ArticlePDF Available

Abstract and Figures

This paper presents the actions of two high school English language arts teachers as they engage in writing instruction with adolescent English learners. Using a naturalistic, qualitative methodology we investigate the actions two high school English language arts teachers engage in to meet the needs of their students. Findings suggest that embracing the students’ resources, building on linguistic knowledge, taking time to choose the right books and activities, being explicit about writer’s workshop and accepting its frenetic pace because it meets the students’ needs, and using the act of writing as a thinking activity, were the actions that made a difference to promote student success.
Content may be subject to copyright.
FOLIA LIBRORUM 1 (24), 2017
ISSN 0860-7435
Juan J. Araujo
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Texas A&M University-Commerce
Carol D. Wickstrom
College of Education
University of North Texas
Writing Instruction That Makes a Difference
to English Learners
Abstract: This paper presents the actions of two high school English
language arts teachers as they engage in writing instruction with ado-
lescent English learners. Using a naturalistic, qualitative methodology
we investigate the actions two high school English language arts teach-
ers engage in to meet the needs of their students. Findings suggest that
embracing the students’ resources, building on linguistic knowledge,
taking time to choose the right books and activities, being explicit about
writer’s workshop and accepting its frenetic pace because it meets the
students’ needs, and using the act of writing as a thinking activity, were
the actions that made a difference to promote student success.
Keywords: writing, professional development, teacher education, ado-
lescents, english learners
J u a n J. A r a u jo, C arol D . Wic k s t r om
Effective instructional actions take place when teachers consider student
needs, personal and professional experiences, local and national curricular
mandates, professional development experiences, pedagogical stance, and
when they see students for who they are (Araujo, 2013; Patterson et al., 2010).
Sometimes these instructional decisions are made while teachers are in the act
of teaching. At other times teachers make these decisions as they plan their
instruction. Whenever teachers make these decisions, the appropriateness of
the actions taken to meet student needs is what makes the difference.
Some English language arts teachers notice that the instructional deci-
sions and actions they make are not working for their students. Students are
disengaged during class and often fail to complete assignments. Consequently,
these teachers are tired of maintaining the status quo and working within the
existing professional and school constraints, which they feel do not meet the
real academic and social aspirations of their students. They say they are keenly
aware that they do not know what they should do or what actions they should
take to provide good instruction. However, they often do not know what they
should do or what actions they should take to provide effective instruction
especially for English learners. But there are a few teachers who accept the
challenge to make changes in an attempt to address this need.
To that end, the purpose of this paper was to explore the actions, reactions,
and transactions of two English language arts (ELA) teachers as they engaged
with students in powerful writing. The question guiding this inquiry is:
What actions do an eleventh grade mainstream teacher and a ninth
grade ESL teacher make during English language arts instruction
to support English learners as they become powerful writers?
Related Theory and Research
We situate our work within the socio-cultural (Vygotsky, 1978) frame-
work because of its focus on culture and its use as a mediation tool for learn-
ing it suggests that learning is an interactive social endeavor and therefore,
there is a wealth of cultural and linguistic resources which teachers can use
during classroom instruction to address literacy learning. In writing instruc-
tion research, the socio-cultural theory promotes the idea of co-participation
and the importance of supporting cognitive performance, through the use of
cultural tools and procedural facilitators (Englert & Mariage & Dunsmore,
2010, p. 211).
W r i t i ng In s tr u ct i o n
ESL and its Offerings for English Learners in US Schools
Today the dominant approach to teaching in secondary ESL in the Unit-
ed States is still sheltered instruction (Peregoy & Boyle, 2012). The purpose of
sheltered instruction is to provide grade-appropriate, cognitive demanding
core curriculum using sociocultural features including collaboration, grouping,
informal assessments, social/affective adjustment, and native language use
(Gonzales & Watson, 1986). While many school districts have a form of shel-
tered instruction in place, it varies widely depending on the teacher’s prepara-
tion, students’ diversity, and professional development engagement. At its
inception, sheltered instruction was a good fit, but as students’ diversity has
increased it has become more challenging to design curriculum that meets the
complex needs of students (e.g., cultural, linguistic, language maintenance,
and social adjustment). Further, at the high school level students are expected
to have command of the English language because of prior school experi-
ence. However, this is often not the case. Thus, some high schools maintain
classes strictly for English learners, especially newcomers. However, many
English learners find themselves in mainstream classrooms where they are
expected to function similarly to the native English speakers.
The Teaching and Learning of Writing
Research on writing instruction for students in general and English learn-
ers in particular is still in its infancy (Ball, 2006; Graham & Perin, 2007). Some
literacy experts have authored works (e.g., Applebee & Langer, 2013; Fu,
2009) detailing methods that work for adolescent ESL writers, other have
focused on writing development and instruction (Edelsky, 1986; Moll, 1989).
Further research has focused on the benefits of native language transfer
(Krashen, 1987) and bilingual education and bilingualism (Baker, 2008), but it
is still unclear about specific decisions and actions teachers must make to ad-
dress the writing practices of adolescent English learners at all levels of lan-
guage proficiencies (emergent/beginning/intermediate/advanced).
In the United States adolescent English learners are often instructed from
a skill development and product perspective (Ball, 2006; Delpit, 1987;
McCarthey & Mkhize, 2013). That is to say, many secondary ESL teachers
still focus on grammar, syntax, spelling, and punctuation because they see that
as a pressing concern in other words they primarily situate their instruction
J u a n J . A r a u jo , C ar ol D . W i ck s tr o m
on the product and the form and function of language. In mainstream class-
rooms, writing is increasingly taught using writer’s workshop (Atwell, 1987;
Gallagher, 2006), an approach that balances product and process. One possi-
ble reason for this difference in instruction is that until recently ESL prepara-
tion courses were not offered widely. When preparation courses were offered,
the objectives focused on the history of bilingualism, second language acquisi-
tion, multicultural education from an elementary students’ perspective.
