According to the National Commission on Writing in America’s School and Colleges and Gary A. Troia of Michigan State University, instructional research in writing does not enjoy the same level of distinction or rally as much concern as the other two “R”s.  It comes as no surprise then, that only 28% of 4th graders and 31% of 8th graders across the United States achieved "at or above" a proficient level of writing performance in 2002.  Getting a little closer to home, only 26% of 4th graders and 30% of 8th graders in Indiana achieved the same proficiency according to published NAEP data.  This troubling data is compounded by the fact that many students routinely overestimate their writing ability.  Essentially, students are unable to write well and are unaware of their shortcomings.

It’s tough to fix what you don’t know is broken  

Motivational factors such as perceived competence play an important role in the writing outcomes of students with and without writing problems, but there are common threads throughout the actual texts of struggling writers.  They are generally shorter, more poorly organized, and weaker in overall quality due to the inclusion of more irrelevant information and more grammatical and mechanical errors.  Poor writers tend to dive right in to a writing task, and even when they do plan, potential content is listed in first draft format.  Students need solidly organized topic and genre knowledge to use in planning activities. 

Poor writers rarely build a clear vision of their final outcome and often possess a limited ability to assume the reader’s perspective.  As a result, it is difficult for them to detect inaccuracies and mismatches between what they intended and the actual text.  Studies have shown that elementary students are better able to detect problems and revise when reading a paper written by someone else than when reading their own work.  Young writers, and those less competent in writing, presuppose too much shared understanding between themselves and their readers. 

Effective writing instruction for students of all ages and abilities

The following five components of writing interventions have been associated with strong positive outcomes for poor writers:

∞   Explicit teacher modeling of the writing process and composing strategies

∞   Peer collaboration and teacher conferencing to gain informative feedback

∞   Use of procedural prompts (e.g., graphic organizers, mnemonics, outlines, checklists, rubrics) to facilitate planning and revising

∞   Limiting barriers produced by poor text transcription (e.g., dictating)

∞   Self-regulation (e.g., self-statements and questions)

Explicit modeling is a core element because simply being exposed to the writing process is insufficient for most students.  Demonstration using overt mental dialogue is effective because it permits novice writers to observe the tactics and motives of more experienced authors and to appropriate more sophisticated thinking and language to their independent writing endeavors. 

Sustained writing nearly every day embedded within a predictable routine should be a staple of classroom writing instruction if students are expected to demonstrate mastery over writing content, style, organization, and conventions.

Tracie Mansfield
Indianapolis, IN

Troia, G. A. (2007). Research in writing instruction: What we know and what we need to know. In M. Pressley, A. K. Billman, K. H. Perry, K. E. Refitt, & J. M. Reynolds (Eds.), Shaping literacy achievement: Research we have, research we need (pp. 129-156). New York: Guilford Press.
We always elevate the triumphant stories in our society of the “Lone Ranger” leader. These people seemingly rise above the rest of the human race to become the iconic role model in their field. But, like most Disney endings, reality is telling us a different story. This phenomenon is very evident in the field of education. Movies like Stand and Deliver, Lean on Me, Dangerous Minds, The Principal, etc. all tell stories of educators that have received hero status because of a single-minded passion and power for educational and academic transformation. And, while these stories may begin in truth, recent research is telling us that schools may not achieve academic success if their school leader’s day-to-day priority is academic success. While this sounds confusing, the logic is fairly simple.

A 2009 Stanford University Study by Horng, Klasik, and Loeb suggests that, “a single-minded focus on principals as instructional leaders operationalized through direct contact with teachers may be detrimental if it forsakes the important role of principals as organizational leaders.” In other words, if extreme administrative movie characters like Morgan Freeman and James Belushi portray school change through the use of chains and baseball bats, they may be demonstrating the simple message that structure and organization must be the precursor to an effective system. Perhaps the message is simply one of organizational necessity. This is a necessity to ensure structure and organization prior to quality and implementation. This statistical notion holds true in all team-based environments because quality results cannot be replicated without a consistent replicable structure.

Question: How then do school administrators juggle the responsibility of organizational leadership, when the academic and financial focuses of education are constantly pushed forward with ultimatums?

