Patrick McGrath, Education Technology Strategist

The Cornerstones of Writing

Writing is a beautiful thing. It’s not simply a process of using words in a systematic way. It allows us to communicate our thoughts and feelings, express our opinions, enthuse and excite others or demonstrate knowledge and progress.

Writing provides a means for personal reflection, thinking, creativity, meaning-making and sharing, as well as complementing other modes of communication. It’s our human technology for preserving speech. In the words of Voltaire, ‘writing is the painting of the voice’.   


Part art, part science

It’s part art, part science. Science, because it’s a complex process. One that’s made up of several stages from drafting through to revising and editing. It’s a task that is considered a complex cognitive skill - and one that must be taught, nurtured and developed through all levels of our education. Writing is built on the foundation of a number of essential building blocks, and being able to write efficiently with correct spelling, punctuation and grammar. remains a critical part of being a literate writer. Research tells us that these three things, taken together, predict written composition achievement - with spelling as the main predictor. Not only that, but each of these skills increase the readability of written work which in turn supports improvements in comprehension and increases wider literacy skills. They are the cornerstones of writing.

So let's take a look at each element in turn...

Spelling 
Learning to spell well is extremely useful if we want students to become confident writers. If they are constantly stopping to think about how words are spelled while they write, it can interrupt the flow of their thoughts, taking them away from what we want them to be thinking about: their choice of words and how they construct those words into sentences that communicate exactly what they want to say. If they’re confident spellers, they’re also much more likely to make adventurous vocabulary choices, selecting the exact word to communicate their message, rather than playing it safe and using a word they already know how to spell.

Grammar
Grammar is the structural foundation of our ability to express ourselves. The more we are aware of how it works, the more we can monitor the meaning and effectiveness of the way we and others use language. It can help foster precision, detect ambiguity, and exploit the richness of expression of our writing. Understanding how grammar works is fundamental for all writers. While good grammar knowledge will not necessarily make you a better writer,  it will help make you a more effective writer. Good grammar knowledge enables students to understand what makes a piece of writing successful, so that it will capture both the interest and understanding of the reader. It helps them know how to craft words into coherent sentences, and how to form those sentences into paragraphs that successfully convey your meaning. 

Punctuation
Punctuation is an aspect of grammar that should never be underestimated. Correctly used, it can clarify meaning while, on the other hand, lack of use can cause ambiguity. Punctuation also acts as a signposting system for the reader, indicating where to pause, and what to stress.

These three things - spelling, punctuation and grammar (often referred to as ‘SPaG’ in the UK), are actionable, practical skills. When we build assessment, feedback and reflection into the writing process, our students can constantly learn and develop as writers.  

Writing is changing

Writing, of course, is changing. Not in its structure or its approach, but in the rise of digital tools in our classrooms. This year, writing has moved digital almost exponentially, with tasks being undertaken not just in the classroom, but at home through remote learning. We know that teacher support during the writing process is vital, so how can we create the feedback, assessment and reflection strategies we need to teach and improve these skills? 

That's where WriQ comes in. Once students submit work, WriQ will assess spelling, punctuation and grammar automatically. It’ll color code and group errors, and provide instant scores to teachers as part of the assessment process. For teachers, it provides a clear snapshot of these three cornerstones of writing and enables targeted help and support to be identified quickly - for every individual student. For students it’s even better, because WriQ provides a method to reflect on these three areas and revise their work accordingly. WriQ builds every essential aspect of helping students improve as writers right into the writing process.

It’s not just about highlighting these areas, or even the huge time saver this offers teachers in the marking process, because WriQ goes further. It tracks student progress in these three areas through a simple dashboard - so at a glance teachers can easily monitor and view progress. Plus, the feedback mechanism to students helps visualize this scoring and improve motivation as they revise and redraft.    

Learners who feel confident with letters and word patterns through effective use of spelling, punctuation and grammar are able to read and comprehend more complex texts. They also have the necessary language tools to better convey their own ideas through both written and verbal communication.Building a strong foundational knowledge of the links between letters, sounds and meaning is essential for students to become confident communicators, and effective writers. 

In this world of increased technology, and of blended learning, teachers and students need a solution that can support and improve these cornerstones of writing. They also need a tool that can provide feedback effectively and can encourage, motivate and reward. 

You can find out how WriQ can support your writing assessment by visiting our WriQ page and trying it for yourself.  

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