Classroom Caffeine

A Conversation with Steve Graham

August 02, 2022 Lindsay Persohn Season 3 Episode 5
Classroom Caffeine
A Conversation with Steve Graham
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Graham is known for his work in writing development and writing instruction for both writers developing typically and writers with special needs. Steve has authored or co-authored over 300 journal articles, over 100 book chapters, 5 books, edited nearly 20 books or book series, and has contributed to reports for the International Literacy Association, the What Works Clearinghouse, and the Alliance for Excellence in Education. In 2021, he received the William S Gray Citation of Merit from the International Literacy Association and in 2018 he was elected to the Reading Hall of Fame. Dr. Steve Graham is a Regents and the Warner Professor in the Division of Leadership and Innovation in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University.

To cite this episode:
Persohn, L. (Host). (2022, Aug 2). A conversation with Steve Graham. (Season 3, No. 5) [Audio podcast episode]. In Classroom Caffeine Podcast series. https://www.classroomcaffeine.com/guests.DOI: 10.5240/84F9-75E9-365C-52B4-2CC8-8

Lindsay Persohn:

Education research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. Classroom Caffeine is here to help. In each episode, I talk with a top education researcher or an expert educator about what they have learned from years of research and experiences. In this episode, Dr. Steve Graham talks to us about self regulation, the motivation to write, and the kinds of writing practices that have an impact in classrooms. Dr. Graham is known for his work in writing development and writing instruction for both writers developing typically and writers with special needs. Steve has authored or co authored over 300 journal articles, over 100 book chapters, five books, edited nearly 20 books or book series, and has contributed to reports for the International Literacy Association, the What Works Clearinghouse, and the Alliance for Excellence in Education. In 2021, he received the William S Gray Citation of Merit Award from the International Literacy Association, and in 2018, he was elected to the Reading Hall of Fame. Dr. Steve Graham is a Regents and the Warner Professor in the division of Leadership and Innovation in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. For more information about our guest, stay tuned to the end of this episode. So pour a cup of your favorite drink. And join me your host, Lindsay Persohn, for Classroom Caffeine, research to energize your teaching practice. Steve, thank you for joining me, welcome to the show.

Steve Graham:

Thank you. Glad to be here.

Lindsay Persohn:

So from your own experiences and education, will you share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking now?

Steve Graham:

