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Review: How to Teach Writing, Spelling and Grammar

Professor James Chapman reviews How to Teach Writing, Spelling and Grammar by Helen Walls with Christine Braid
Review how to teach writing, spelling and grammar

Change is happening in literacy teaching in Aotearoa New Zealand. The Ministry of Education and current Minister of Education, Jan Tinetti, appear committed to making changes in literacy teaching, based on scientific research.

Many teachers throughout Aotearoa New Zealand are ready for change. They want skills and strategies that will improve their teaching practices. Frustrated with the slow pace of change led by the Ministry of Education, teachers want to improve their teaching now, not next year or the year after next. And teachers are increasingly aware that literacy includes not only reading, but also writing, spelling and grammar. The demand is all the more important as teachers struggle with how to cope with increasing numbers of students who rely on social media norms to inform their writing, rather than learning the cognitively more beneficial norms of formal, extended sentence construction and meaning making.

Review: How to teach writing from Professor James Chapman
Professor James Chapman

Helen Walls, with Christine Braid, has produced a book that teachers will find invaluable. Based on solid research, Walls and Braid hope that the book will be a resource that “will become your one-stop-shop for teaching writing and to make writing a highlight of every school day”. How to Teach Writing, Spelling and Grammar should easily satisfy that goal.

Importantly, this book is not anchored by boring theory and research that leads to eyes glazing over. Rather, the authors draw on interesting and top-rated research that many teachers will relate to. And most teachers, sadly, will not have been aware of this important research during their initial teacher education programmes. For many, the clear and succinct summary of research will be a real eye-opener. Teachers committed to improving their teaching practices will be thinking, “why wasn’t I told this in teachers college?” Well, Walls and Braid have provided a clear and effective way to fill that void in teacher education.

The authors present the Simple View of Writing as the model that identifies the key skills involved in writing and writing development. These skills are presented in a way that teachers will readily understand, with a minimum of “research jargon.” Right from the start in Chapter 1, Walls and Braid present recommendations based on the Simple View of Writing that provide teachers with the basics that will equip them with practices for developing a writing programme that is both effective and engaging for students.

In the following four chapters, Walls and Braid unpack the pieces that make up the Simple View of Writing. These include:

  • transcription skills (spelling and handwriting)
  • the clear expression of thoughts involving vocabulary and sentence writing
  • writing composition based on the Fast Feedback approach
  • and, contexts for writing that include purposeful and interesting tasks for all students.

The authors do readers a great service by providing a list of particularly useful, high-regarded books that illustrate the variety of ways in which to develop a quality writing programme.

Packed into just 88 pages, this book will be a valuable resource for all teachers who are committed to improving their teaching of writing, spelling and grammar.

About Professor James Chapman

James Chapman is Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology, Massey University, Palmerston North. He received his M.A. with Distinction in Education from Victoria University of Wellington, and his Ph.D. in Educational Psychology from the University of Alberta, Canada, specialising in cognitive-motivational factors associated with learning disabilities.

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