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STAAR Motivation Writing

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Motivation Writing is a comprehensive, rigorous, and relevant supplemental writing resource developed by Texas educators to integrate critical and creative thinking as well as focused reinforcement into writing instruction. Motivation Writing addresses all Readiness and Supporting student expectations of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and is designed to develop and improve students’ composition, revision, and editing skills. With a unique emphasis on critical and creative thinking, students are empowered to extend and apply learning beyond the classroom. 

 Motivation Writing units are aligned with the Reporting Categories as outlined on the Assessed Curriculum Document prepared by the Texas Education Agency (2010). Motivation Writing also aligns with the STAAR® Blueprint (TEA, 2010) as it includes narrative and expository composition instruction and practice as well as instruction and practice for the Revision TEKS (32%) and instruction and practice for the Editing TEKS (68%). Each unit includes activities that represent the STAAR® requirements with components that support the writing process, develop the critical thinking skills needed for successful writing, and provide effective instruction and practice in order for students to master the revision and editing requirements.

 Student data from the 2011-2012 STAAR® Fourth Grade Writing demonstrate a range of scores. Fourth graders in Texas were given two prompts from which to compose two pieces, a personal narrative and an expository. Two scorers evaluated each student’s composition which could have resulted in eight points per composition for an overall total of sixteen composition points per student. The total students tested were 332,419. The released data from the personal narrative writing reveal 20% of students received a rating of 2; 12% of students received a rating of 3; 41% received a rating of 4; 13% received a rating of 5; 11% received a rating of 6; 1 % received a rating of 7; and, 1% received a rating of 8. Data from the expository composition show 20% of students received a rating of 2; 15% of students received a rating of 3;  37% received a rating of 4; 15% received a rating of 5; 11% received a rating of 6;  2% received a rating of 7; and, 1% received a rating of 8. According to Victoria Young (2012), Director of Reading, Writing, and Social Studies Assessment for the Texas Education Agency, there are several reasons for the lower range results. The following reasons indicate most likely why students scored in the lower range: weakly matched structure, weak or nonexistent central idea, repetition or wordiness; inclusion of many different ideas, vague use of language, and weak language conventions. Students who scored in the higher score range produced compositions with the following characteristics: strong match between form and purpose, explicit central idea, narrow and deep development, effective introduction and conclusion, specific use of language, and strong language conventions. As evidenced by these results, there appears to be a need for quality resources that support the implementation of writing instruction and show a strong potential for improving writing outcomes for students with or without writing difficulties. Motivation Writing provides an essential framework that offers all students a model composition, critical thinking prompts that encourage narrow and deep thinking, and planning and drafting opportunities to structure student thoughts prior to composition of the written piece.

The Summary Report of the Fourth Grade Writing (2012) from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) yielded results for revision and editing on the fourth grade STAAR® Writing Assessment. There were a total of 9 revision multiple choice/selected response items. In the All Students category, the students answered 67% of the revision questions correctly or 6.1 average number of items. A total of 19 editing items were given. In the All Students category, the students answered 62% of the editing questions correctly or 11.9 average number of items. Motivation Writing offers instructional support for revision and editing in the form of formative assessment opportunities for targeted TEKS: Guided Practice, Independent Practice, and Assessment. 

Graham & Harris (2002) found that the quality of writing instruction received by students has an impact on writing achievement. Frequent and varied opportunities are needed to engage in and compose meaningful text as well as time devoted to direct instruction in writing skills and strategies (Westby & Costlow, 1991). Furthermore, the state accountability system serves as a stimulus for the development of writing resources for teachers. With the emphasis on improved performance in the area of writing and with many other demands placed upon our schools, the search for products that reflect research recommendations and meet the accountability demands is prevalent.

Students build and acquire competency in two broad areas: writing mechanics and writing process. As students advance in grades, teachers must continue to place emphasis and use reinforcement on the mechanics in addition to process aspects of writing. Gallimore & Tharp (1999) recommend that students be provided with structures, questions, and organizational frameworks that offer support as new concepts are introduced. Studies show that writing processes mature over time rather than students memorizing examples of good writing and creating such compositions immediately. Cazden (1988) noted that writing examples provide the impetus from which students learn. Thus, acquisition of writing skills by students takes time to develop and strategies are continuously presented to students which help students think, participate, and learn to improve their individual writing.

