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Teachers Network Leadership Institute:
Action Research:
Parent Involvement & Immigrant Engagement: Writing Uphill
Research Summary
by Shirley Chin

Research Question
How does “shared interactive writing” impact English language learners’ (ELLs) writing performance?

As ELLs develop and use skills and strategies to compose, produce and present written work in a variety of genres for different audiences and purposes, what happens when there is explicit teaching, modeling, and sharing of the task of writing?

As a result of the NCLB Act, all ELLs must meet the same standards as other students and are required to take State assessments in the subject areas appropriate to their grade level. It’s a challenging task to teach ELLs with various English proficiency levels to reach the performance benchmarks in the ESL standards. Students must be able to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies in English for authentic purposes in both social and academic settings in their grade levels. What happens when students are admitted year round and they have had interrupted schooling?

The year round admission policy creates groups of students who always seem to need to start at the very beginning, learning the alphabet and letter sounds, and develop basic communication skills. I felt Shared Interactive Writing would be a good entry point for students to begin writing in their second language because it calls for them to write what they’re able to write on their own while I assist them with spelling and the conventions of writing. The teacher can then work with the students to write words and sentences based on what they know and aid their vocabulary development as they collaborate on the text and share the pen. My thought was that used daily, the students would develop their competence with oral language, reading, and writing.

P.S. 130M is located in the Chinatown-Little Italy section of New York. There is a population of almost 1,100 children with the majority entering as English language learners. The children live in a community that supports their first language and culture.
I taught 28 fourth and fifth grade Chinese students in a pull out program, providing English as a second language (ESL) services in an all English immersion program.

Data Collection Tools
I asked the students to fill out a writing survey to find out how they each felt about their ability to write, their feelings toward writing, and their feelings about writing in school and at home. Other questions on the survey helped me understand whether they understood the purposes for writing and whether they had problem solving strategies for writing independently.

Observation Check List
I adapted a Language Arts Development Checklist from Language Arts Assessment Grades 5-6 by C.D. Ryan (1994) to record what each student can do in writing mechanics and what each student can do in writing tasks.

Writing Samples
I looked at two students’ writing samples to examine their growth and progress in English language writing proficiency. This was intended to give me greater understanding of how the Shared Interactive Writing influenced student achievement.

Summary of Data
Students had a positive attitude toward writing and they enjoyed writing. They felt people wrote to learn to have better penmanship or for practice. “Good writing” they thought has to do with correct spelling, nice and neat writing, the teacher’s grade, and good use of English. They also thought that good writing was to write more words and write essays.

The students’ writing skills improved over a six month period from October to April. There was significant improvement with the use of capital letters, correct ending punctuation, and writing simple sentences with correct sentence structure (100%). A majority of the students started using quotation marks (53%) and commas (69%) appropriately and use “and” (81%) to join ideas. However, the skills that do not exist in the Chinese language (contractions, prefixes and suffixes, verb forms, and subject/verb agreement) had the least improvement with 56% to 69% of the students occasionally applying the skills.

All but 5 improved by April with writing tasks such as writing story summaries, stories using beginning, middle, and end, developing stories sequentially, using a variety of vocabulary and sentence structures, writing for purposes and audiences, revising, and sharing and discussing. Three students and about half the class showed slight improvement in using story elements, topic sentences with supporting details, and dialogue.

The case studies showed the developmental growth of two students after explicit teaching through shared interactive writing followed by small group writing and writing partnerships before independent writing. Modeling the writing (shared writing) and sharing the pen (shared interactive writing) helped the students understand writing expectations. Both students improved moving through the stages of language acquisition at their own learning rates. Both students, A and B, gradually improved their writing skills with opportunities to work collaboratively learning to use English words in context. As I modeled how to write reading responses and how to make connections to the text, student A, a beginning ESL student, gradually moved from writing in Chinese to writing in English as much as she could. Student B, in the third stage of language acquisition, the speech emergence stage, added details to his summaries using his own words and learned to express himself and his ideas freely (such as a text connection).

As I worked with the fourth and fifth grade students this year, I learned to accept their Chinese English as they developed their writing competence and language skills. For some students writing in their first language helped them grow as writers as they made the gradual transition to English. The students needed to be taught high frequency words, phrases, grammar, idiomatic expressions, and sentence patterns. They moved at their own pace, and as new students were admitted during the year, more time was given to them in small guided writing groups.

The strategies in teaching writing for English speaking students were applicable for ESL students with more explicit directions and modeling. The ESL students needed more time on language conventions and reminders of verb tense and plural forms. Although they knew the concepts for grammar, they needed time to internalize the concepts to develop the habit for writing.


  • Students need opportunities to write to develop their writing skills.
  • Students who struggle in their first language need more time and attention to write.
  • The skills of speaking, reading, and writing are interwoven and students should be encouraged to express themselves and their ideas by sharing their writing with an audience.
  • There should be word walls in the classroom with words related to a theme, descriptive words, actions words, or idiomatic expressions.
  • Quality literature makes reading and writing more interesting and meaningful for students.
  • When teachers collaborate, instruction is improved and students’ learning is more connected.
  • Students’ placement based on age sometimes creates struggling students whose first language literacy is two to three years behind their peers.
  • Teachers who receive staff development and support use the most effective ways to teach new immigrant students.
  • Chinese parents lack the cultural knowledge of American schools and do not understand how parental involvement affects their children’s school performance. When literacy strategies are modeled for the parents, the parents can use the same strategies at home with their children (the strategies can be used with Chinese language books or translated books).
  • When teachers understand second language acquisition, they accept that students need to use their first language to build content knowledge and develop their literacy skills as readers and writers as they gradually develop English proficiency.
  • For many Chinese immigrant children who enter school, they lag behind the students the same age and have a difficult time meeting the standards set for the grade. Although they make progress in English language development, their skills are below the standard of the grade in which they are placed.
  • The New York State policy for assessing literacy development is after three years in the country, immigrant students will be assessed with the same measurement as everyone else. Teachers become pressured to have their students meet the standard of the pressures of high stakes testing.


  • Allow time for students to progress at their own rate through the stages of second language acquisition
  • Know your students’ educational background and experiences
  • Immerse students in content rich and meaningful language experiences with opportunities to discuss topics and write daily


  • Provide resources and books at various levels on each grade level for appropriate entry points
  • Time for classroom teachers and service providers to meet and collaborate to optimize student learning
  • Placement of students based on educational experiences, not age appropriate grade level classes
  • Staff development and support to help teachers improve their teaching instruction for ELLs
  • Workshops for parents to help them understand the differences between the two educational systems and how they can help their children at home


  • Better teacher preparation to understand second language acquisition and instructional approaches to help ELLs maximize their learning
  • Time allowed for student adjustment and less emphasis on high stakes testing until students have acquired and developed appropriate academic skills in English

Shirley Chin

Research Focus:

TNLI Affiliate:
New York City

P.S. 130 Hernando Desoto School
143 Baxter Street
New York, NY 10013

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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