Of note is that in most writers’ workshops there is equal importance given to
the development of the writer’s voice, ideas, and language conventions. Addi-
tionally, in the workshop approach the teacher is more able to support the
individual needs of all students.
More recently the Common Core Writing Standards (Common Core
State Standards Initiative, 2015) in the United States, too, have made a differ-
ence for the teaching of writing. The standards ask educators to teach argu-
mentative writing, informational writing, narrative writing, vary the level of
formal/informal writing, use the writing process, incorporate technology,
write research pieces, and create an environment where writing is pervasive.
Although these standards have not been adopted where this study takes place
we agree that these skills can benefit adolescent writers.
Literacy research tells us (e.g., culturally responsive instruction, writing
workshop, native language instruction, and literacy instruction for English
learners) that effective teaching and powerful writing happens when students
and teachers collaborate, when the instruction focuses on inquiry and inven-
tion, and when the quality of learning is transformational for students and
teachers. Holdaway (1978) stated, the theory or practice of literacy that fails
to take into account the deep and powerful implications of language in the
whole person fails at the most fundamental level. In short, we should use
writing as a tool to develop student’s identity, answer their personal questions,
and improve their well-being.
Moreover, research on writing instruction (Kwok et al., 2016) informs us
that teachers can create opportunities for students to write in ways through
which they can carry their personal lives into their academic discourse com-
munity (p. 268). These openings can help students make sense and connec-
tions between their individual goals, academic needs, and global expectations.
W r i t i ng In s tr u ct i o n
Research History and Methods
The teachers in this study participated in a professional development ap-
proach called „Culturally Mediated Writing Instruction” (CMWI) funded by
the National Writing Project (NWP) (Patterson et al., 2010; Wickstrom et al.,
2011). For a semester the teachers were immersed in research-based ideas
and guidance” to support the writing needs of English learners in their ELA
classrooms. Using inquiry (Dewey, 1910; Short & Burke & Hartse, 1996; Wil-
helm, 2007) and a writer’s workshop (Atwell, 1987; Gallagher, 2006) ap-
proach, the teachers studied funds of knowledge (Moll et al., 1992) and the
use of social action issues (e.g., immigration, poverty, family) as meaningful
writing themes. Documentation of the instructional decisions and practices
made by these teachers was created during the spring of 2010. The purpose
was to determine what decisions and actions these teachers took to make
learning meaningful for their students. Prior inductive analysis (Araujo, 2013)
on two instructional units for these same two teachers informed the analysis
of this inquiry. For Carmen (pseudonym) the units were, The Catcher in the Rye
(Salinger, 1951) and The Hunger Games (Collins, 2008). For Janet (pseudonym),
the units were The House on Mango Street (Cisneros, 1984) and The Odyssey
(Homer, trans. 1996). The analysis yielded the following (Araujo, 2013):
Decisions that attend to the shifts in culture of the classroom make
a difference for students.
Decisions that focus solely on delivering the explicit curriculum
make little difference to student learning.
When teachers take into account the available resources (student,
personal, textual, and contextual), they are able to expand the
learning zone (see Figure 1) and create a deep integrated curricular ex-
perience for students. The shaded area represents the resources in ac-
tion” or affordances teachers tap into with effective decisions making.
Teachers are aware of possible resources and use them when appropriate
to meet the needs of students.
As teachers grow in expertise about the available resources, they are
able to more closely meet the needs of the students.
J u a n J . A r a u jo , C ar ol D . W i ck s tr o m
Fig. 1. Decision-Making Conceptual Mediation Heuristic
Source: (Araujo, 2013)
In this chapter, we focus on the actions the teachers made throughout
the observations with particular attention to those that promote powerful
writing. Because decisions and actions happen often and are moment-by-
moment the data lends itself to multiple approaches of analysis.
The study took place in two adolescent classrooms, at two different high
schools in the southwest region of the United States. These particular class-
rooms were chosen because of our insider knowledge with the teacher partic-
ipants and their school settings. These established relationships allowed for
high accessibility, patterned ways of interacting with the staff and the teach-
ers, and an established rapport with administrators.
W r i t i ng In s tr u ct i o n
The participants in this study were two high school ELA teachers. They
were selected using a purposive sampling technique (Patton, 2001). The
teachers met the following criteria: 1) participation in the local NWP summer
institute, 2) knowledge of CMWI principles and practices, 3) teachers of Eng-
lish language arts to native and English language learners, and 4) membership
in the local NWP project site. Using these criteria, it was likely that these two
English language art teachers would be making decisions based on student
resources and information obtained from the CMWI professional develop-
ment. Both participants collected demographic data for students, and took
part during the triangulation phase.
Carmen was a secondary ELA teacher (11th grade) whose focus is litera-
ture. English learners were mainstreamed in her classroom. She had taught at
the middle and secondary grades using a writing workshop approach. This
was Carmen’s second year as a high school teacher. During this study she
taught American Literature which focuses on works from 1900 to the present.
In previous years as a middle school teacher she was more willing to take risks
and experiment. In high school though she was intent on portraying a more
traditional teacher, which was against to her nature. This was her first year
teaching this course so she was experimenting with how to mediate the cur-
riculum. While the district provided teachers with a timeline to follow, she
said that she had decided to stray frequently away from it in order to meet the
needs of her students who she felt were capable readers and writers.