I'm going to share both a personal experience from my childhood but also a personal experience as a teacher. When I was 6, 7, 8, 9, and a little bit into 10 years old, if you saw my report card, you'd see the same thing from different teachers in different places, because I moved three or four times during that period, about my performance in the classroom. And they would always say, can't sit still, can't be quiet, can't keep his hands off of others, I had excess of energy. As I grew up, I started thinking about this and it really led to my interest in terms of working particularly with kids with special needs, kids who find school challenging. But what I realized is that, you know, I mentioned the energy level, but it also was an issue around self regulation, that I have difficulty regulating my behavior, difficulty regulating my attention, and my emotions, etc. And the reason that influenced me is that my wife, Karen Harris, who I met in 1979, so a long time ago, had been doing some work with kids who were extremely shy in social situations. And she had been applying an approach called Cognitive Behavior Modification at the time, and particularly had been following a guy named Don Meichenbaum and who is a psychiatrist. And basically what they did was they worked on self regulatory procedures, in terms of helping kids regulate their behavior, in this case on what she was doing was in social situations around, you know, taking the lead and talking, being able to respond to other people so that the social interactions work better for the kids she was working with. And I had a burning interest in writing and he started talking about how we could work together. And she designed an approach called Self Regulated Strategy Development. And basically, what that approach did, it's been applied and reading now, but mostly in writing is that we taught kids task specific strategies for say planning and creating a persuasive essay or an informative essay, or a story. And it often focused on the planning aspects in terms of using the basic elements of genres. You know, like if you're writing persuasion, you know what the building blocks are. So to help kids generate and organize ideas, but at the same time, we built into it, goal setting procedures for students to guide their process, both in terms of using the strategy, regulating the writing process and the behaviors, as well as self monitoring and self evaluation techniques, and for some kids, even self instruction. Things that they would say to themselves, that in a sense, we didn't say Don't say this, what we tried to get them to do is think about something that you'd say that would help them at that particular point. And so the reason that was important for me is it connected directly to my childhood and lifelong nemesis of self regulation, but put it in a package that we then started working with kids with, who had been identified as having learning disabilities to see if it was effective. And it was very effective in terms of improving their writing performance. We moved from there to kids who have behavioral and emotional challenges, kids with ADHD, kids who are deaf and hard of hearing. And then eventually, we started moving into the regular classroom as well. And so in many ways, what has to defined my interest in terms of teaching, education, educational research, has centered greatly around this idea of self regulation. Strategies help you regulate the behavior, your mental behaviors and physical behaviors. But these other things like goal setting, self monitoring, self evaluation, self reinforcement, self talk, if you'd like also help you regulate various aspects of your work around the task that you're using the strategy for. The other thing that influenced me greatly was I lived in along the Georgia, Florida, when I was first the teacher. And I taught in a school that was very impoverished on what you might call in a town of 50,000, the south side of the tracks, so to speak. And I worked with kids with special needs, mostly kids with learning disabilities, and behavioral and emotional difficulties. And I had the toughest kid in the elementary school in my class, where he comes to come and work with me for an hour a day. And we mostly worked on reading, but we worked on other things as well. And the first time I put a book in front of his kid, he broke out crying, which was a small group of other kids. So for him, that was as embarrassing as it could get. And, you know, he felt that he lost great faith. But what I realized if I was going to get anywhere else, I needed to change how I was approaching the task with him. A book just wasn't going to do it. So we ended up starting, I create little silly things to read and we started there. And we moved up to paragraphs, eventually a page from a book and larger parts. But what I realized also was not only was going to have to restructure instructional tasks to be successful, but motivation was particularly critical in this case. Now, this actually dovetails together with the story I was saying about SRSD because when we design this, or when Karen design it, and we started testing it out, one of the things that we were really interested in we want kids to we want the kids to be better writers, right. But we were working with kids who didn't like to write, their motivation for writing was extremely low. And they had had plenty of opportunities to feel that one they couldn't like in second, you know, I hate to use the word failure here, but that's the way that they viewed it. We also knew that their knowledge about the types of genres we were asking them to write about was pretty sparse, in many ways. And, you know, their strategic approach to writing was basically get a line down on paper if they could, and they were done. And so we wanted to address all three of those. But I'd become increasingly convinced that the emotional and motivational part of this was particularly important. And what was really helpful in terms of SRSD approach to bring it back around again, is that we restructured our instruction so that they could be nothing but successful, and they could see their success. And we really pushed in a way to have them attribute success to effort and the use of what they were learning. So for example, we would introduce a strategy and describe it and explain it to them and talk about it with them until we felt that they understood it, and then we'd model how to use it with them helping us. And what we would do is, you know, let's say that we were generating a persuasive text, we would look to see if we got those basic elements, and how many of those in our text and if they were good quality, and we'd graft that performance together, and then they compare that back to something they've written before. And so obviously, you're gonna see a jump because we're working with them. But then we model again, but they would take a greater lead. We might model a third time they would take a greater lead almost full lead, and then they would start doing it with a peer. And we've moved gradually to doing it independently. All the way along they're recording how they're doing. And when we conference with them, we'd ask them, why do you think you're doing so good when we compare back to what you originally did, and you know, we would always lead that conversation to working hard and using what you've learned. And so, you know, what we would see is that efficacy for writing became stronger and more powerful. And one of the things that we know is that if you're more efficacious, you're more likely to do a task, you're more likely to persevere to task, and to do better. So those would be the two things that I think were very influential for me, in terms of thinking about the work I do today. And the work I do as a teacher.

Lindsay Persohn:

Steve, the idea of motivation to write, I feel like myself, as a writer, I don't know if I really understood the purpose for writing until maybe I was even an adult, right? Because I think so often in school, writing is a school based task. But once we understand that this is how we share our ideas and how we communicate with the rest of the world, I think it really does tap into a different sense of motivation for writing, once once the task becomes more authentic.

Steve Graham:

So I want to give you, I agree with you, 100%. And I'm gonna say something first, it's a little contradictory. And then I'm gonna give an example of what what you said that relates to my daughter when she was in school in fifth grade. Motivation and writing are a little tricky. So what we typically see is that students motivation, and there's a lot of different aspects to motivation. There's things like whether you value writing, see it, as you know, being something useful, what your motives are for writing, whether you feel your're efficacious, what your attitudes are in orientation, goal orientation, providing so I don't want to present this as a single construct, it's a very complex thing. But one of the things that we see is that kids come to school, in general, pretty motivated to write just like they do in reading. But we see a larger drop in motivation for writing than for reading. And I think it relates in part to, something that you said is that kids often don't understand the purposes that they're, you know, for writing that they're engaging in in school. So I think one of the things that are behooves us as teachers to try to do as much as possible, is to make sure the students know why they're writing something, to make our writing task as real and purposeful as possible, and to ensure that there's an audience whenever that task makes sense. Now, you know, there are some tasks where we write where we don't need an audience we're writing to help us understand something better. But I'm not sure that kids always understand that when we asked him to do something, so we need to be really clear about that. The second thing is, is that, you know, who's the audience for most things that kids write in school? Historically, and traditionally, it's the teacher. So he learned to write for the teacher. But you know, that's not necessarily a motivating thing for 95% of the kids. So I said, I'd say something about my daughter. My daughter went to a wonderful Quaker school in the Washington, DC area, near the University of Maryland. And one thing is that you can bet is almost a rite of passage if you live in DC, Virginia, Delaware, or Maryland, is at sometime as an elementary school kid, you're going to save the Chesapeake Bay. So the Chesapeake Bay has been in decline forever. So this isn't going to sound like writing, say this but when she was in fifth grade, her class decided that they would save the Chesapeake Bay by trying to make a small stream that ran behind their school, they were going to make it clean or cleaner. And so, you know, again, what's I got to do with writing, but they wrote three letters. One they sent to the Washington Post that didn't get published. One that was sent to the University of Maryland's College Park newsletter that didn't get published, and was basically asking, you know, college students not to throw their trash into the stream that ran behind their school. And actually, I said three, it was it was four, two letters that got published in the College Park newspaper that they did. So that was one thing. They wrote two grants as a class that they submitted to the College Park government. One of them got some funding on it. They wrote letters that they put in every mailbox within the community in which the school was at. They held two or three rallies, I don't remember the exact number, but they had signs that they wrote their messages on. So something that doesn't sound like writing had a lot of writing embedded in it. And you would never know that they were writing because you will often hear him grumble about writing but in this case, because they saw it as an important thing that they were doing with a real purpose that they that they accepted as an important purpose for thenm, you know, all the teacher had to do is basically get out of the way, and let them go. Now, I'd love to say that every writing assignment that we give to kids can be like that I, you know. I wish I had 100 pockets full of those assignments to pass out. But I do think we can probably do a better job. I remember once being in a classroom and I saw that the teacher was having kids write a letter. And I asked her after the lesson, who they sending the letter to. And basically, she said, no one. And it was an activity in a basal reading program that she was following through on. And I thought this could have been so easy to make this letter to say, whether it's principal, whether it's to somebody at some organization, whether it's to your best friend, you know, that would have been a real writing task. So I think we want to look for those opportunities to increase student's motivation around writing task. And that's one way to do it.

Lindsay Persohn:

I think that idea of an authentic writing task, right, one that has a honest purpose and potentially an audience, or helps us to understand the writing process itself, right, that not everything is a final published piece. But sometimes writing is our space for thinking if we don't have an ultimate audience, I think even sharing those what shouldn't be secrets about writing, right, but sometimes become secrets about writing, sharing that with kids can have such a tremendous impact on the way they view their writing task and that purpose for writing. So I appreciate that story about saving the Chesapeake because I can I can envision kids getting excited about this, and that, again, writing for that authentic purpose in order to serve their mission. So, So Steve, what else do you want listeners to know about your

Steve Graham:

So one of the things that we've been involved work? in for quite a while now is trying to figure out or determine what kinds of practices teachers can bring to bear in the classroom that are likely to have positive impact. Now, I want to preface this with with a comment here. Just because something works in a research study doesn't mean it's going to work in a teacher's individual classroom. The situations are different. In a research study, there's extra support, you know, if the teachers carrying out something, they kind of know somebody's watching, to see if they're doing it. And so sometimes they put aside the pressures that they, you know, to keep doing whatever they're doing in the study that they might have put aside their instruction in a regular school day to do so just because it works in a study doesn't mean it's going to work in your classroom. But if it works in multiple studies, then I feel more comfortable saying, hey, this has got a good chance to work in your situation. You may have to make adaptation in it so that if it's your students, and your teaching approach, and you know what you're doing, but I think if you monitor it, then it's worth taking a look at. And so we've conducted, I think, somewhere close to 20 meta analysis now, as well as doing individual intervention studies to take a look at what works. And one of the things that I find this very interesting is I can boil down effective instruction to five words. Now, of course, there's a lot more than five words, but one of those words is write. Kids have to write. You know, if you want them to become better writers, that's an integral part of the process. And the evidence suggests is that when we increase how much time students write, and that can be by 45 minutes, what we find is, there's a positive impact not only on the quality of what they're writing, but on their reading comprehension on norm referenced standardized test. Now, they're not huge effects on either one of those. They're what we might think of as, I think of it is, you know, you're dancing on the street effects. So you're not dancing on top of the Empire State Building, you're not dancing on top of the moon, but it's a visible and significant effect and you get that in a pretty easy way. Having kids write improves both their writing and their reading. Now I'd love to say to you, hey, that's enough. That's all you have to do. But the reality is, the effects aren't large enough, really, to push kids forward as much as we'd like and writing is really complex. I mean, every different genre has different kinds of rules and aspects to it that you need to master. You know, even something like sentence construction is a complex task. So another thing that I think is very important is we need to teach. That would be my second word here. And there's a lot of things we could teach, but you know, we only have so much time. It's a really crowded curriculum. So if you said to me, what are the things that make a difference when we teach them? Well, one thing is very certain is we if we teach kids how to plan and how to revise their compositions. If we teach them strategies for doing that, particularly if they're set up around specific genres of writing, there's a strong I'm not, we're not talking about a small effect now, we're talking about dancing on the moon effect, in terms of quality of students writing. For younger kids in kindergarten through grade three, it's very important that we teach them handwriting, spelling, and increasingly typing. If we don't, what happens are two things. One is that these skills until they're mastered and become almost automatic, they interfere with other writing processes. So I mean, everybody's had this experience, you know, you're writing something down. Your brain is really clicking, and you can't get it down fast enough. Your hands not fast enough to keep up with your mind. Now, think about being a first grade kid whose top speed is maybe 18 letters a minute, or 15 letters, that's kind of an average. And you can try this out yourself by writing with your no dominant hand. If you want to make a really interesting, write every fourth or fifth word backwards, so it makes you think about how it's spelled. And you get a handle on how debilitating these skills can be in a lot of different ways. So we want to make sure that kids master those skills early on, and become as fluent and automatic with them as possible. Now, the other part of this that I'll mention is that you want to become automatic, but you don't want legibility, excuse my French to go to hell. Because people form judgments about the quality of what you write based on how legible your writing is all the time. Now, most of us don't have real legible writing now and we typed, so that kind of takes care of it in many instances. We also want to help students become facile, and notice I didn't say automatic, at sentence construction. I would argue that about 80 to 90% of most adults' time or effort when they're writing is at the sentence level. You know, they'll have an idea, they have to take it and put it in an appropriate vessel, have the right words in there transcribing the handwriting, spelling and stuff that takes its own toll in a sense. But you know, we've got a lot of cognitive effort focusing in on how are we going to put this idea in the right words, in the right order, and connect those to the words that came before, and the words or sentences that came after. And so one of the ways that we can help kids has helped them become more facile with the skill, so that they can create sentences, you know, fairly fluently. Still going to, it's always going to require thought, and it should require thought, but that's missing from today's instruction. And what we know is when we teach those skills, not only does grammar get better, and sentences become more complex, but the quality of students' writing gets better as well. And I should, you know, kind of backtrack and say the same thing for transcription skills. When we teach young kids handwriting, spelling, and typing that gets better, but the quality of the writing gets better as well. Another thing that's very important to teach is that kids need to know the purposes, different kinds of writing and the basic building blocks that they use to create them. So if you think about something like a simple Western story, you know, a story from the west. And there's a setting, you know, that involves protagonists, where it takes place, when it takes place, and then there's a series of episodes, you know, and the episodes usually have a starting event, some goal that the protagonist is trying to achieve, action, and then some outcome. Sometimes it's successful, sometimes it's not. Well, those building blocks help you not only understand stories when you read them, but they can be used to help you generate ideas for your own story. Same thing with persuasive texts. There's a thesis, there's reasons, there's you know elaborations, or evidence, there's counter reasons. Knowing that information helps you think about what goes into the type of text you make. And knowing that texts are composed that way also gives you the