Notes: Arthur N. Applebee and Judith A. Langer, “A Snapshot of Writing Instruction in Middle and High Schools”

Applebee, Arthur N., and Judith A. Langer. (2011). A snapshot of writing instruction in middle schools and high schools. English Journal, 100(6), 14-27.


In this piece, the authors discuss the findings of the National Study of Writing Instruction, which measured how much students were writing, what they were writing, who was reading their writing, and how they were writing.

Keywords: composition, pedagogy, teaching of writing


“First, students write more for their English classes than for any other subject, and at the same time, they write more for their other subjects combined than they do for English. For papers of a page or less, for example, teachers report requiring 5.5 papers for English during a nine-week grading period, and a total of 8.9 for the other three classes. The differences are smaller for papers of one or two pages (2.6 for English versus 3.5 for the others combined) or three or more pages (1.1 versus 1.1), but the pattern holds” (p. 15).

“Clearly, writing goes beyond the purview of the English teacher; students’ experiences across the curriculum are likely to have an important impact on how they write and the qualities that they consider important in their writing” (p. 15).

“[O]nly 19% represented extended writing of a paragraph or more; all the rest consisted of fill in the blank and short answer exercises, and copying of information directly from the teacher’s presentation—types of activities that are best described as writing without composing” (p. 15).

“When asked how they prepare students for the high-stakes tests they face, teachers reported heavy emphasis on some familiar types of test preparation, including frequent or very frequent “test prep” on the particular types of question that appear on the exam, and using sample questions from old exams or commercial practice materials that present similar items” (p. 19).

“Teachers’ estimates of whether students “frequently” or “almost always” use computers and word processing for the drafts they hand in tend to overestimate how much of students’ work is written in this way” (p. 23).

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