Janet was a secondary ELA teacher (9thgrade), with a passion for working
with beginning to intermediate English language learners. Her professional
developmental activity focused on learning more about effective practices
with English learners. Janet had been working with ESL students for 11 years.
She described herself as a compassionate person who saw students as extend-
ed family members. At the time of this study, she was the only ESL teacher in
the school. The purpose of the courses she taught was to transition first year
English learners to mainstream classrooms in two years.
Data Collection
The four types of data collected to document the study were: (1) pre en-
try interview, (2) teacher survey, (3) periodic classroom observations, and
(4) semi-structured teacher conversations before and after the observation.
One of the researchers observed the teachers during the spring semester
across a period of four months.
J u a n J . A r a u jo , C ar ol D . W i ck s tr o m
Initial data analysis took place throughout the data collection phase. Data
were organized by participant, day of observation, interview, student assign-
ment, or teacher directed assignment with particular attention to decisions
that addressed powerful writing. Then, the researchers read through the ob-
servations and interviews multiple times to get an understanding of the data.
For this analysis the researchers focused on 1) the actions the teachers made
that made a difference for powerful writing. To achieve triangulation (Merri-
am, 1988) the researchers convened a team of five literacy experts (3 full-time
university faculty and 2 doctoral students) who were familiar with the teachers
and the professional development to collectively analyze the data. The codes
and themes were discussed, modifications were suggested, and a consensus
about codes and themes was reached. The actions written about in this manu-
script emerged from rereading the data, conversations with the teachers and
triangulation team. Table 1 provides the codes and patterns found during the
analysis for the mainstream and ESL classes.
Table 1. Mainstream/ESL Codes and Patterns
CMWI Instructional
Mainstream Classroom
ESL Classroom
Empathy and Caring
Increase in use
Organizing framework
Meaningful Connections
Increase in use
Decreasing in use
Inquiry Stance
Increase in use
Organizing framework
Authentic Tasks
Increase in use
Part of instructional routine
Just Enough Support
Increase in use
Part of instructional routine
Resources in Use
Mainstream Classroom
ESL Classroom
Often in use
Often in use
Increase in use
Increase in use
Increase in use
Routinely put in use
Increase in use
Increase in use
Literacy Actions
Mainstream Classroom
ESL Classroom
Social and Cultural Capital
Increase in importance
Central to decision making
Linguistic Knowledge
Routinely took into account
Decrease in importance
Thinking Activities
Routinely took into account
Central to decision making
Academic Content
Decrease in importance
Increase in importance
Source: author’s work
W r i t i ng In s tr u ct i o n
In the mainstream classroom, the data suggest that empathy and caring,
meaningful connections, and taking an inquiry stance were the CMWI instruc-
tional patterns that did increase during the study. Carmen used the context
as a resource often (i.e., the classroom, the home, or the school). Initially,
Carmen made decisions based on academic content; however, as the semester
progressed she took into account the social and cultural capital of students. In
the ESL classroom, the data suggest that empathy and caring, and inquiry
stance were the overarching organizing CMWI frameworks during the study.
As the semester went along Janet made instructional decisions to improve
students’ thinking strategies and build academic content to prepare them for
mainstream classes. In sum, the patterns suggest that Carmen was adapting
perspective to meet the needs of students, while Janet was findings ways to
create curriculum to meet the principles and practices that she believed in.
Carmen at Work in the Mainstream Classroom
CMWI instructional patterns. At the onset, Carmen focused the deci-
sions she made based on covering the necessary academic content mandated
by the local school district. By the end of the semester, the instructional pat-
terns suggested she was more concerned with student making meaningful
connections to the students’ personal activities. In class, students spent most
of the time inquiring, reading, and writing about the topic of the day. Carmen
was attentive to student needs, frequently engaging with students individually
and collectively during conferring time. Using a mix of formative assessments
Carmen motivated students to become self-reliant and take initiative for their
own learning. She mediated learning using small and whole group conversa-
tions, interactive writing activities with a focus on using technology, and on
the spot conversation to her students sort out their questions about what to
do next. She was adamant that her calculated risk taking was rewarded by the
students’ commitment to do „great work.” Powerful writing assignments
included writing satires about world events, developing character scripts and
recording movie shorts, crafting newspaper response columns pretending to
be book characters, creating comic strips about life events, and researching
and delivering findings about a social action inquiry project of their choice.
Utilizing the resources to improve learning. At first, writing in Car-
men’s classroom was limited to answering short-essay questions on quizzes
and occasional book reports. When students wrote in class, there was minimal
J u a n J . A r a u jo , C ar ol D . W i ck s tr o m
collaboration happening, and students simply turned in assignments and wait-
ed for grades. At the beginning of the data collection it was evident that stu-
dents were not connecting to the texts, assignments, or the instructional con-
versations Carmen was attempting to have with them. During the first
debriefing session Carmen said that her immediate job was to get them en-
gaged in the work, I need to get them to read the book first, before they can
do anything else. Instead of seeing students’ lack of engagement as a reason
to give up, Carmen saw it as a professional challenge. Weeks went by as she
thought about what to do. One day, she said:
I’ve decided to select a book that they will select and enjoy. (Carmen)
Using knowledge of her students’ resources, she purposefully decided to
take this action because she wanted to prove to students that there are books
that can be fun and at the same time academically appropriate. As she became
more familiar with students through their writing, the actions she took inte-
grated more of the students’ resources. She said, „I no longer just thought
about the curriculum”, rather, her decisions and actions deliberately took into
account how she could use the student’s resources to create writing activities
that were meaningful to their lives. From, that point forward this became the
focus using students’ expertise and knowhow as they engage in learning.