freedom to play around with those elements as well. So I think that's particularly important. So I'm gonna leave it at those four there. A third thing, in terms of a third word that I would use is we need to support. And so as students, right, there's various ways that are highly effective, that we can use that support writers to create the best texts they can. And so what are some of those words? Well, one's really simple. We need to be clear about what our goals for writing. So if we tell kids what we want, and we're really specific about it, they usually give us that. Now there's a downside to that. They give us that so sometimes that can cut off creativity a little bit. So we want to be flexible with goals. You know, we can give them more than one goal, or we may have them establish some of their own goals for writing. But goal setting is a pretty powerful technique for improving what students write, and that's a support we can provide. You know, kids over time do better when they're working with digital writing tools like word processors, than writing by hand. We have a pretty good amount of evidence that suggests that if we have kids who are writing by hand, you know, over a six month period and we move, you know, a similar set of kids to use a word processor over that time, there's a dancing on top of the Empire State Building effect on writing quality. You know, helping kids think about what they're going to write in advance through either discussion or dialogue, reading materials, using graphic organizers to generate information and organize it. Those things don't take a lot of work or effort, but they have a very positive effect, dancing on top the Empire State Building effect on students' writing. I'll mention one other thing before moving on and that is feedback. So you know, that's probably one of the oldest tricks in the book is giving feedback to somebody else about their writing. And so what we know at this point is that if you give students feedback about their writing, as the teacher, if peers give each other feedback back there, right, and they've been taught a way of doing that, if we teach kids how to give feedback to themselves, or self evaluate, teach them strategies for doing that. Or if we use some of these new fangled essay evaluation feedback systems, they're not quite as effective as humans at this point but all four of those are ways in which we can one reduce the load on the teacher, because peers can give each other feedback, students can give themselves feedback, machines can, they have a positive effect on the quality of writing. Now, I think this is one of the areas that we need to do more work in because you know, too much feedback can be debilitating. You know, you often hear people talking about feedback without saying what they like about a composition. I always start with what I like and then I'll limit it to two or three things that are constructive, or sometimes foward, forward leaning feedback, that gets kids to think about what they might do next. So, so far, it's a three of my five words, okay. One is write, one is teach, another is support. A fourth word that I'd like to throw into this mix is to create. We want to create classrooms, and this mostly comes from qualitative research with really exceptional literacy teachers, and what we see that they do is they create classrooms in which writing is everywhere. You know, kids write a lot, the writing is displayed in multiple places, there's a positive feel around writing in that classroom, kids are encouraged to take risks, to try hard, there's an assumption that they can do well, teachers share their own writing with kids, you know, we have this kind of positive valence built around writing. And I think it's very important to do that because if you're going to improve your writing, you're going to make miscues. Okay? So think about when I said, writing more complex sentences earlier. If you're a sixth or seventh grade students, and you're working on complex sentences, and, and working with a new way of doing that, as you start applying it in your own writing, you're gonna make miscues in doing it. You don't want to have somebody say, Oh, you made a mistake. What you want to have somebody say, hey, that's great! You're you're working on this, how can you make it better? What can we do here that will help you make this more clear to your reader. It's fine to make a mistake. That's part of what growth is all about. And I don't think we see enough of that in schools overall, and in writing specifically. And then the last word that I have is to connect and by connect, I mean, connecting writing and reading, and connecting writing, reading, and learning. So this is what we know, empirically, at this point. When you have students write, in general, I've said this before, their reading gets better. When you have them write about what they read, their understanding of that text is enhanced. When you teach writing, there's a positive carryover effect, even if nothing is happening in reading, to reading itself. So something like teaching spelling, kids become better decoders of words that they're reading. Teaching sentence construction skills, reading fluency improves, because probably what's happening there is that students become more familiar with the way that sentences are put together, the syntax underlying that, and they recognize it more quickly when they read. Well, it also goes the other way. When you increase how much students read, there's a small but positive effect on their writing. When you teach reading itself, there's a positive effect. You teach phonics, spelling gets better. You teach how you analyze how texts are put together, well that gives students information in creating their own text. We also know that when you have kids, when you provide a balance and balance here is very specific in terms of what I mean. 60/40 60% Reading 40% writing or 60%, writing 40% reading, if you have a balance in the amount of writing and reading instruction you get both reading and writing improvement. Now, the top all of this all, is when you have kids write about what they're reading, when you have kids write about what they're learning in classrooms, there's an increase in terms of their understanding, and retention of materials over time. So I think the writing is particularly important, because I haven't said this before. We do a lot of surveys, both in this in the US, and also in other countries like Chile, Norway, and in China, and what we see is that there's not a lot of writing writing instruction going on. Now, there are some teachers, you know, look like they do a phenomenal job based on the surveys. But we're seeing 60 or 70% of teachers not having much writing, or much teaching of writing going on. So the more that we can bring writing in to other classrooms like science, social studies, and math, the better for writing, but it's also the better for science, social studies and math, because writing is a tool that improves learning in those areas. So that that would be the major thing I would say, I know, that was a long exposition, for five words, write, teach, support, create, and connect.

