A few years back I was keen to investigate shared writing and talk for writing. I worked in an international school which had a primary and secondary campus on the same site. I took the opportunity to observe primary school teachers implementing the talk for writing process because it was here that the strategy was used. I was amazed at the discussion that took place in the classroom and how the strategy supported all learners but especially EAL learners. As a result, I have been promoting it with the teachers I work with at secondary level. Admittedly we do not follow the talk for writing process but more the shared writing process that is a major part of the teaching and learning cycle, something I have written about before.
In my opinion using shared writing and generating classroom discussion through the process enhances EAL learners ability to write more coherently and cohesively. Shared writing also helps to develop understanding of specific genres that EAL learners have to write in as we can talk with them about structure, language choices such as vocabulary, grammar and cohesive devices and we can model the writing process of drafting, checking and revising which sometimes EAL learners do need support with.
In her book Writing Essentials (2005) Regie Routman states that shared writing is good for all learners not just English Language Learners (the term used in Northern America for EAL learners). Therefore, I would argue that even in secondary schools if we used shared writing as a practice it would help to improve all of our learners writing and not just the EAL learners in the classroom. Routman goes on to talk about how shared writing provides a ‘safe environment’ for learners to learn about writing and this is because it is a ‘collaborative process’ that involves both the teacher and the whole class. In my opinion this is the key part to shared writing that of making EAL learners feel comfortable that they can share their ideas, learn from each other and be guided by their teacher.
Routman outlines five principles that show how beneficial shared writing can be for EAL learners and this is supported by research into the process. The five principles of instruction in shared writing as stated by Routman (2005) include; novice and expert (the teacher) working together, collaboration and discussion as a means to developing understanding, contextualized learning because the writing is linked to the mainstream, and complex and challenging work that supports all learners intellectual development.
In my own practice I have seen the benefits of shared writing and the improvements that it has made to all the EAL learners that I have worked with. A range of strategies can support the shared writing process. Questions must be directed at the writing and the questions should model the choices or questions that an effective writer makes during the writing process. Editing and revising the writing shows EAL learners that it is right to make mistakes and through a systematic approach to checking work vast improvements can be made to a draft piece of writing. Vocabulary develops as a result of the process because we are able to discuss word choices and use vocabulary strategies and games that improve an EAL learners vocabulary range. Linking to the curriculum and conducting shared writing in the mainstream classroom provides a highly contextualized environment for language learning to take place. Improvements to spelling and punctuation happen as a result of collaboration and discussion because directed questions to the class can ask ‘What punctuation mark do I need to use here?’ or ‘Have we spelt x correctly?‘
For shared writing to work in larger classes roles could be assigned to different groups such as: a group to look at spelling, a group to look at punctuation, a group to look at vocabulary choices, a group to look at cohesive devices etc. It could be turned into a competition where groups compete against each other because I have found that older learners respond well to this competitive element in their classroom.
In summary, in my own practice I have seen how the shared writing process can help to develop all learners writing but I have found it to be particularly effective for my EAL learners. Mainstream teachers should work to implement shared writing processes into their classrooms at all levels.
Routman, R. (2005) Writing Essentials. Heinemann. Portsmousth. NH.