The students noticed this shift in Carmen’s thinking and doing; in re-
sponse, they too increased their level of contribution and writing quality
(Carmen). A class that at first was fragmented shifted to one where transac-
tional learning took place. That is to say, their writing became a function of
their circumstances, their motives, the subject they were writing about, and
the relationship between them and their prospective readers (Rosenblatt,
2004, pp. 1380). In an effort to learn what worked, Carmen asked students to
write about their experiences as part of an end of the year essay. She felt she
missed learning opportunities this year so she wanted to capitalize on the stu-
dents’ thinking early next year.
I am not really a good writer, but have enjoyed some of the writing assignments
you have given us. The fairy-tale assignment was my favorite. I like how you let us
write in slang, that was fun. The only book I liked this year was The Hunger Games
(Collins, 2008). I don’t know why, but maybe it was because the kids were kind of
like us, the kids have a little rebel inside all of them. (Jeff, pseudonym)
I saw you try to persuade your students into doing their work, and turning it in on
time, like we are supposed to, but what can you do, we are teenagers!... I like the
fact that you tried to come to terms after the break, you tried to build relationships
with us, which a lot of teachers don’t do. I didn’t experience this kind of relation-
ship with you in ninth grade. (John, pseudonym)
W r i t i ng In s tr u ct i o n
Overall, the other responses suggested that they appreciated the effort
Carmen made at the end of the semester to allow them to write about topics
that were of interest to them, but most were still concerned about the con-
stant testing.
Deciding to build student vocabulary and linguistic knowledge.
Concept and vocabulary development was central to Carmen’s teaching. How-
ever, the diversity of students’ linguistic abilities had to be a central focus. As
she introduced new vocabulary words like transmogrify, „invariable” and
shrewd, she used multimodal tools such as wikis, Google docs and other
online tools for example You-Tube videos and magazine articles to put these
words in context. When I asked why this action was important, she often men-
tioned that many students were thinking of taking college writing entrance
exams. It was a priority for the school district too. To get the students ready
for achievement exams like the SAT and ACT, she focused on powerful language
they might use to when writing about an author’s purpose, imagery, figurative
language, and use of proper diction. Using multimodal tools that might appeal to
today’s adolescents was a further attempt to engage students in learning.
Once Carmen knew students’ linguistic knowledge, she used it as a way to
engage in powerful writing. For instance, one time she asked students to write
their favorite fairy tale in slang as a way for students to think deeply about the
story, connect to theme, and then use their home language to make the story
unique. This activity was particularly engaging for the few English learners
because they could use slang.
Purposive explicit vocabulary development was an action that made a dif-
ference for students at the end of the semester as they took practice entrance
exams. Many students mentioned how these activities helped them as they
took the exams.
To support the students’ ability to pass the state of Texas yearly criterion-
based assessment Carmen introduced thinking strategies. However, she said
she only made explicit references to the state assessment two weeks prior to
the test. She said this decision and action was purposeful because she thought
that the students did not need much preparation and that students could do
other activities that were more meaningful.
Janet at Work in the ESL Classroom
CMWI instructional patterns. At the onset, Janet stressed that she
made decisions based on encouraging students to embrace their heritages and
use literature they encounter in school to mediate the world outside of school.
Powerful writing tasks in Janet’s class were chosen to allow students to expe-
J u a n J . A r a u jo , C ar ol D . W i ck s tr o m
rience choice, a wide variety of genres from poetry to narrative writing to ar-
gumentative writing. She mediated learning using technology like videos,
computer programs, and electronic translators. Students wrote poetry about
who they were, narratives about their experiences learning English, and reflec-
tive narrative about books they read.
Inviting students to take an inquiry stance through writing
I get so sad that their [my students’] sense of discovery is lost in high school… that
we are not letting our kids wonder in high school. (Janet, pseudonym)
Janet planned assignments so students could explore their own topics in-
cluding family, immigration, heroes, Greek Mythology, and learning English
through writing. She said that in her experience some students as they wrote
were simply regurgitating what teachers said, not what they had learned about
the topic. In class, she wanted to create environments where students were
free to question and wonder about what they were writing about. This ap-
proach was noticeable especially when learning became difficult for students.
For example, to introduce Greek Mythology she asked students to research
and write about the characteristics of heroes. At the beginning of the unit she
had students read aloud what they had found a hero to be. They used words
like strong, „helpful”, „trusting” and „does the right thing. As students
reported their findings, Janet made a poster with the vocabulary and hung it
on one of the class walls. As the reading progressed, the class spoke about
others’ words that describe heroes according to Greek Mythology. At the end
of the unit, Janet made an argument to the class that their ideas of heroes had
changed because of what they had noticed what characters do in the book.
They used words like „afraid,” „fearful,” „weak,” and „runs away from trouble.
