|Self-Regulated Strategy Development in Writing:
Story and Opinion Essay Writing for Students with Disabilities or Severe Difficulties
in the Early Elementary Grades
Karen Harris, Steve Graham, and Linda Mason
CASL: What and Why
1. Some validated practices are difficult to use in classrooms. This leads to inadequate implementation of recommended practices.
Thus, CASL investigators are working together to develop comprehensive approaches for providing children with disabilities and severe difficulties in the primary grades instruction that incorporates an explicit dual focus on basic and higher-order skills, that merges effective practices, and that promotes fluency, maintenance, and transfer of reading, writing, and mathematics skills. Our work in composition here at Maryland includes developing strategies children can use to plan, revise, and edit their written work, self-regulation procedures for managing these strategies and the writing process, and peer support of the writing process.
SRSD: What and Why
Self-regulated strategy development (SRSD) research in writing began over 20 years ago with our concern about students who struggle to write, including students with disabilities. Writing is a highly complex, demanding process. The writer must negotiate the rules and mechanics of writing, while maintaining a focus on factors such as organization, form and features, purposes and goals, audience needs and perspectives, and evaluation of the communication between author and reader. Self-regulation of the writing process is critical; the writer must be goal-oriented, resourceful, and reflective. Skilled writers, and students who succeed at writing, are able to use powerful strategies to help them accomplish specific writing goals. Students who struggle at writing are not.
Difficulties with narrative, persuasive, and informative writing have been well documented among students in our schools. Although children typically begin school with a positive attitude toward writing, this frequently deteriorates over the elementary school years. Writing can be even more problematic for students with learning disabilities or other severe learning problems. The writing of these students is less polished, expansive, coherent, and effective than that of their peers. Further, they often lack important knowledge of the writing process, experience difficulties generating ideas and selecting topics, do little or no advance planning, engage in knowledge telling, lack strategies for producing and organizing text, have difficulties with mechanics that interfere with the writing process, engage in little to no revision (primarily addressing mechanics), tend to overemphasize the role of mechanics in writing, and may overestimate their writing abilities.
Academic failure, self-doubts, learned helplessness, maladaptive attributions, unrealistic pre-task expectancies, and poor motivation create a vicious cycle among students with severe learning problems and have also received a great deal of attention among researchers and teachers. Students with severe learning problems may also struggle with impulsivity, difficulties with memory or other aspects of information processing, low task engagement and persistence, devaluation of learning, and low productivity. Thus, SRSD incorporates support and components aimed at helping students deal with these challenges as well.
In fact, we began development of the SRSD approach in the early 1980's with the premise that children who face significant and often debilitating difficulties would benefit from an integrated approach to intervention that directly addressed their affective, behavioral, and cognitive characteristics, strengths, and needs. Further, these children will often need to be meaningfully engaged in more extensive, structured, and explicit instruction to develop skills, strategies (including self-regulation strategies), and understandings that their peers form more easily.
Whats the evidence?
To date, over twenty studies using SRSD have been published. SRSD has made significant and meaningful differences in children's development of a variety of planning and revising strategies. Writing strategies have been developed, typically with the assistance of teachers and students, for a variety of genres, such as narratives, story writing, persuasive essays, report writing, and so on. SRSD leads to improvements in four main aspects of students performance: quality of writing, knowledge of writing, approach to writing, and self-efficacy. The quality, length and structure of students compositions have improved; depending on the strategy taught, improvements have also been documented in planning, revising, substantive content, and mechanical concerns. These improvements have occurred among normally achieving students as well as students with learning problems, although most normally achieving students do not need as much time or extensive support in learning the self-regulation and writing strategies.
SRSD in writing is not, however, a complete writing program. We do not recommend a prescribed sequence for teaching these composition and self-regulation strategies, nor arrange them from most to least critical. Rather, we believe that teachers, or teachers and their students together, should decide what strategies to develop at what time and with whom. Writing strategies instruction should be an important part of the overall writing program, and preferably, taught within the context of a writers workshop or process writing approach.
On the CASL Website
SRSD involves six basic stages of instruction (although they are not necessarily completed in order and can be recursive): 1. developing and activating background knowledge, 2. discussing the strategy - benefits and expectations, 3. cognitive modeling of the strategy, 4. memorization of the strategy, 5. collaborative support of the strategy, and 6. independent performance. Four basic strategies for self-regulation - goal setting, self-instructions, self-monitoring, and self-reinforcement - are developed along with the writing strategies.
On this website are the detailed lesson plans for teaching the self-regulated use of writing strategies for story writing (the W-W-W strategy) and early opinion essays (the TREE strategy) as well as support materials developed for 2nd and 3rd graders. Both of these strategies were taught in conjunction with a simple planning strategy (POW). These lesson plans contain all of the components and stages of instruction that compose SRSD. Teachers can adapt these stages and components as appropriate to their students needs and capabilities. Some teachers might use the full model stage by stage in their classrooms, while others may combine, reorder, or delete some stages or components. However, when students are experiencing severe difficulties with or disabilities in writing, we recommend that all of the stages and components be used - as research has clearly shown that only when students are given all of the time and support they need to progress through all of the stages and learn all of the components, do the strongest benefits occur.
Want to Know More?
Detailed explanations of all stages and components of instruction, as well as sample student writing and suggestions for implementing and evaluating SRSD, can be found in: Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (1996a). Making the writing process work: Strategies for composition and self-regulation. Cambridge, MA: Brookline Books; and in: DeLaPaz, S., Owen, B., Harris, K.R., & Graham, S. (2000). Riding Elviss motorcycle: Using self-regulated strategy development to PLAN and WRITE for a state exam. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 15, 101-109. A summary of the research on SRSD can be found in: Harris, K. R., & Graham, S. (1999). Programmatic intervention research: Illustrations from the evolution of self-regulated strategy development. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 22, 251-262.
We too are still learning about effective SRSD, and if you try these lesson plans, we would love to hear from you about what worked or didnt work, and your experiences in strategy instruction. We are also happy to hear from students or to read pieces of their work. Please write or email us here at UM.