Answer: To answer this question, one can look at the same Stanford study. While analyzing the impact of administrative integration into day-to-day instructional activities, it was found that there are only marginal (if any at all) related improvements in student performance. And, there are often reports of deteriorating relationships with teachers. These findings suggest that the principal may risk academic and cultural growth when getting overly involved in the instructional or academic process.

Conclusion: The school leader cannot ignore the academic process, but should ensure there are solid organizational frameworks in place before prioritizing an individual role in academic implementation. And, while school leaders may feel compelled to micromanage the educational process, over-involvement does not necessarily equal academic improvement, and may cause harm to the teacher-administrator relationship. School leaders need to empower staff leadership and should consider additional administrative oversight for academic implementation in order to ensure organizational frameworks are held together with consistency.

Tommy Reddicks
Indianapolis, IN

2009 Stanford Study:
Horng, E,L, Klasik, D, Loeb, S, (2009). "Principal Time-Use and School Effectiveness." School Leadership Research Report, 09-3: Institute for Research on Education Policy & Practice.

“Children’s natural curiosity and desire to discover the world are integrated with philosophy” Prof. Mathew Lipmam. As a philosophy major in college and an intern at the Mayor’s office I took a unique interest in charter schools, specifically their ability to be innovative in education. As I sat in an ancient philosophy class, I was struck by a philosophical dilemma: if philosophy was the root of knowledge, why is it that we don’t teach it more in primary and secondary education? To be fair, we do touch on concepts such as the Pythagorean theorem or Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. However, this question was normally answered by concerns that children were just not capable of understanding philosophy. I would argue that this is in fact far from the truth.

Consider for a moment the child’s ability to learn a foreign language at a young age. Here at PSOE we are already taking advantage of teaching Spanish to children at a young age to increase comprehension. If this concept applies to the teaching of something as complicated as a new language, why should it not apply to philosophy? In fact, research over the past 40 years has concluded that even as a first year undergraduate in college it is too late to effectively develop reasoning skills (Marashi, 2007). This isn’t to say that without philosophy we don’t develop the ability to reason, but we will develop poor reasoning skills the same way native English speakers develop poor writing or speaking skills.

It is also important to take into consideration that there are two methods to the proper utilization of philosophy. The first (what you would expect from your undergraduate philosophy class) teaches who the philosophers are and explores their theories. The second method is more comprehensive, and something children do on a daily basis whether we want them to or not. Think of anytime that you have made a decision about the world. At one point you may have believed in a monster that lived under your bed, and you acted accordingly when you had to get out of bed at night to go to the bathroom. Through experience we grew out of these fears, but our experiences shape our philosophy of the world, even if we don’t realize it’s happening. A child who performs poorly at math isn’t bad at math or pre-disposed to be poor at math; they just don’t understand it yet. That being said, the child only has experience with not understanding math, and over the years this experience continues causing the child to believe that they are poor at math and that nothing can change it.

Findings in 50 countries indicate that teaching philosophy to children in school improves thinking skills and critical thinking. “Children should be taught how to try out, analyze and experience the subject matter rather than being taught how to memorize and recall the content” (Marashi, 2007).  This form of doing philosophy would take advantage of short stories and books to develop philosophical questions and cognitive skills. This educational philosophy is being supported by www.teachingchildrenphilosophy.org, which suggests using books already found in the classroom (such as The Giving Tree or Dr. Seuss). The site also provides modules and resources to help teachers develop constructive methods for teaching philosophy in the classroom. Teaching philosophy transforms the classroom and the role of the teacher and student. Instead of information being transmitted from the teacher to the student, information is received in a collaborative discussion. In this manner, the teacher only facilitates ideas, rather than trying to convince children or bring them to a specific conclusion.

In a study done by Keith Topping and Steve Trickery in 2007 a group of 105 students (age ten) were taught philosophy for one hour a week for 16 months. Compared with the control group of 72 students, the experiment group showed signs of improvement on tests of verbal, numerical, and spatial abilities after 16 months. Two years later the children were tested again and despite changing schools or moving from primary to secondary, the experimental group showed continued improvement while the control group continued to fall behind (Topping and Tickery, 2007).