Motivation Writing leads students from teacher-directed work to independent work using high interest stories. Findings from studies indicate that student interest emerges and results in the interactions of the student with the writing content.  Multiple and varied opportunities are present within the Student Edition of Motivation Writing that engage students to develop the content. Teachers can also construct learning environments that heighten student interest. The way a student feels about subject content can relate to the effort put into the task at hand and the learning outcome advocated Renninger and Hidi (2002). Studies show that students can feel positively about their writing through support from others. A number of studies indicate teachers can assist students in developing an interest to write (Renninger,1992, 2000;  Renninger, Sansone, & Smith, 2004). Group work can result in a favorable effect on the interests of students to learn (Hidi, Weiss, Berndorff, & Nolan, 1998).  Research suggests that students increase motivation to write if the topics are of interest to them (Hidi & McLaren, 1990). The skill pages in Motivation Writing apply these research findings while using content that is realistic and an array of topics that spark the varied interests of the students. More specifically, the skill pages provide repeated opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery or comprehension of the skills in context.

Tomlinson (1999) and Hall, Strangman, & Meyer (2003) attest to the positive effects of differentiation. Differentiation is a process through which teachers enhance instruction by matching the characteristics of students to instruction and assessment while the students are accessing the same curriculum. Motivation Writing reflects differentiation in several ways. Differentiation in grouping practices is evidenced through the opportunities provided for whole-class, small group, peer-to-peer, and independent practice. Differentiation in product occurs when a student demonstrates what is learned. Differentiation in terms of a student’s learning profile and in relation to product is present in Motivation Writing. Students are provided opportunities to discuss selections, brainstorm ideas, use visual organizers, and write responses through compositions, completion of charts, verbal exchange, etc. Differentiation also occurs according to the interests of students. The focus of each passage and of Motivation Station activities includes a variety of contexts to appeal to differing levels of interests of students.

Research advocates teachers employ a variety of opportunities to assess the needs of their students. Stiggins and Conklin (1992) note that classroom assessments must be quality if instruction is to be effective. In 1998, a review of empirical studies by two British researchers noted the benefits of well-planned classroom assessments.  Black and Wiliam (1998b) stated that when classroom assessments are used to adjust ongoing instruction, not only did the content appear to be learned better, but students seem to improve their performance on external achievement tests. Black and Wiliam (1998a) stated that all activities employed by teachers and students from which they could gather feedback to modify teaching and learning is formative assessment. Popham (2008) defines formative assessment as a process that students and teachers use during instruction (assessment for learning). The assessment feedback guides teachers to make adjustments during instruction and directs students how to improve their performance to reach the intended goals. Lewis (2002) shares how assessment for learning can improve performance. Teachers can study evidence from an assessment and then purposefully plan additional learning experiences based on what students have and have not learned. These findings support that more sound decisions are made based on assessments for learning as opposed to assessments of learning. Thus, Motivation Writing offers several opportunities from which purposely planned assessment evidence can be garnered and used to adjust ongoing instruction.

Motivation Writing reflects regular informal means of assessing the students and then using the results to drive future instruction. Activities within the Student Edition may be used by students and teachers to gather input to gauge the learning and correct any misunderstandings. Guided Practice and Independent Practice selections with selected-response questions are provided to give practice and to assess learning on the targeted revision and editing standards for each unit. Motivation Writing includes a full-length assessment selection with selected response questions that present additional assessment for learning opportunities. In Formative Assessment and Standards-Based Grading, Marzano (2010) described three types of assessments, obtrusive, unobtrusive, and student generated. Motivation Writing includes the first two as there are assessment opportunities that take place while instruction is and is not occurring. There are also several opportunities for assessment to occur when students may not be aware that teachers are gathering information. In all Motivation Writing assessment opportunities, the evidence gathered may be used to adjust instruction, thus being formative in nature.

