Posts Tagged ‘expository’

Maintaining Metaphase Momentum in the Expository Writing Process

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014

Author: Cortney Esquitin, Instructional Coach 

To teach well, we do not need more techniques and strategies as much as we need a vision of what is essential.  It is not the number of good ideas that turns our work into art but the selection, balance and design of those ideas.       ~Lucy Calkins


The “new” buzz word in education these days is metacognition, and it is the loaded language of every workshop blurb or professional book. John Flavell’s distilled definition, released in 1976, of thinking about thinking is nothing new. So what’s the big deal with metacognition now?  Figure 19.

Since teachers are given the developmental norms for metacognition at each grade level for reading, there is an urgency to push kids in a sequenced, linear manner of thinking at different levels. Teachers implement student strategies during reading to generate questions, recognize when they have lost the meaning and summarize throughout. All of which are metacognitive strategies.  Students are more likely to remember what they have read and interpret meaning correctly when practicing this process.  (Beck and McGowen 2006)

Unfortunately, there is not a Figure 19 for the metacognitive stages of writing.  Teachers only have the writing process itself to rely upon.  This has caused many students to come to us like the Tin Man—they have rusty skills, stiff dialogue and, for the most part, are writing without heart.  As the demands of STAAR writing increase, teachers are now feeling the pressure to understand what they can do to better support students.  Somehow the writing process has become just another assignment instead of an instructional pattern.

Understanding that the writing process itself is metacognition in action and a source of student support is our first step.  Many times the writing process is treated as a sprint to the finish line of the final draft without a process really taking place. The writing process should be treated as conditioning for the marathon. “Writing is an act of meaning production” that involves use of metacognitive monitoring strategies through “reading, re-reading, reflecting, and reviewing” and the use of metacognitive control strategies through “editing, drafting, idea generation, word production, translation and revision.”  Hacker, Keener, and Kircher (2009) argue that the explicit and implicit use of these strategies is a metacognitive process and what translates one’s thoughts into writing— hence, writing is applied metacognition. Teaching writing needs to be linked to the metacognition done during reading. This is a necessary scaffolding piece of learning to write well.

Educators ask what will get students to push through the intricate stages of the writing process? They must recognize the breakdown of student learning during the process.  Research shows that students are most comfortable in the pre-writing and planning stages. Teachers are excellent at engaging students in activities that include connections and organizers.  Thinking comes with ease at this stage.  When teachers turn students loose to draft and re-draft the essay, they are on their own to translate ideas and formulate words into meaning. This is when momentum stalls and sometimes dies because students do not have the metacognitive strategies to keep them going. As they begin editing, momentum picks back up because they are in a comfort zone of skills practiced since elementary. (Graham and Perin 2007)

The sequence for “launching” a writing strategy is most efficient when infused with lessons for reading.  Since reading and writing work in tandem, educators are now charged with taking writing to the metacognitive depths to which we generally take reading.  This sequence includes the following: mental models, questioning, think-alouds and verbalization that keep students engaged and pushes them through the gap of isolation. If students feel as though they are alone and not empowered by their teacher and peers, then educators are missing the opportunity to foster success.

In the past, standardized tests required students to produce writing devoid of social and cultural interaction and emphasized the lower level skills of mechanics and language. New standards are the opposite and as a result, the metacognition needed to push through the writing process is more demanding. Building a toolbox of thinking will allow students to scaffold writing strategies and prepare them for high stakes testing.



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Beck, I. L., & McKeown, M. G. (2006).  Improving Comprehension with Questioning the Author.  New York, NY: Scholastic.

Bernabei, Gretchen S., Jayne Hover, and Cynthia Candler. Crunchtime: Lessons to Help Students Blow the Roof off Writing Tests–and Become Better Writers in the Process. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2009. Print.

Bernabei, Gretchen S., and Dorothy P. Hall. The Story of My Thinking: Expository Writing Activities for 13 Teaching Situations. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012. Print.

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Carroll, Joyce Armstrong and Edward E.Wilson. Acts of Teaching: How to Teach Writing Second Edition. Teacher Ideas Press, 2008.

Carroll, Joyce Armstrong. "Teaching the Thesis." School Library Monthly. : November 2012. (pp. 18-20) Print.

Cole, Joni.  Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive.  University Press of New England, 2006.

Daniels, Harvey, and Nancy Steineke. Texts and Lessons for Content-area Reading. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2011. Print.

Folkman, Joseph R. The Power of Feedback. John Wiley & Sons, 2006.

Fountas, Irene C., and Gay Su. Pinnell. Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System 2 Grades 3-8, Levels L-Z. Portsmouth, N. H.: Heinemann, 2007. Print.

Francescani, Chris. “Friends Mourn Teenager Killed in New Jersey Party Bus Accident.” Chicago Tribune [Chicago] 01 Sept. 2012: n. pag. Print.

Geye, Susan. Mini Lessons for Revision: How to Teach Writing Skills, Language Usage, Grammar, and Mechanics in the Writing Process. Spring, TX: Absey &, 1997. Print.