Lindsay Persohn:

That's really helpful, Steve. And I think that the way that you package those ideas together, it really did get me thinking about the time that is given to writing in classrooms. And I know at least, the classrooms that I have most recently spent time in, I'm sad to say writing is not necessarily a focus. But if we think about the multiple ways that we can increase not only the time we spend on writing, but I think that your your words here also really help me to think about the attention we give to writing. And obviously, time and attention go hand in hand but I think there are ways to think about how we bring writing into a school day that maybe doesn't take time away from something else. Because I know that's always sort of the the question in schools is how do we balance all of these tensions. But if we think about how we can set a purpose for writing, and integrate that into whether it is reading, or any other subject in the school day, it might allow us to increase the attention to writing without feeling like we have to give something up. Like it's not an either, or I think writing goes its hand in hand with every other subject in school. So if again, we just increase the attention to writing, perhaps that is one way to really support students in their writing, without feeling like we have to carve out this whole separate thing that we're doing, or this separate pocket of time, when that feels pretty impossible in some spaces.

Steve Graham:

I do think it's very important to find ways of connecting, writing into other subject areas. You know, one of the things that I find particularly interesting on this is when we do these national surveys, we randomly select teachers from across the US. And we often if it's at the middle school or high school level, for example, math, social studies, science, and English language arts teachers. And, you know, we, we ask a number of different questions, but one, we always ask about preparation, you know, what is their particularly the university preparation. And I have to say, they're not positive about even English teachers are not positive about their preparation to teach writing. But as you might expect, when you move to the content areas, it goes down. So social studies, teachers, you know, there's a drop in from English teachers, social studies teachers, and other drop to science teachers, and then jumping off a cliff when you hit math teachers. There's also, you know, we asked them whose responsibility is to teach writing in some of the surveys. Everybody agrees it's the English teachers responsibility to teach writing. The English teachers often believe that it's, you know, everybody, everybody else's responsibility. But content area, teachers are much more mixed. So, you know, I think two of the things that are important in terms of making this happen is we help to make sure that teachers feel more comfortable teaching writing, and I'm not saying more comfortable about being writers themselves. What I'm saying is they're more comfortable about using writing in the classroom and teaching it, and that they view this as part of their daily or weekly, depending on how you want to think about this, responsibilities. And you know, that in part lies at the footsteps of universities and college teacher education programs. You know, we should be saying that to all of our students that come through our programs, this is your responsibility, and we're going to help you think about how to do that in classroom.

Lindsay Persohn:

Yeah, I think that's that's such an important point to highlight because I think we often just as humans get stuck in this pattern of believing that somebody else is already doing this work. And therefore it is not our wheelhouse or doesn't have to be. But I do at least at the University where I teach, we think about writing across subject areas, we you know, but I don't know that that is a feature of every teacher preparation program. In fact, I would even venture to say that there are many teachers who come into their, or pre service teachers who come into their teaching environment, who maybe don't have much formalized preparation for teaching writing at all. Is that anything that you found in your research?

Steve Graham:

Yeah. So, you know, one of the ways that we asked the question is we'll ask them to rate on a scale, like, what's their preparation? We will ask around in service, pre service, and their personal preparation? And we'll ask questions like, you know, inadequate, you know, on a scale to, you know, great, so to speak. But we also will say how many courses have you had or you know, and what we find is, we're lucky if 30% of the teachers have a single course, on teaching writing. More often what they've had is a class or two, in a language arts course, or a reading course, on reading and writing, and some teachers, but again, less than 30% of this goes down, have some experience in their student teaching, or practicums. And so what we're not seeing at the university level, or the academic level, if you like, is much emphasis on this, and, you know, I think the other thing that I'd like to point out here, we also asked teachers, about their views about their own writing. Okay, so we also asked them about their attitudes towards teaching writing, their efficacy for teaching writing. And what I find interesting is when we look at, to see what predicts what they say they do, or in some observational studies, what, what we see them doing, it's not their beliefs about their capabilities as writers, it's their attitudes towards teaching writing, and their efficacy as a writing teacher that are the better predictors of what they do. And that relates directly to having a sense that you know what you're doing when you step in that classroom. If you don't, then this becomes much more difficult and much more likely to take place is my take on this. So I think that's something that we need to do a better job on.

Lindsay Persohn:

It actually makes me think about the lifecycle of a teacher, or how our pre service teachers come to us with all of the things that schooling did for them, or sometimes did to them. And if as a pre service teacher, if my best writing has come from a five paragraph essay, and if I don't particularly understand other structures, or other genres or other forms of writing, then teaching writing certainly is a very daunting task.

Steve Graham:

Absolutely.

Lindsay Persohn:

Right, so do you have any tips for anyone who might be feeling that, who might be feeling like their writing came to them in sort of this prepackaged, formulaic kind of way? If I were going to walk into my own classroom in this coming school year, what might I do in order to help me to feel better prepared for teaching writing?

Steve Graham:

