Strategies for Successful learning

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For many children, the writing process does not come naturally. Like all skills, writing must be practiced. All students can learn to write well through the guidance and assistance of a teacher. Instructing students to think strategically about the writing process through explicit instruction affords students a skill with significance far beyond the classroom. Instruction which takes into account the multiple learning styles of students and offers visual cues through use of graphic organizers ensures every student experiences success. Likewise, instruction enlightened by assessment improves quality of writing, and provides a clear roadmap for success.

Learning about the writing process allows learners to become more confident in their ability to write. Studies (Lam & Law 2007, Kieczykowski, 2000) concur students who are weak writers spend less time planning, while students with strong writing abilities spend more time planning and revising, and pay more attention to content and organization. Therefore, students can greatly benefit from explicit instruction programs such as Writer's Workshop where mini-lessons on the writing process build a foundation of effective writing strategies. According to Conroy, Marchand, and Webster (2009), "Mini-lessons allow for multiple intelligences to be reached, skills to be developed, and students to stay engaged" (p. 21). Writer's Workshop involves one-on-one conferences between teacher and student, opportunities for students to experience four different types of writing: shared writing, interactive writing, guided writing, and independent writing (Kieczykowski, 2001), and opportunities for students to share their work.

Graphic organizers help students develop ideas by visually organizing thoughts in a systematic way. Utilizing graphic organizers as a prewriting activity encourages students to become strategic learners (Ellis, 2004). Similarly, "Reading and writing skills, communication skills, and analytical, critical, and creative thinking skills are all subject to improve when students learn to recognize these patterns of thinking construct, and use graphic organizers" (Ellis, 2004, p.6). Visual aids encourage the free flow of ideas, and promote connections between thoughts by requiring higher-order thinking. Encouraging students to draw out ideas allows students to visualize what their writing will look like and how to appropriately present information (Auman, 2003).

Assessment is an imperative ingredient of writing instruction. Assessment must drive instruction. Through assessment, a teacher can determine which students are having difficulty, and with what aspect of the writing process a student may be struggling. Fortunately, many methods used to analyze writing skills and motivate students exist including pre and post writing samples, rubrics, graphic organizers, and teacher observation.

Children enter the classroom excited to talk and share stories. Yet, student's verbal, expressive, and often animated abilities do not always translate to a talent for written communication. When asked, students are often hesitant to write experiences down. According to Pinson (1995), "One of the hardest jobs we have as teachers is to take very verbal children and get them to write" (p. 66). For many students, the writing process can be an overwhelming task fraught with hurdles that prevent the free flow of ideas. Writing curriculum must overcome student's reluctance towards written communication by teaching writing strategies, instructing to the multiple intelligences, and through the aid of graphic organizers. (Conroy, Marchand &Webster, 2009). Likewise, an essential facet of any writing program includes the exercise of assessment from which instruction is derived.

Teaching children to read is one of the most valuable abilities an educator can endow. For younger grades, where emphasis is on alphabetic principles and phonics, emergent literacy becomes the focus of instruction. However, in upper elementary grades, "No longer is instruction focused on learning to read; emphasis is now placed on reading to learn" (Allington & Johnson, 2002). Many students learn to read, but lack the ability to comprehend and apply what is read in a meaningful way- a talent of particular importance to students in upper elementary grades and beyond. Students at all grade levels need explicit explanations of reading strategies, a model to follow, and guidance in applying new skills to be successful. Similarly, teachers can better serve students if assessment is used to inform instruction.

Reading achievement is accomplished through explicit teacher explanation of strategies and methods needed to comprehend text. The Institute for Research on Teaching (1984) found, "teachers…who explicitly present the information needed to learn skills will be more effective in producing student outcomes than teachers who do not" (p. 5). Student awareness of learning objectives empowers students with the information necessary to succeed. Delivery of reading strategies helps students uncover meaning from what is read. As a result, metacognitive abilities are employed and further developed.

Metacognitive abilities do not come naturally to all students. Therefore, teacher modeling and guided practice are essential elements for reading success. Teachers must model mental processes, provide reasons as to why the mental process is useful, and illustrate clear examples of the skill being performed. Just as we must walk before we run, proficiency in writing must be modeled, and guided under direction.

Assessment plays a central role in developing student's reading talents by informing instruction, thereby enhancing learning. Use of data from formative assessment, oral assessment, benchmark testing, and DIBLES, improves the ability of teachers to reach all students. According to the Institute for Research on Teaching (1984), assessment allows teachers to be strategic and metacognitive about their instruction in the same way students are asked to be strategic and metacognitive about using skills to obtain meaning from text.

Explicit skill instruction is crucially important to reading achievement as student awareness of reading techniques improves comprehension. Explicit instruction improves reading proficiency from students beginning in Kindergarten and continuing throughout a student's academic career. Strategy based reading programs promote higher level thinking, "teaches students how to monitor their comprehension levels, and instills a love of reading by using real books" (Gibson, 2009, p. 7). Scaffolding and modeling new skills will solidify student learning. In addition, assessment, as a powerful learning tool, will assist a teacher by recognizing a student's strengths and weaknesses.

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