Janet used writing workshop as the tool to promote inquiry. Janet’s action
set the learning contexts and conditions to make sure there was daily writing
time and opportunities to confer with students. This was apparent from the
first day of the observation and appeared to be the organizing framework for
instruction. A typical day in Janet’s class included the following:
8:30 Read self-selected book
8:40 Listen to announcements
8:45 Journal writing
8:50 Daily mini-lesson of the day (Reading/Writing)
9:20 Reading and Writing Workshop
10:00 Debriefing (status of the class)
W r i t i ng In s tr u ct i o n
While parts of the period seemed structured, the writing workshop time
was messy. That is to say, that there „appeared” to be no order or structure as
students wrote. Students weaved themselves around the writing process
seamlessly; this was seen through movement from computer stations to
desks, conversations between students, conferring sessions with Janet, and
individual trips to the library. In response to the question whether writing was
a messy process Janet responded:
Yeah! That’s a very accurate statement. But it’s really interesting; it takes a lot of ef-
fort to get the kids to be messy. They really think that they have to put it down per-
fectly the first time. (Janet, pseudonym)
During this time, students were in charge of their writing. Each owned
their powerful writing. Nevertheless, when students needed advice or were
stuck they were able to write their name on the board to confer with Janet
about their writing progress. At times, Janet would say to one student:
Jay, I’ve not seen your writing in a few days, sign your name on the board soon so
that I can get your status.
This action created positive, trusting relationship that Janet reported im-
proved student writing.
Deciding to support academic content knowledge. Janet took action
to find ways and provide writing support where possible. She said that one
way to do that was to find connections to their backgrounds or prior
knowledge”. Most times, the actions and decisions she made were appropri-
ate. At times the students struggled to connect to the themes of the story be-
cause of the writing language and prose and lack of personal connections.
I don’t think they have any prior knowledge [of Greek Mythology] so, I don’t think
they have something to hang on to [so it has been very difficult to accomplish any-
thing with this book]. (Janet)
Janet was also concerned about providing appropriate writing support
because of the various levels of language proficiency in the class. That is to
say, in Janet’s class there was a mix of emergent, beginning and intermediate
writers of English. These writers too came from different language back-
grounds (e.g., Hindi, Vietnamese, Korean, and Spanish) so it made it difficult
to choose one approach that worked for all students.
She said she thought about improving the students’ writing skills and al-
lowing them to explore on their own. To address concerns, Janet noticed and
planned writing mini-lessons that addressed frequent questions that came up
during the conferring time with students or what she noticed as she read stu-
dent papers.
J u a n J . A r a u jo , C ar ol D . W i ck s tr o m
Janet was also aware that in order for students to create powerful writing
they needed guidance citing work within their papers.
See, you put that in quotation marks, but that is not what the book says! It has to
be word for word. Write it word for word, don’t edit. You put in parenthesis what
you want to say. Therefore it tells the reader what YOU want to say. That’s a little
trick you can use. Don’t put what you infer, write it directly from the story. We are
truly playing a game here, when you change it, even if it’s minor, it can tip the scale.
Don’t add anything that is not in the text. (Janet, pseudonym)
Carmen and Janet use Writing as a Thinking Activity
At the beginning of the study Carmen assigned writing tasks that focused
on short answers to pop quizzes and end of the book exams which explicitly
asked surface-level knowledge (memory) questions about facts and dates. Still
she knew this was a recall activity.
I think in general a lot of them don’t want to read the things we tell them. I think
they go to the net and find out what the book is about to take the test. [Because of
this] they know the teacher will make the test harder. They still don’t care and
won’t read the book, they’re okay having 70s and 60s as long as they are not epical-
ly failing. (Carmen, pseudonym)
As the semester progressed Carmen shifted the purpose for writing from
just an assessment tool that tests memory recall to a tool that aided students
to think in convergent, divergent and evaluative ways (Ciardiello, 1998). In
other words, she asked students to use writing to take on roles of characters
in the books they were reading, hypothesize what could happen next/what
they would do in the characters shoes, justify the actions of characters, and
finally use writing to take a stand and defend a topic. The conferring process,
also, shifted throughout the semester. Sometimes, students were directed to
consult with other students, other times, they were asked to speak to the
teacher and outsiders about their work. While much of the work was done in
class it was okay for students to continue at home or afterschool. The writing
artifacts they turned in for grading, too, changed depending on the writing
tasks. Carmen’s students wrote short narratives about their lives, fiction sto-
ries, poems in the role of characters they were reading, movie scripts about
social issues they were researching, and mystery quickwrites. See Table 2 for
a selected list of writing tasks.
W r i t i ng In s tr u ct i o n
Table 2. Mainstream Writing Activities
Level of Ques-
tions /Inquiry
Comic Strip
Read aloud/
Story board
Research Project
Source: author’s work
This is what good readers and writers do, they don’t just read or write, they
think about what they are reading and writing about . (Janet, 2010)
The above excerpt illustrates Janet’s approach to literacy learning and
teaching. Students in Janet’s class were also expected to go beyond decoding
the text memorization. With their writing they were expected to explore
local and global issues. For example, in one writing assignment students
thought, spoke and wrote about the difficulty recent immigrants like them
have adjusting to a new language and culture; particularly, the similarities and
differences between characters they were reading and their personal stories.
To provide thinking options and strategies as students wrote about con-
nections between Esperanza from The House on Mango Street (Cisneros,
1984), Janet took action and provided a variety of tools.
Ok, this is just a thinking tool, we get to use dif ferent tools, ok, somebody
might use a plier to get a nail out others might use a hammer . (Janet)
For students, these tools seemed particularly useful during the criterion-
based assessment. Janet reported that all the students had successfully met the
passing criteria and all said that the thinking strategies were helpful. See Table 3
for a selected list of writing tasks.
J u a n J . A r a u jo , C ar ol D . W i ck s tr o m
Table 3. ESL Writing Activities
Level of
test practice
My Family
Read aloud
What Makes
English Hard
The Odyssey
Research Project
Research paper/
whole class
Source: author’s work
Janet used visual thinking tools like flip charts, journal writing, and graphic
organizers to brainstorm writing topics. She said that the purpose of these
thinking tools was to use them as scaffolds to connect knowledge to new
learning. The products that students submitted in Janet’s class were always the
same. The process was different depending on student comfort level with
the content. She often times used different sources (i.e., books, multimedia,
internet, copies) to vary content delivery. In sum, Carmen and Janet used
writing to promote reflection, differentiate learning processes and products,
and allow for choice and authenticity.
