appreciation of diversity. The approach, integrated into existing content areas of the curriculum, helps teachers meet the Common Core Standards for literacy.

Empowering Young Writers_smThe Empowering Young Writers book recently published by Temple University Press provides the reader with practical ways to implement Writers Matter beginning with major themes such as “I am From…” “Teen Challenges…”“Family Matters…” connect to an adolescent desire to express who they are, as they search for identity. As students begin to learn about themselves and others we further explore other themes such as “Living Life…” and “Dreams, Aspirations, and the Future….” to help the students move into a more global perspective of who they are in this world and what they can do to change it.  We have found that using intriguing, adolescent-based themes leads to a strong interest in writing as students typically want to voice their opinions and explore their and others’ identities.

Our research has shown that when students become authors and share their work with peers, a more trusting classroom climate emerges, which enhances peer-peer and teacher-student relationships. When relationships among teachers and students in a classroom setting increase, positive classroom management and greater achievement among students occurs. Integrating writing into content areas based on themes, helps students to see how their lives connect to the curriculum as they engage in multiple perspective taking that breaks down cultural barriers and “cliques” that are part of the adolescent experience. Research focused on writing skill development using the PA System of School Assessment Writing Rubric has also demonstrated writing achievement gains over time. This is likely due to increased motivation to write focused on personal experiences, and focus on process writing techniques.

A major focus of this approach is the use of “Writers Workshops” to improve writing skills through multiple drafts, conferences, and mini-lessons designed to individualize instruction to meet the needs of students based on individual progress. Students are empowered to improve writing since the focus is on becoming authentic writers based on personal topics connected to their daily lives. As authors, students write for a purpose in much the same way as authors typically by sharing their work in a public forum or writing for a school or class publication.

Monthly teacher interactive professional development sessions are held at La Salle University throughout the school year to support teachers’ use of this approach and to allow opportunities for sharing.

Publications – Empowering Young Writers recently published by Temple University Press  and Voices of Teens: Writers Matter (2008), with Michael Galbraith that was published by the National Middle School Association.  Since 2005, over 7000 students have participated from over 20 schools in the Philadelphia region. This year (2013-2014) over 1100 students, 16 teachers, and 9 schools are involved.  Additionally, we are piloting an after-school Writers Matter Program at Wagner Middle School utilizing university mentors to provide additional writing support.

Website – www.lasalle.edu/writersmatter 

We would like to hear your views on motivating students to write and improve their writing skills.

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