Okay, so I want to reinforce one thing you said, then I will actually answer the question the best I can. We had a student who did not finish her dissertation at this point. But she did a survey in Tempe schools here. And she asked teachers about their experiences learning to write, and then what they were doing in the classroom. And the match was incredible. So what you basically saw was that how they were taught, was the way they taught their own kids. And, you know, you could quibble, if you'd like, with the way they were taught about whether or not it was all that effective. I'm not gonna make any judgments on that but I was stunned at the association between if I was taught to write this way, this is basically how I teach other people to write. So I think that's something you have to think about. One of the things that I always did, I'm not teaching methods class and writing right now but when I was at Vanderbilt University, every year I would teach a couple of courses. I think one of the things that's very important is that before the start of the school year, you develop a vision for what writing instruction is going to look like in your class. And I think this is particularly important, because what we see in those surveys I mentioned earlier, is only about 30% of teachers actually use a program to set what they do in terms of writing. They're kind of out there on your own doing this. And like we've been saying, they often don't feel that they're as well prepared as they'd like to be. And so I think it's really important to think through what you're going to do in the year. And so if a parent comes into your classroom, on the, you know, the first night back to school parent meeting and somebody says to you, you know somebody's going to ask about how you're going to teach reading or what are you going to do for reading, you need to be prepared to say what you're going to do for writing for this year, doesn't mean you have to have week by week filled out, and you need to have a clear idea what writing genres you're going to do, what kinds of skills or strategies you're going to teach, what kinds of things you're going to do to help motivate students. I always think that you are going to be a lot more confident if you have a plan. So in a sense, what that means is you have goals, and you have ways of achieving those goals. Now, the other thing, I think that is important in terms of thinking about this, is that, you know, you can't do everything at once. And I mean this in multiple ways. So I would rather see somebody set fewer goals for what they're going to do and add on to that as the year goes on, versus setting so many goals when they're starting out, they're likely to drown. So smaller can be beautiful, in the sense. Now I want to say another way in which smaller can be beautiful. And it comes back actually to feedback, which we were talking about before. And that is, when we think about feedback, every time we give students feedback, we feel we have to basically save the world, and the world being the student's single paper, okay. So you'll see, you know, this goes all the way from college professors all the way down to first grade. We give tons of feedback, as if we're never going to have a chance to give feedback again to this kid. This paper does not have to be perfect, okay? What we want to do is we want to get in, and we want to get out, and make some difference. But we're not going to change that kid's writing life by one paper. You know, it's multiple papers over time, where we give consistent feedback, we, you know, we keep our focus. The other part of this is that we often give feedback like we're brain damaged. So, you know, I did this workshop one time with five other teachers in Texas. And it was on basically, you know, revising, and how to give feedback. And I had two papers that the same kid wrote, you know, a week apart. And so they got in small groups, and they figured out what kind of feedback they were going to give. And then we talked about, and then we talked about some other things. And then a little bit later on, we came to the second paper, two teachers out of 500, connected the first and the second paper. You know, they look back at the first paper to think about the feedback they gave, so that they could follow through on the second paper. That is extremely rare. And I think if we want to be maximally effective, it applies with students. Now I bring that up, because I think this is a third point I'd like to make is that, you know, once we set our goals, get our plans into operation, and let's say that we keep them small, we want to monitor what we're doing. And things are not all going to go right. Anybody who has been a teacher knows this, some days are great, some days are not so great and some days are somewhere in between. Some things we do work, some things don't. And so we want to start cataloging what works with our kids. And we want to start thinking about the things that don't work, and whether we should let them go, or how we need to modify them. And so when I mentioned these plans and these goals, it's much like feedback, we want to keep the focus across time. We don't want to be too hard on ourselves so we don't need to change, one teaching day is not the whole year. One teaching day is one teaching day. So we want to look at it as an incremental improvement over time. Rarely does somebody become an expert in two days. It takes years to do so. And we want to keep that in mind. So I think those would be some things that I would say, have a plan, start small, and as you move through this, monitor what you're doing, but also give yourself a break. As long as you're kind of pushing the envelope out a bit, every day, you're gonna get better as a teacher.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, Steve, I have to tell you, I feel a little bit exposed here like perhaps you've been peeking in on the feedback that I give on students writing because I've definitely fallen into the save the world trap. I tend to provide copious maybe borderline ridiculous amounts of feedback in thinking that we can get, you know, a piece of writing into perfect shape before sharing that with my students, write for, for the children's families. So that's their authentic audience. And so I've definitely fallen into this trap of looking to save the world with my feedback. So certainly as I go into the next school year, I will be revising my goals for providing feedback a bit and and maybe looking for some different ways of work. So the this idea of monitoring across time and carrying that focus across time, I think, is a really helpful idea when thinking about what those goals ultimately look like and then how we either scale back, or perhaps scale up our feedback that we provide students, I think that's a, that's a really important idea. I know for me as a teacher, and how I will approach writing for the future.

Steve Graham:

So I want to, the start this for me with as a undergraduate student, in a second English composition class. I had a disastrous semester, I flunked French. And I live six and a half years as a child in France, so that one's a tough one to explain. And I got a D at a composition course. So you might wonder how I ever ended up being interested in writing. And I got the paper back and I mean, literally, look, it looked like it had been in Psycho, you know, like it had been stabbed 600 times, and there was just red ink everywhere. And I burned the French book and that paper behind my apartment. I never looked at the paper. It was overwhelming. What it told me was that for about five years, I just thought I couldn't wite. You know, I was pretty certain. And I can think I think we have to be very conscientious about our feedback and think about it individually. You know, feedback is usually effective, it's not always effective. You know, when you look at research studies, in general, across a large number of areas, about two thirds of the time feedback is effective, about a third of the time it's not. And, you know, why is it not? And one of the reasons is, feedback sometimes is not appropriate to the individual. And writing is particularly challenging because I think we feel we put part of ourselves on paper. And then you know, if we get something that looks like, it's really, you know, been stabbed to death, and there's not a positive comment on it, where are we going to go with that, you know, it sends a message. So now, the other thing I should point out is you mentioned with your students, you give a lot of feedback. Now, the amount of feedback you give changes with the competence of the writer, you know, and the eventual purpose of the text. So this text is to be published and, you know, read by others, you want to get that towards perfect paper, but usually, that's not happening in the classroom. Right? That's, like I said, with my daughter's thing that they sent a letter to Washington Post, they didn't want to have miscues and so they needed to work that went out to perfection. But you know, some of the other things not so much.

