Faculty Spotlight Series: Roberta Plotycia on the Most Effective Writing Instructional Strategy

Jana Cook

WMS Language Arts teacher and Isabel Greenbaum Stone Master Teacher Award recipient Roberta Plotycia shares her most effective instructional strategy for teaching writing.

The Windward School is a learning community that recognizes the profession of teaching is a craft that takes an incredible amount of study, practice, and reflection to perfect. Thus, it is part of the School's mission to develop a faculty that is expert in teaching children with language-based learning disabilities. In our Faculty Friday series, we will be highlighting Windward faculty members and their expertise on a variety of educational topics. 

What is the single most effective instructional strategy you have used to teach writing?    

Fifteen years ago, I began my second career as a middle school language arts teacher at The Windward School in White Plains, New York, a school that specializes in teaching students with language-based learning differences.  At this time, I knew little about direct instruction of writing strategies. In fact, most of my own language arts teachers did not teach explicit strategies for writing as I made my way through middle school and high school. Through Windward's teacher training program, I was exposed to Expository Writing Skills, a program used to teach students effective writing strategies. All Windward teachers use the methods presented in The Windward Expository Writing Program to model ways to improve writing sentences, paragraphs, and essays. The strategies help students compose grammatically correct complex sentences as well as draft well-organized single paragraphs and compositions. Of all the strategies presented in Expository Writing Skills, the single most effective instructional strategy has been teaching my students how to organize information prior to writing by constructing One Paragraph Outline and Multiple Paragraph Outlines as presented in the program.   

When students learn the process of outlining using key words and phrases, their writing improves significantly.

A typical writing project for my students starts with reading an expository article. Together we break down the information in the article to create a graphic organizer that follows the text structure of the article. Using the graphic organizer, students fill out an outline prior to writing about the topic. When writing a single paragraph, students use the One Paragraph Outline that includes a topic sentence, four lines for details, and a concluding sentence. Details are written in note-taking form using only key words and phrases. Students are encouraged to use abbreviations whenever possible. Prior to writing, these key words and phrases are translated into sentences.  For longer writing assignments, Multiple Paragraph Outlines are used to organize information by following a thoughtfully composed thesis statement. Multiple Paragraph Outlines can be adapted to write essays of varying length including longer research papers.  

When students learn the process of outlining using key words and phrases, their writing improves significantly. In my experience, students who enroll at Windward in grades 7 or 8 often have not been taught any specific strategies for organizing information prior to writing.  When these students learn the outlining process modeled in Expository Writing Skills, their paragraphs and essays become more unified and coherent. The steps involved in creating outlines are logical and easy for students to follow.  In fact, many of our students continue to use Windward's outlines after transitioning to high school and college. Today, as I reflect on my experiences teaching language arts at Windward, I wonder how many students would benefit from the strategies presented in The Windward Expository Writing Program. Certainly, I wish I had been taught this method of outlining years ago when I was a student myself.