There are a few implications we can discuss that are applicable to writing
teachers working with English learners in mainstream or ESL classrooms.
Powerful writing happens when teacher actions consciously address the needs
of the students. As noted in Carmen’s and Janet’s classroom, teaching deci-
sions based on specific instructional patterns and resources make a difference.
Ball (2006) and others (Wickstrom et al., 2011) remind us that if we are to
engage culturally and linguistically diverse students in meaningful instruction,
writing topics ought to take into account and respect student voices and ideas.
Janet’s actions, in particular, remind us that teachers should create spaces where
students have voice and choice, their ideas are respected, and they can ask for
help anytime. As we have progressed through this analysis we have become
more aware of the positive influences these deliberate actions in respect to in-
quiry (Dewey, 1910; Burke & Hartse & Short, 1995; Wilhelm, 2007) and writing
workshop (Atwell, 1987) make to student writing quality.
W r i t i ng In s tr u ct i o n
Power writing happens when teachers seek for literature that takes into
account students’ perspectives and backgrounds. Today, publishers in the
United States and throughout the world are making it more possible for
teachers to find appropriate literature. For example, the International Board
on Books for Young People ( mission is to promote interna-
tional understanding through the use of children’s books. Other sites include
Worlds of Words ( where teachers can find book titles and
reviews for all audiences.
Powerful writing happens when teachers use writing workshop as an in-
structional framework. Although writing workshop (Atwell, 1987) in adoles-
cent classrooms has a long history, this is not the case in English learners set-
tings. In the United States, the National Writing Project (1971) through its
invitational summer institute took action and made it possible for many in-
service teachers to experience this approach first hand and then take and
make their own in Kindergarten through high school classrooms.
We, too, certainly understand the concerns and the importance about
how to provide skills development and explicit vocabulary opportunities for
students of all language proficiencies. In our experience, we have seen teach-
ers who just focus on skill development and others who just focus on the
process of writing. Carmen and Janet teach us though that it is possible to
development language skills through mini-lessons and during conferring time.
They also remind us that as teachers we need to capitalize on students’ multi-
ple resources. The purpose of writing (literacy in general) is not to just im-
prove language skills or go through its process; rather it is to develop the
whole person using meaningful activities (Freire, 1970; Holdaway, 1979;
Vygotsky, 1978).
Powerful writing instruction happens in a school setting where both
teachers and administrators are willing to create a culture of writing. Where
teachers use writing as an instructional framework and routinely ask students
to use writing to express themselves and develop their ideas through writing.
The Common Core ELA Standard 10 asks school districts to write routinely
over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and
shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, pur-
poses, and audiences.
J u a n J . A r a u jo , C ar ol D . W i ck s tr o m
The actions Carmen and Janet took provide some evidence that educa-
tors make a difference to students in an environment where writing is fre-
quent, supported by tasks that are engaging to students, and ask them to think
in multiple ways and for different purposes. These two cases add to the body
of literature which supports using writing as means to build expertise, chal-
lenge thinking, and go beyond using it as an assessment tool.
The actions Carmen and Janet made provide some interesting questions
for further research. What, if any, writing differences exist in a classroom
where the focus is skill development compared to a class where the focus is
powerful writing? What, if any, are the differences of a writer’s workshop ap-
proach in a mainstream classroom compared to an ESL classroom? And fi-
nally, how does a writer’s workshop approach provide support for English
language learners of all language proficiencies? We call on literacy researchers
to pursue these complex inquiries to help teachers make a difference for their
Applebee, Arthur N. & Langer, Judith A. (2013). Writing instruction that works: Proven methods
for middle and high school classrooms. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Araujo, Juan (2013). Expanding the learning zone: Decisions that transform the practices of
two English language arts teachers. 35th Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers
Yearbook, (pp. 87107). Louisville, KY: Association of Literacy Educators and Researchers.
Atwell, Nancie (1987). In the middle: Writing, reading, and learning with adolescents . Montclair,
NJ: Boynton & Cook Publishers.
Baker, Colin (2008). Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism . Bristol, UK: Multilin-
gual Matters.
Ball, Arnetha F. (2006). Teaching writing in culturally diverse classrooms. In: C. A. MacAr-
thur, S. Graham, J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Handbook of writing research , (pp. 293310). New
York, NY: The Guildford Press.
Brophy, Jere E. & Good, Thomas L. (1986). Teacher behavior and student achievement.
In: M. C. Wittrock (Ed.), Handbook of research on teaching , 3rd edition, (pp. 328375).
New York: McMillan.
Burke, Carolyn & Harste, Jerome & Short, Kathy (1995). Creating classrooms for authors and
inquirers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Ciardiello, Angelo V. (1998). Did you ask a good question today? Alternative cognitive and
metacognitive strategies. Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy, 43, 2, 210219.
Cisneros, Sandra (1984). The house on Mango Street. New York, NY: Arte Publico Press.
Collins, Suzanne (2008). The hunger games. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.
Common Core State Initiative Standards (2015). English language arts standards: Writing 910.
Retrieved from:
W r i t i ng In s tr u ct i o n
Creswell, John W. (2013). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches .
New Berry Park, CA: Sage Publications.
