The Structured Writing Program only centers on the composition of first draft paragraphs. Once this initial draft is completed, students can apply relevant skills and utilize the flow of their inner voice to make modifications. My observations indicated that a well-designed rough draft paragraph made this second phase of revision much easier.
Finally, I recognized that rough draft paragraphs need to be focused on one specific concept or idea. Writing a paragraph that began as follows: “There are many causes of the American Revolution.” resulted in a relatively meaningless paragraph that only listed general ideas. A paragraph that began with a specific, centered main idea produced an analytical rough draft paragraph.
For example, “The Colonial leadership refused to comprise on the Stamp Act, even though the British showed a willingness to make modifications.”
Therefore, each main paragraph in the Structured Writing system is based upon one area of focus. The idea of centering each paragraph on an area of focus became crystallized in my mind in the mid-1980s when I was consulting to an insurance company. I was brought in to work with the company’s engineers who analyzed the condition and status for pieces of equipment that could cost millions of dollars. This analysis was necessary before the company could determine appropriate insurance rates. These engineers had to write clear reports stating problems and recommendations related to these expensive machines. Clients and the actuaries of the insurance company read these reports. I was brought in to train the engineers to write clearer reports that were both analytical
What I found was training these engineers to create an area of focus for each paragraph of the report resulted in highly improved paragraphs.For example, one paragraph might center on the narrow focus of “pitting in the shell of the steam drum.” Consequently, the reader understood the singular purpose of the paragraph.
I hope you have fun with this six-step Structured Writing process as you teach students the value of clarity and analysis in their writing.
Our current world is dominated by a series of short messages communicated through emails, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. The students of today believe that the brevity of these messages is a positive. The types of communication that have grown out of technology reduce clarity and heighten assumption. These students often become indignant at the idea of explaining their point of view with depth.
I began the Structured Writing and Thinking Program in 1984. At that time, I had been a consultant for a few years and had an opportunity to observe how students approached writing. I found that a sizeable group of students had difficulty organizing their paragraph responses. This organization was complicated by the philosophy of some teachers that students should just put down their thoughts in any order.
Coupled with these observations, I, also, was influenced by the investigation I was conducting in 1986 and 1987 for my book on critical thinking from the American Association of School Administrators, entitled Teaching Thinking and Reasoning Skills. From this experience, I began to draw a few conclusions that influenced key components of the Structured Writing Program. These are two of the most pronounced conclusions.
First, I came to believe that a highly structured writing approach did not get in the way of creative thinking.In fact, I found that creative and critical thinking work hand in hand. As the Structured Writing and Thinking Program evolved, I began to observe that students who learned this six-step process could comfortably infuse their “individual voices” into the structure; this meant that their personal styles of expression could be incorporated into their paragraphs or into parts of their stories.
Second, I realized that certain students had a more difficult time of organizing their thoughts than others.When given a sequence of steps that facilitated this organization, these students could produce high-quality paragraphs. I began to understand that there is a marked difference between “how one writes” and “what one writes.” The structure minimizes the stress related to “how the student organizes the rough draft paragraph”; as a result, the student can devote his or her productive energies to “what is the content of my message.”