The Greek translation of philosophy “love of wisdom”, is the goal of education. In other words, the goal is not to teach children to recall facts, but to teach children how to analyze material and critically evaluate it. It was the teachings of Aristotle that helped lead Alexander the Great to conquer most of the known world; or what about the ideas of John Locke that lead to the writing of the United States Constitution. If the “love of wisdom” has lead to some of the greatest achievements in the history of man, why are we not teaching philosophy more?

Jacob Asbury
Guest Blogger
Indianapolis, IN

The idea of “closing the gap” conjures up vivid memories in my life.  One of my favorite winter break positions while I attended Indiana University was that of a “seasonal employee” at the retail store, THE GAP, in Bloomington, Indiana.  For those of you that have worked retail over the holidays, you know it can be an arduous time- physically and psychologically.  Sure, there was extra holiday spending money and the deep discount on much needed spring attire, but…make no mistake…it taxed the body and the soul.  We, as employees, counted down the minutes until closing, celebrated the ushering out of the last customer, and rejoiced in bringing down the chain-clad mall door.  We felt relief coupled with excitement because we knew that when the last penny had been counted (as long as we were within $10.00 of what the register stated) we had closed the GAP, and University nightlife awaited us.

 Almost twenty years later, the term “closing the gap” takes on a far different meaning in my life, but I have learned to attack this closure with far more fervor.  Now, I spend my days developing academic/curriculum frameworks in the urban Indianapolis school setting.  The “gap” in achievement that separates economically disadvantaged students from less disadvantaged students has been the focus of research for almost forty years. While the achievement gap narrowed considerably through the 1980’s, particularly between blacks and whites, progress since then has been marginal.  Below-par achievement of minority students remains one of the most pressing problems in education.

Today (2010 data), the average black student currently achieves at about the same level as the average white student in the lowest quartile of white achievement. Black students are much more likely than white students to fall behind in school, and much less likely to graduate from high school, acquire a college or advanced degree, or earn a middle-class living.

So how, as we all aspire to be socially responsible and culturally sensitive members of this academic culture, work together to close this achievement gap?  Research suggests that there are a number of strategies that schools should be implementing in their school-wide community plan.  However, the strategy that most research proposes as the foundation for all of the remaining initiatives is the school’s ability to develop the “school-home relationship.”  What are we as members of our school doing to build a bridge between the school and home?  Here are some steps to consider:

(1)    Time should be reserved to educate families, along with their children, on the school’s discipline and academic frameworks.  Parents should know the “why” regarding what we do at school.

(2)    A culture of community must be created.  Schools need to consistently send the message to families that we are here to nurture, support, and facilitate their children’s social and academic growth.  This is why we chose this profession, and also why we chose this community to serve.

(3)    The positive as well as the negative should be communicated whenever possible.  When students are doing well, on any level, we should do our best to communicate that to the families.  When discussing a student’s area of refinement, we should still take time to celebrate the student’s successes.

(4)    Listen.  Listen to family concerns…empathize…consider how both parties can work together to do what is best for the child.  People are far more likely to work with us when they feel as if they’ve been heard.

In closing, I have many fond memories of my undergraduate years and my seasonal servitude to THE GAP.  Yet, I am infinitely happier today serving our students and parents.  I also know that from an employee’s perspective, as we moved closer to closing THE GAP, there was an air of excitement that was palpable.  That feeling, however, in no way compares to being a part of “closing the achievement gap” in our local schools.  I am proud to be part of a school with teachers and administration that feel the same, and who are working so diligently to see this goal become reality.

Race and Schools: The Need for Action, by Gary Orfield, Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, University of California–Los Angeles, is a Research Brief from the NEA Research Visiting Scholars Series, Spring 2008, vol. 1b.
Lake, R. and Hill, P. 2005, November. Hopes, Fears & Reality. A Balanced Look At American Charter Schools in 2005, p.2. Seattle: National Charter School Research Project, Center on Reinventing Public Education.
Smith, N. 2006. “National State of the Movement.” Presentation at the 2006 National Charter Schools Conference, held in conjunction with the 13th annual California Charter Schools Association Conference,
Feb. 28–March 3 in Sacramento, California.

Scott Frye
Indianapolis, IN

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