Delpit, Lisa (1987). Skills and other dilemmas of a progressive black educator. Equity and
Choice, 3, 2, 914.
Dewey, John (1910). Science as subject-matter and as method. Science, 31, 121127.
Edelsky, Carole (1986). Writing in the bilingual program: Habia una vez. Norwood: NJ. Abex.
Englert, Carol S. & Mariage, Troy V. & Dunsmore, Kailonnie (2010). Tenets of sociocultural
theory in writing instruction. In: C. A. MacActhur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.),
Handbook of Writing Research, (pp. 208221). New York: Guilford Press.
Freire, Paulo (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY: Continuum.
Fu, Danling (2009). Writing between languages: How English language learners make the trans i-
tion to fluency. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Gallagher, Kelly (2006). Teaching adolescent writers. NY: Stenhouse Publications.
Gambrell, Linda B. & Malloy, Jacquelynn A. & Mazzoni, Suzan A. (2011). Evidenced based
best practices for comprehensive literacy instruction. In: L. B. Gambrell, L. M. Morrow
(Eds.), Best practices in literacy instruction, 4th edition, (pp. 1136). New York, NY: Guil-
Gonzales, Linda Northcutt & Watson, Daniel (1986). Sheltered English teaching handbook.
Carlsbad, CA: Northcutt, Watson, and Gonzalez.
Graham, Steve & Perin, Dolores (2007). Writing next: Effective strategies to improve writing of
adolescents in middle and high school. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.
Holdaway, Don (1979). The foundations of literacy. New York, NY: Ashton Scholastic.
Homer (1996) The Odyssey. (R. Fagles, Trans.). New York, NY: Penguin Books.
Krashen, Stephen D. (1987). Principles and practices in second language acquisition . Prentice Hall
Kwok, Michelle N. & Ganding, Exequiel & Hull, Glynda A. & Moje, Elizabeth B. (2016).
Sociocultural approaches to high school instruction: Examining the roles of context,
positionality, and power. In: C. A. MacActhur, S. Graham, & J. Fitzgerald (Eds.), Hand-
book of Writing Research, 2nd edition, (pp. 257271). New York: Guilford Press.
McCarthey, Sarah & Mkhize, Dumisile (2013). Teachers' orientations towards writing instruc-
tion. Journal of Writing Research, 4, 4, 133.
Merriam, Sharan B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Moll, Luis C. & Amanti, Cathy & Neff, Deborah & Gonzalez, Norma (1992). Funds of
knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms.
Theory into Practice , 31, 2, 132141.
Moll, Luis C. (1989). Teaching second language students: A Vygotskian perspective. In:
D. Johnson & S. Roen (Eds.), Richness in writing, (pp. 5769). NY: Longman.
National Assessment of Educational Progress (2011). The nation’s report card: Writing 2011 .
Retrieved from:
Patterson, Leslie & Wickstrom, Carol & Roberts, Jennifer & Araujo, Juan, & Hoki, Chieko
(Winter 2010). Deciding when to step in and when to back off: Culturally mediated writ-
ing instruction for adolescent English language learners. The Tapestry Journal, 2, 2, p. 128.
J u a n J . A r a u jo , C ar ol D . W i ck s tr o m
Patton, Michael Q. (2001). Qualitative evaluation and research methods (3rd ed.). Newbury Park,
CA: Sage Publications.
Peregoy, Suzanne F. & Boyle, Owen F. (2012). Reading, writing and learning in ESL:
A resource book (6th edition). Boston, MA: Pearson Publications.
Rosenblatt, Louise M. (2004). The transactional theory of reading and writing. In:
R. B. Rudell, N. J. Unrau (Eds.), Theoretical models and processes of reading , 5th edition,
(pp. 13631398). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.
Salinger, Jerome D. (1951). Catcher in the rye. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.
Shavelson, Richard J. (1973). The basic teaching skill: Decision-making. Stanford, CA: Stanford
University School of Education Center for R & D Teaching.
Texas Education Agency (2013). Writing scores for end of course exams for fall 2012.
Retrieved from:
Vygotsky, Lev S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wickstrom, Carol & Araujo, Juan & Patterson, Leslie (with Hoki, Chieko, & Roberts, Jen-
nifer) (2011). Teachers prepare students for careers and college: “I see you”, therefore
I can teach you. In: P. Dunston, K. H. Gambrell, P. Stecker, S. Fullerton, V. Gillis,
& C. C. Bates (Eds.), 60th Literacy Research Association Yearbook, (pp. 113126). Oak
Creek, WI: Literacy Research Association.
Wilhelm, Jeffrey D. (2007). Engaging readers and writers with inquiry: Promoting deep unde r-
standings in language arts and content areas with guiding questions. New York: Scholastic.
Warsztaty pisania ich znaczenie dla uczących się języka angielskiego
ABSTRAKT: Korzystając z naturalistycznej, jakościowej metodologii w artykule
zaprezentowane zostaną działania dwóch nauczycieli języka angielskiego
w szkole średniej, angażujących się w zaspokajanie potrzeb młodzieży w zakre-
sie nauczania języka. Wnioski sugerują, że najbardziej efektywnymi metodami
nauki i osiągania sukcesu przez uczniów są: znajomość źródeł, opieranie się na
wiedzy językowej, poświęcenie czasu na wybór odpowiednich książek i aktyw-
ności, wyraźne formułowanie zasad rządzących warsztatem pisarskim, a także
traktowanie pisania jako czynności nierozerwalnie połączonej z myśleniem.