Motivation Writing offers a student-friendly scoring guide based on the rubrics provided by the Texas Educational Agency (2011). The rubrics are to be used for both student and teacher assessment of the unit composition. These analytic rubrics or scoring scales describe the performance along a continuum for each identified indicator for each form of composition writing. Rubrics or scales articulate the characteristics of expectations for learners and consistently students know precisely what they did wrong and how they can improve next time. Marzano (2006) advocates the use of a systematic approach to rubric design. When rubrics are designed by district representatives and provided to teachers, then there are no discrepancies from teacher to teacher concerning writing expectations. Motivation Writing provides ready-to-use rubrics. Students may use these rubrics to acknowledge the identified expectations in advance and independently score themselves as they move forward to a set goal. Teachers can utilize the rubrics to determine the different levels of competence along a school wide writing continuum and provide student feedback to improve composition writing performance, as well as determine if instruction needs adjustment.

Numerous studies have examined the effectiveness of various planning and revising strategies in writing (Graham & Harris, 2005; Harris & Graham, 1996).  Strategies that research found to have favorable results include teacher modeling, cooperative application of the strategy, and independent practice of strategy. Motivation Writing supports these research recommendations with Guided Practice, Group Practice, and Individual Assessment upon which to base each lesson’s format. Helpful hints are placed in the Motivation Station component of each unit that helps a student plan with essential elements in mind. This guiding section substantiates research findings in leading students to plan appropriately prior to writing or to purposefully reflect during and/or following a written composition.

Motivation Writing utilizes lessons designed to help students master the elements of writing (e.g., text development), writing skills (e.g., spelling, punctuation), and process strategies (e.g., planning and revising techniques).  Lessons also incorporate certain characteristics that form a language common to shared expectations and feedback regarding the quality of writing (e.g., sentence fluency, word choice, voice, organization).  Both constitute core components of effective writing instruction noted Fowler (2007).

Research shows that graphic organizers are key to assisting students to improve academic performance (Egan, 1999). Ritchie and Karge (1996) share evidence that students who create visual displays of concepts are better able to comprehend the concepts. Fountas and Pinnell (2001) cite that when content is illustrated with diagrams, the information can be maintained by students over a period of time. Organizers portray knowledge in meaningful ways which help bring clarity to ideas as connections are made. Several studies noted that information is more easily learned and understood with visual organizers across different populations of students and in different content areas (Landorf & Lowenstein, 2004; Ellis, 2001; Hobbs, 2001; Dye, 2000; Carlson, 2000; Levine, 1995). Once students acquire the basic, yet solid foundation of a concept, then future content can be addressed at higher cognitive levels leading students to become more strategic learners. Motivation Writing incorporates a variety of organizers within the various writing units. Graphic organizers and charts encourage students to organize their thoughts prior to writing a piece as well as provide teachers with observing how students think. This evidence can help teachers determine if other instruction is necessary or provide an impetus and feedback from which to have student-teacher conversations.

Motivation Writing enhances critical thinking through the use of constructed-response prompts that prepare students to write unit compositions. Constructed-response prompts invite students to demonstrate their ability to think about everyday topics and then construct responses. The literature on critical thinking notes the importance of explicit instruction and indicates that students should be taught how to construct responses that require critical thought. Motivation Writing provides numerous situations where teachers may purposefully model situations or ask questions to focus students’ thinking on an underlying concept and prompt rigorous thought. Bloom’s (1956) Taxonomy provides a useful framework for examining and

differentiating among different levels of learning and thought. Critical thinking is a crucial element in reading because it promotes reading comprehension and story knowledge (Fitzpatrick, 1994). It is important that teachers recognize the need for critical thinking and include experiences to encourage such thought (Carr, 1998). Creative thinking is often a part of the critical thinking process. Creative and critical thinking are both relevant to the problem-solving process as students plan and prepare drafts prior to final composition writing. Critical and creative thinking questions and prompts invite students to reflect on the Introductory Passage and transition to reflective thinking at the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy (1956). Synthesis, a higher level of thinking can be viewed as creative thinking. Creative thinking is also incorporated in the Motivation Station activity which reinforces a previously taught TEKS standard.  These thinking opportunities allow students to make application of information about the topics within Motivation Writing to their own lives. Given the importance of critical thinking skills to success in everyday life and the integral role within the writing TEKS, Motivation Writing presents varied opportunities to engage students in learning and in applying critical thinking skills.

