To Build Writers or Test Takers?

To Build Writers or Test Takers?

post by Elsa Galindo, 2018-19 Associate of The Educator Collaborative

To Build Writers or Test Takers?

With so much emphasis on high stakes testing and scripted curriculum, very little faith is placed on best teaching practices.  Teaching students to write is a challenging task because the classroom is filled with various levels of writers. The students engage in a multi-layered, complicated, and dicey process of producing pieces of writing.  As teachers, it is important that we believe in our capacity to harness authentic writers in order to enhance students’ learning experiences. We must believe that every student can write. We must be patient about the fact that every student does not reach the level of mastery at the same time.  Kids learn to write by actually writing, so the majority of a writing workshop requires the students to write independently.  


There is no handout or speech that will teach for kids to learn to write.  The writing workshop is a block of time set aside that focuses on the writing process.  As teachers know this will help them provide the students with an ideal learning environment where they are part of a community of learners.  The writing workshop provides students with ownership within a safe “family” of writers. The writing workshop model takes practice, collaboration, adjustment, coaching and more practice in order to reach a level of confidence.  This confidence builds endurance, responsiveness, and stamina in writers. The writing workshop is designed to support students to learn to write. Research from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that most students who scored at the proficient or advanced level of writing claimed to be a part of a daily writing workshop (Lain, 2007). 


If high stakes testing is the main focus of our work in developing writers, then it limits our instruction. However, providing teachers with professional development around writing arms teachers with best practices, impacts teacher self-efficacy, and helps teachers to provide student writers with differentiated instruction that helps impact their writing abilities. 


The writing workshop helps engage students in higher order thinking skills and develop effective writing skills.  High-stakes testing is a significant factor in the decline in producing effective writers. Recent statistics revealed a common trend in producing students that lack a basic understanding of writing.  Problematic issues in the current writing workshop are a result of high-stakes testing.  As teachers we must rearrange our focus so we can provide students with engaging, structured, and differentiated writing workshops where they can thrive as writers.  



It has become increasingly clear that teachers are the key component to making an impact on student learning.  We need to focus on developing communities of learners and writers. Providing teachers with training increases teachers’ self-efficacy. A teacher’s content knowledge broadens their ability to focus on what they are teaching, and it allows them to make a positive impact on student’s motivation and performance in writing (Locke, 2015). Let’s go back to the basics.

Basics for a successful writing workshop: 

  • Establish a Safe Writing Environment
  • Develop Routines, Routines, Routines
  • Keep to the writing workshop structure every day
  • Ensure you keep your mini-lessons “mini” (e.g., about procedures, craft, conventions)
  • Honor students’ daily writing time
  • Confer to help your students grow as writers
  • Make sure students get to share everyday


Creating opportunities for all students to grow regardless of writing ability is founded on the authentic relationships built during conferences and around the shared purpose of writing. The practice of conferring allows teachers to individualize instruction in a manner that supports both the attitudes and cognitive differences in all of their writers (Koplitz-Harty and Serr, 2012).  In this study, the biggest increase in student growth was due to the fact that the students saw the relevance in writing. The relevance came from having a true audience with whom they shared their writing. These partnerships made the students feel excited about writing because their needs were being met. It is important that teachers confer with students individually and in groups in order to differentiate their instruction.  These partnerships give teachers the opportunity to really get to know their students writing abilities inside and out.  

Writing is a complicated undertaking that necessitates many levels of instruction. Writing teachers teach structure, craft, conventions, and spelling. They also introduce students to various genres, forms, and modes of writing.  They help students to address their audience and develop voice in their writing.  Within the writing workshop framework the teachers gradually release the students and provide differentiated scaffolds during writing conferences. This aligns with developmentally appropriate teaching practices recommended to support learners with many kinds of text designated for different purposes (Brown, 2010).   The ability to provide each student with individual time allows the teachers to get to know their students’ strengths and weaknesses.  

As the pressures that high stakes testing has placed on schools, teachers, and students continue to build, already high levels of anxiety increase.  Best practices are placed to the side in order to make room and time for test prep. Only when teachers provide students with instruction during the writing workshop does it gives student the necessary opportunities they need to develop the essential skills needed to develop authentic writers.