Faculty Spotlight Series: Renna Gottlieb on Most Effective Writing Instructional Strategy

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?  

I have worked as a teacher and coordinator of language arts at The Windward School for the past five years. The Windward School educates students with language-based learning disabilities, many of whom also face executive functioning challenges. As our bright students confront the challenges of learning to read, they also struggle with organizing their thoughts and effectively demonstrating their understandings through writing.  

Teaching our students how to outline, both in preparation for writing a paragraph and essay, is integral for their success. After learning how to compose linguistically complex sentences, students at Windward learn how to use a One Paragraph Outline, Transitional Outline, and Multiple Paragraph Outline using the Windward Expository Writing Skills program. These outlines help our students winnow down extraneous information and focus more narrowly on the main idea of their composition. 

Teaching our students how to outline, both in preparation for writing a paragraph and essay, is integral for their success.

We begin most writing units at Windward by reading an expository article that is lexile-appropriate and of high interest to the students. While reading the article, we craft a graphic organizer using key words and phrases, the writing program’s note-taking style. We use this graphic organizer throughout the unit as we teach and practice a variety of sentence-writing techniques with the students. After practicing sentence construction, we create an outline in anticipation of writing a paragraph or essay based on the article. 

Crafting an outline is arguably the most challenging yet effective piece of the writing unit. When writing using One Paragraph Outlines, students use information from the prepared graphic organizer to create topic and concluding sentences and fill in details using key words and phrases. With Transitional Outlines and Multiple Paragraph Outlines, students are taught the specific layout of introduction and conclusion paragraphs, then are shown how to organize and create a framework for each body paragraph. Once again, students use the graphic organizer and key words and phrases to summarize and shape their work. 

Once the outlines are completed, students construct a first draft of the composition. While writing a draft is still a challenge for our students, the efficacy of their previously prepared outlines is undeniable. These outlines serve as an instrumental guide for the students, especially in disallowing them from veering too far from the piece’s main idea. By performing the “heavy lifting” in the outlining process, our students have more time to focus on composing complex sentences by using impactful sentence-writing techniques. 

I feel lucky to work at a school that knows the needs of its students and challenges them to grow as readers and writers. Teaching our students how to effectively outline is an essential piece of that puzzle.