The United States Department of Education acknowledges there are many factors that facilitate school learning. Of those factors, some are acquired through the relationships of children with their parents such as attitudes, habits, knowledge, and skills. Clark (1993) reported that parents of high achievers were more involved with their children in home learning activities. These parents appeared to establish higher expectations for their children as compared to the parents of low-achievers. High-achieving children were reported to have spent more time on homework; however, the parents of low-achieving students helped their children more with homework tasks. Parent partnership is an integral component of Motivation Writing. Activities for parents that reinforce the composition and skills in the unit are suggested in order to encourage meaningful parent involvement with student learning at home. A similar finding surfaced from a study by Moore (1998) encouraging schools to incorporate a range of strategies for active engagement of parents. The schools that had a greater impact on improved reading achievement indicated they utilized the designated practices which appeared to yield higher levels of parent engagement. Cotton & Wikelund (1989) conclude that the more intensely parents are involved, the greater the impact on achievement. Other research by Cotton & Wikelund (2001) shows that "parents generally want and need direction in order to participate with maximum effectiveness. When schools cultivate partnerships and engage families in their children’s education, author Constantino (2008) stated that student achievement can increase. Additional findings from an extensive research review on parent/family involvement programs are shared by Henderson and Mapp (2002) in the report A New Wave of Evidence: The Impact of School, Family, and Community Connections on Student Achievement. Henderson and Mapp concur with other researchers that a favorable and substantiated relationship exists between family involvement and student success, regardless of race/ethnicity, class, or parents’ level of education. A key finding is that children of parents who are involved in home and in school settings show improved performance in school. Therefore, Motivation Writing includes parent activities in every unit to encourage parents to partner with their children and support the development of writing instruction.

Motivation Writing emphasizes composition, revision, and editing skills necessary for writing effective personal narrative and expository pieces. This writing resource is organized into twenty units with a personal narrative focus within 8 of the units and an expository focus within 12 of the units. Targeted instruction is promoted within the units by providing 13 units with an editing focus and 7 units with a revision focus. Planning, drafting, and composition pages for student writing are included within each unit. The unit components of Motivation Writing help maximize classroom writing instruction throughout the year with each unit component building upon the others, resulting in preparedness for the forthcoming composition. Motivation Writing offers cross-curricular connections to integrate learning among the disciplines. Researchers note that students who use information learned in different contexts tend to remember that information longer. When students apply skills across disciplines, student confidence appears to increase. As a result, cross-curricular connections reinforce learning and enhance life-long learning skills. The twenty units in the Student Edition contain the following.