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, I will certainly be a bit more judicious in the feedback that I provide. So I appreciate that. And so Steve, given the challenges of today's educational climate, what message do you want teachers to hear?

Steve Graham:

Well, I think the message I would like teachers to hear is that they're valued and that the work that they do is some of the most important work that goes on in society. I have spent a little bit of time in Germany, six months in Heidelberg, working there, with teachers in Department of Defense schools, but also with some German colleagues. And one of the things I was struck by is that if you're a teacher in Germany, your status is really high. You're paid well, and your viewed by the public in extremely positive light. This is really brought home to me, a couple of years ago, we were at a university called the University of Regensburg and I was working with a couple of doctoral students there and ask them what they plan to do. And all but one of them was returning to the public schools. And I said, Why? Because I assumed, you know, being a university professor, that they might want to go into research, and they said, No, we get paid better there, we have more status in society, we're valued by our kids, we're valued by their parents were valued by society. And I would love to see us have the same values in the US. But whether we're there or not, I think, really important message for teachers, because it's tough job. Anybody who's been a teacher knows this. And what they do makes a difference. Every one of them has kids who years later talk about how they shaped and change their lives. So that's why I'd like to leave.

Lindsay Persohn:

Thank you so much for that message Steve. And I think that is a really important reminder, the day to day can become really difficult, I think for teachers. But when we take a step back and look at a teacher's life's work, and how important that is to society, and to certainly to individuals we come in contact with, I just really appreciate your message.

Steve Graham:

Thank you.

Lindsay Persohn:

So Steve, I thank you so much for your time today and I thank you for your contributions to the world of education.

Steve Graham:

Well, I appreciate it and thanks for asking me to talk with you.

Lindsay Persohn:

Thank you. Dr. Steve Graham is known for his work around how writing develops, how to teach it effectively, and how writing can be used to support reading and learning. His research involves typically developing writers and students with special needs in both elementary and secondary schools with much of that work occurring in classrooms in urban schools. He has authored or co authored over 300 journal articles, over 100 book chapters, five books, and edited or co-edited nearly 20 books or book series. He is the author of The Handbook of Writing Research, Handbook of Learning Disabilities, APA Handbook of Educational Psychology, Writing Better, Powerful Writing Strategies for All Atudents, and Making the Writing Process Work. He is also the author of three influential Carnegie Corporation reports, Writing Next, Writing to Read, and Informing Writing. His work has appeared in Journal of Educational Psychology, Educational Psychology Review, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Assessment and Education Principles Policy and Practice, Educational Technology Research and Development, Journal of Learning Disabilities, Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, Exceptional Children, Elementary School Journal, The Writing Teacher, Literacy Today, Reading Research Quarterly, Review of Educational Research, Review of Research and Education, Reading and Writing an Interdisciplinary Journal, Reading and Writing Quarterly, and many other venues. Steve is the former editor of Exceptional Children, Contemporary Educational Psychology, Journal of Writing Research, Focus on Exceptional Children, and Journal of Educational Psychology. His work has been funded by the Institute of Educational Sciences and the US Department of Education, among other funding agencies. He's the recipient of the Thorndyke Career Award from Division 15 of the American Psychological Association, Sylvia Scribner Award from Division C of the American Educational Research Association, the William S Gray Citation of Merit from the International Literacy Association, Exemplary Research in Teaching and Teacher Education from Division K of the American Educational Research Association, Career Research Award from the International Council for Exceptional Children, the Kauffman Hallman Distinguished Researcher Award from the Division of Research at the Council for Exceptional Children. In 2018, Dr. Graham was elected to the Reading Hall of Fame. Dr. Graham is a Regents and the Warner Professor in the division of Leadership and Innovation in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University. For the good of all students, Classroom Caffeine aims to energize education research and practice. If this show provides you with things to think about, don't keep it a secret. Subscribe, like, and review this podcast through your preferred podcast provider. I also invite you to connect with the show through our website at WWW dot classroom caffeine dot com where you can learn more about each guest, find transcripts for many episodes, explore episode topics using our tagging feature, support podcast research through our survey, request an episode topic or a potential guest, or share your own questions that we might respond to through the show. You could also leave us a voice message or a text message at 1-941-212-0949. We would love to hear from you. As always, I raise my mug to you teachers. Thanks for joining me.