Term of Art: Writing Process

“writing process: A particular approach to writing instruction that has become common in school systems and colleges during the past 25 years. There are many meanings of the phrase ‘writing process,’ but most refer to the concept that writing is part of the thinking process involving many different mental activities over a period of time. Effective instruction in writing teaches students how to generate, organize, and revise their writing, rather than focusing solely on written language structures.

In its early years of development, the process theory of writing instruction focused largely on individual expression and the facilitation of the development of a student’s ‘voice.’ This approach to the writing process was in many ways a reaction to traditional methods of writing instruction, which focused mainly on structural and mechanical elements such as grammar, punctuation, and following paragraph and essay models.

In the early 1980s, Linda Flower and John Hayes developed a theoretical model of writing as a thought process involving a number of different mental activities, including planning, generating, organizing, translating, reviewing, and editing. In their model, any given activity might interrupt any other one at any stage. The Flower/Hayes model continues to be useful, especially for understanding the writing problems of students with learning disabilities and attention disorder. However, the primary contemporary model emphasizes the ways in which writing is a social practice, and focuses on collaborative approaches to developing writing skills and producing written work.

In practical terms, effective writing instruction involves understanding that writing involves different activities of generating, organizing, drafting, and revising, and that incorporates collaborative activities in helping students develop a sense of voice, audience, and using writing as a communication tool.

A process approach to writing is particularly vital for students with learning disabilities, in that it enables them to take the different cognitive tasks involved in writing and spread them over a series of steps and periods of time. For example, a student with dyslexia may benefit from putting off any attention to editing and spelling until late in the process, instead focusing mainly on generating ideas and language first.

Likewise a student with attention deficit disorder may do better by taking out a highly specific approach to planning a paper and mapping out the steps that will be involved, using a checklist to monitor completion of each step.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

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