  • The Introductory Passage is a composition used to instruct and model the personal narrative or expository unit composition and to teach targeted revision or editing skills in context, numbered sentences. This model passage introduces the type of writing to be taught in the unit and can be used to teach specific revision or editing TEKS.
  • A guided practice page focuses on the revision or editing unit skill(s) with four multiple-choice revision or editing questions. The questions are based on the targeted skill(s) of the unit using stems from the TEA Released Items (2012). This brief passage relates to the introductory passage to allow students to make connections between the texts and to have practice applying the concepts and skills taught in the unit.
  • An independent practice page focuses on the revision or editing skill(s) with four multiple-choice/selected response questions accenting the targeted skill(s) using stems from the TEA Released Items. This brief passage relates to the introductory passage to allow students to make connections between the texts and to have practice applying the concepts and skills taught in the unit.
  • An assessment page contains a two-page passage with six selected-response revision or editing questions using stems from the TEA Released Items. This full-length passage relates to the introductory passage to allow students to make connections between the texts and to have practice applying the concepts and skills taught in the unit within the context of a longer passage. 
  • Critical Thinking questions/prompts at the application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation levels stimulate student thinking in depth about the concepts and topic of the introductory passage. These questions/prompts also lead students to think and prepare to write about the unit composition topic.
  • The composition prompt page features a narrative or expository prompt presented in STAAR rigor, structure and format. The Narrative Prompt Format includes a photograph, a statement about the photograph, a Write statement that provides the composition prompt, and Be sure to statements that remind students of the criteria upon which their papers will be scored. The Expository Prompt Format includes a Read statement that is a quotation, a Think statement to guide student thinking, a Write statement that provides the composition prompt, and Be sure to statements that remind students of the criteria upon which their paper will be scored. These statements provide students with a scaffolded structure or framework to use when they are required to write. Later, when students write without the scaffolds provided in Motivation Writing, they will have developed the confidence and acquired the skills needed to independently produce high quality compositions. Thus, Motivation Writing will prepare students to independently and mentally work through the steps to organize, plan, and write compositions.
  • Two planning/drafting pages for the composition reflect the STAAR rigor, structure and format.
  • A composition page, which aligns with the 26-lined sample featured on the TEA website, is provided for students to respond to the prompt.
  • A rubric template provides a self-assessment opportunity for the student and a scoring guide for the teacher. The rubrics are based on the Personal Narrative and Expository Rubrics published by the Texas Education Agency.
  • A Motivation Station page offers a creative activity that provides spiraled practice in a variety of contexts for previously taught TEKS.  
  • The Glossary serves as a vocabulary resource for students to develop an understanding of TEKS-based words and vocabulary appropriate to the unit activities.
  • Chart Your Success is a chart which encourages students to assume self-responsibility. This individualized chart requires students to record the number of correct and incorrect responses on the Guided Practice, Independent Practice, and Assessment questions.

Motivation Writing Teacher Edition is comprised of several components:

  • Introduction offers remarks about the resource.
  • Purpose is a statement of the intended purpose of Motivation Writing.
  • Student Edition Unit Components provides an explanation of each component with suggested instructional uses.
  • Teacher Resource Pages includes information provided for each unit regarding cross-curricular connections, organizers for each composition type, enrichment literature, unit vocabulary based on the TEKS, an analysis of the introductory passage and explanation of the analysis, and thumbnails of the Motivation Station and Critical Thinking pages.
  • Strategies section provides a wide range of information regarding a multitude of topics including the 5 E Model of Instruction, the Writing Process, literacy strategies, rubrics, graphic organizers, personal narrative and expository writing with TEA rubrics, revision, editing, questioning prompts, STAAR® Reporting Categories, and the ELPS.
  • Skills Focus provides an explanation of each of the testable TEKS and suggests activities appropriate for instruction and intervention using flexible groups.
  • Skill Based Literature classifies literature by skill or concept.
  • Glossary is comprised of TEKS-based terms and unit activities’ vocabulary that support a teacher’s instruction.
  • TEKS Frequency Chart portrays a chart of the TEKS addressed in each unit.
  • Chart Your Success Chart is a repetition of the chart in the Student Edition.
  • Parent Letter is a form letter in English and Spanish that educators may use to inform parents of the goals for writing instruction.

Motivation Writing is designed around evidence-based findings indicated in this document and state standards (TEA, 2010; 2011; 2012; Young, 2012). Level Four Motivation Writing was created specifically to address all testable student expectations presented in the Assessed Curriculum Document on the STAAR™ Grade 4 Writing (TEA, 2010) and the STAAR® Blueprint (TEA, 2010). Charts are included in this product to highlight the TEKS that are the focus of each unit. 

Motivation Writing also features a print-to-digital transition. Campuses have digital access to all the student and teacher edition pages if using Internet-connected computers. Earlier in 2012, the United States Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission announced a blueprint to invite schools to transition to digital textbooks by the end of the next five years. While not mandated, the initiative encouraged schools to make the switch from print-to-digital materials based on the projected cost-savings and the academic improvement. These benefits are due to the expense of printed textbooks and the personalization of digital content.

Mentoring Minds Product Development Team is dedicated to providing educators with quality materials that allow the effective use of classroom time so that teachers and students have the tools they need to be successful. The authors of this writing product are former educators who combined their experiences and expertise with the input of practicing classroom teachers and administrators. Based on these experiences, relevant information, and recommendations from research, Motivation Writing was created for the purpose of developing excellence in the writing skills of today’s learners. 

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