SŁOWA KLUCZOWE: pisanie, rozwój zawodowy, edukacja nauczycieli, młodzież,
nauka języka angielskiego
... It is unclear whether they took for granted the embedded skills lessons, or whether they did not find the lesson objective relevant to their own writing. Research (Araujo and Wickstrom 2017) shows that writing instruction involves a great deal of decision-making on the part of both the teacher and the student. Writing teachers must be prepared to match texts to students' needs and interests. ...
Full-text available
Today, reading aloud is considered ‘a significant component of instruction across grade levels’; particularly as a tool for teaching reading in elementary classrooms. It is basically an essential literacy practice for all student teachers to understand how to implement. In this study, authors understand the importance of modelling effective read-aloud practices and they demonstrate how they support engagement in reading and writing instruction with undergraduate students. Student teachers responded to the read alouds using reflective essays, and tables. Themes emerged that indicated that the use of read alouds in the undergraduate classrooms enhanced their understanding of identity, pedagogy, and empathy.
... One might argue that if teachers concentrated on teaching the required writing skills over the course of grades K-12, students should be able to produce critical writing as a natural result of 13 years of public schooling. On the contrary, research has shown that test-driven, formulaic writing does not automatically translate into enduring skills that enable students to produce appropriately written texts for all purposes (Araujo & Wickstrom, 2017;Dean, 2010). We suggest that ESL and ELA teachers who seek critical literacy should have their students engage in writing about social or community issues that are directly relevant to their lives (Teitelbaum, 2010). ...
The authors showcase critical, participatory literacy as a motivator for English learners’ literacy development. The urban middle school English learners reported in this narrative metamorphosed from reluctant to empowered writers when they inserted themselves into the local politics of school district zoning. Their investment in the zoning issue provided a base for learning argumentative writing as part of state English language arts standards. The students experienced writing as an action that brings about change after receiving a personal response from the superintendent of the school district: a profound realization that the way they view the world matters. Most important, they learned that as active participants, their voices can contribute to the making of a just society.
This article explores how one urban high school under threat of state closure developed a multifaceted literacy program to transform the teaching and learning of literacy in a novel university/school partnership. Analyses of ethnographic and quantitative school data illustrate how the evolution of the literacy program could be understood as a consequence of generative frictions which produced changes in the program and some indication of changes in understanding of literacy and of students’ needs. We weave a story of multiple layers of changed curriculum, scheduling, assessments, and pedagogy to argue that we need to rethink the continuum of autonomous and ideological literacy to focus more on what the intersections of literacy ideologies generate.
Full-text available
This article presents two case studies that document the decisions of two secondary English language arts teachers in ninth and eleventh grade classrooms who are working with English learners. These teachers were interviewed and observed in their classrooms during the spring semester to investigate their decision-making during literacy instruction. Findings suggest that when decisions focused on building relationships, inquiry instruction, and students' interests and mediated the resources around them, students deeply connected to the learning. One teacher saw students as instructional partners and overtly focused decisions on improved engagement and participation. The other teacher overtly and deliberately focused on empathy, caring and meaningful connections to help students make sense of their academic worlds.
Full-text available
Culturally Mediated Writing Instruction invites students to take an inquiry stance toward issues of interest and significance—exploring issues, framing questions, gathering information, synthesizing findings into messages, publishing or presenting their findings, and assessing their efforts before moving on to other inquiries. CMWI can be seen as a rich and dynamic landscape of literacy tasks, routines, practices, materials, and dialogues that invites students to ask questions and to look for answers to those questions. Data from four high-school classrooms illustrate that CMWI teachers made interdependent and layered instructional decisions in response to students' needs, and that they provided mediation toward for primary goals or instructional targets: confidence and risk-taking; concept development and content knowledge; skills and strategies for meaning-making; and linguistic awareness and cross-linguistic transfer.
Full-text available
Literacy educators may dismiss the recent outcry about the U. S. school "crisis" as an emotional and perhaps cynical bid for political gain and private profit, but the drop-out rate and college-going rate highlight an urgent, legitimate concern about whether all students are being served. Admittedly, multiple factors influence how and whether individual adolescents are able to negotiate various cultural, linguistic, economic, emotional, and academic challenges, many of which are clearly beyond the control of school personnel. The quality of instruction, however, is one significant factor we should be able to influence (Darling-Hammond, 2000). Increasingly, literacy research focuses on improving our support of these students, particularly English learners, toward eventual success in the workplace and in post-secondary educational settings, but few publications specifically address the complexities inherent in writing instruction for secondary English learners. The purpose of this study is to examine two high school teachers' decisions about writing instruction, aiming to prepare students for careers and college readiness. The question addressed in this paper is, " How do two high school teachers mediate English learners' academic writing in preparation for careers and college? " BACKGROUND OF THE LARGER STUDY
Rev.& expanded from Case study research in education,1988.Incl.bibliographical references,index
Classroom instruction can be aided by training students in question generation. This article is directed to middle school, junior high, secondary, and postsecondary content area teachers to encourage student questioning instruction as a basis for higher level thinking about subject matter.
PART ONE: CONCEPTUAL ISSUES IN THE USE OF QUALITATIVE METHODS The Nature of Qualitative Inquiry Strategic Themes in Qualitative Methods Variety in Qualitative Inquiry Theoretical Orientations Particularly Appropriate Qualitative Applications PART TWO: QUALITATIVE DESIGNS AND DATA COLLECTION Designing Qualitative Studies Fieldwork Strategies and Observation Methods Qualitative Interviewing PART THREE: ANALYSIS, INTERPRETATION, AND REPORTING Qualitative Analysis and Interpretation Enhancing the Quality and Credibility of Qualitative Analysis