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Writing Instruction 

Most of my language instruction research and writing has focused on reading, because we typically see more research and more debate in this area. However, the question does come up, What about writing? Truthfully, I have been so focused on reading instruction research, I have not spent a lot of time examining this research. This week, I decided to finally tackle the topic. However, much to my surprise there is very little research in this area, compared to reading. While I was able to find a couple of meta-analyses on the topic, some of them had very narrow focuses, or did not include effect sizes. That being said, the most comprehensive study on the topic appeared to be conducted by Gillespie, Et al in 2014. Their meta-analysis included 43 studies and weighted for study quality. Their study included studies looking at students with diagnosed learning disabilities, in grades 1-12. They found the following results:

Definitions: As written by Gilespie, Et al. 

Strategy Instruction:

Involved modeling how to use specific strategies for planning, writing, revising, and/or editing text and incorporated student practice of the strategies in at least two sessions with the goal of independent use over time.


Process Writing: Writing, which consisted of students engaging in cycles of planning, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing their writing, sustained time for writing for authentic purposes and authentic audiences, and instruction conducted in mini-lessons to target students’ writing needs as they arose;


Prewriting: Writing, which involved students participating in activities such as brainstorming or using a graphic organizer to help generate and organize ideas for their writing.


Procedural Facilitation: 

Writing, which included supports for students such as verbal prompts or cue cards that facilitated planning, writing, or revising compositions.


goal setting, which involved providing students with a goal for their writing (e.g., include elements of a persuasive essay) or students choosing their own goals for writing


Diction:  Dictation to a scribe or into a tape recorder.



Obviously strategy instruction was the big winner of this meta-analysis, as it was the only pedagogical strategy that was a high yield strategy. However, goal setting dictation, and process writing all looked like they could also have a moderate impact. That being said, I have always been hesitant to strongly advocate for dictation. I think dictation makes sense when we have low level reading students, cross curricular work or comprehension work, as it allows students to participate in more normal classroom instruction. However, I also think we can make a strong rationalist argument that if we want students to improve their writing, they themselves need to practice writing. 


One weakness for this meta-analysis is that it limited its focus to special education students. Which might make it less generalizable to other student populations. However, usually studies on special education studies show the same strategies work, but with more muted results. Another weakness, seems to be that this research included so few strategies in its analysis. However, this seems likely more a reflection of the fact that language research is heavily biased towards reading. 


Written by Nathaniel Hansford

Last Edited, 2022-04-11



Gillespie, A., & Graham, S. (2014). A Meta-Analysis of Writing Interventions for Students With Learning Disabilities. Exceptional Children, 80(4), 454–473.

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