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Framework for Writing Instruction

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Why Do We Need a Framework for Writing Instruction in Colorado?

The Framework for Writing Instruction is intended to support district-level leaders in facilitating conversations with their literacy leaders, instructional coaches, and teachers to develop a research-based framework toward the teaching of writing. Steve Graham’s article, “Changing How Writing Is Taught,” reiterates the idea that writing is a “neglected skill” and that writing instruction is “inadequate” and “infrequent” (Review in Research Education, 2019, pp. 277-303).

Research reveals that teachers place little emphasis on persuasive and expository writing. (WWC: Teaching Elementary School Students to be Effective Writers, 2018WWC: Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively: Graham & Herbert, 2010; Graham & Perin, 2007National Institute for LiteracyElbow, 2004)  Furthermore, it shows that students seldom write longer papers that involve analysis and interpretation.  It is important to note that, with both in-school writing and writing done beyond the classroom walls, students will be asked to produce writing centered on analysis, interpretation, exposition, and argument.  Whether on standardized assessments, or in Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams, or to demonstrate graduate competencies in capstone projects, students are asked to produce multi-paragraph essays. We cannot afford to neglect this complex literacy any longer.

This framework serves as a call to action for improving how writing is taught in Colorado’s elementary and secondary schools, and it serves as a resource for districts and schools to create a framework for developing a writing initiative in their buildings.

Organization of the Framework for Writing Instruction 

The framework begins with a lean toward examining the beliefs around writing, in general, and teaching writing, in particular. Because of the complexity and the unique demands inherent in the teaching of writing, it is important for district leadership, as well as school leaders, to bring to the surface the beliefs that teachers hold. The result is to identify, and develop, if necessary, shared beliefs that teachers hold regarding the teaching of writing.

Why start with these beliefs? Whether they are conscious or unconscious, articulated or not, those beliefs influence decisions made in the classroom. It’s important for teachers, individually and collectively, to surface those beliefs. Beliefs lead to practices.

This framework connects these more abstract beliefs to a research base. From there, it offers the elements of a “desired state” of teaching writing: the observable teacher behaviors that demonstrate effective writing instruction and the student behaviors that follow those actions. 

Finally, the document connects the instructional practices to the professional development necessary to move districts and schools toward their vision. The instructional practices and professional development offered here should not be interpreted as exhaustive lists by any mean; they serve as samples and examples of best practices. Nor should they be seen as prescriptive in any way.

Recognizing that Colorado is a local control state, the resources identified and the thinking behind this document allows districts to develop their own approach to teaching writing in a coherent, aligned, and deliberate manner. Therefore, the document does not prioritize any one school of thought toward writing nor does it promote any programs, commercial or otherwise. Decisions regarding instructional practices, curriculum materials, and approaches to assessing student writing remain in the hands of local districts to meet the needs of their student population.


School Leadership

  • Creating Systems and Structures to Support Writing Across the Content Areas
  • Monitoring Systems and Structures for Writing through Instructional Leadership & Data Teams 
  • Current and Desired States: Where are we now? Where do we want to be? 
  • Professional Development and Ongoing Educator Support
  • Additional Readings

Classroom Practices

  • Writing Instruction through various Lenses
  • Creating Classrooms that Support Writing
  • Critical and Necessary Differentiation in Writing to Ensure DEI 
  • Elementary Writing 
  • Secondary Writing

Learning Modules for Professional Development

  • Elementary Writing Across All Academic Disciplines
  • Secondary Writing Inside the ELA Classroom
  • Secondary Writing in other Content Areas/Academic Disciplines
  • Writing that Supports Special Education Students
  • Writing that Supports English Language Learners

Writing Framework Process Cohort Members

Olivia Gillespie, Reading, Writing, and Communicating Content Specialist, Office of Standards and Instructional Support, Colorado Department of Education

Claudia Ladd, Senior Literacy Consultant, Elementary Literacy and School Readiness Office, Colorado Department of Education

Amy Thomas, K-3 Teacher Training, Elementary Literacy and School Readiness Office, Colorado Department of Education

Mykel Donnelly, K-12 Literacy and Language Arts/Social Studies Facilitator, Colorado Springs District 11 

Natasha North, Secondary Literacy Support/Instructional Coach, Colorado Springs District 11 

Laurilea McDaniel, Fine Arts/Music Facilitator, Colorado Springs District 11

Christy Feldman, K-12 Literacy and Language Arts, Colorado Springs District 11

Claudette Murtha, Global Education Facilitator, Colorado Springs District 11

Dr. Kathleen LaFond, Professional Development Coordinator, Thompson Valley School District

Anne Folsom, Elementary Content Specialist, Jefferson County School District

Jennifer Gottschalk, ELA/Gifted and Talented Instructional Coach, Douglas County School District

Zac Chase, Secondary ELA and Library Services and Media Coordinator, St. Vrain Valley School District

Robin Balogh, 4th grade Teacher, Cherry Creek Schools District

Terri Earl, ELA Curriculum Specialist/Learning Design, Mesa Valley School District 51

Kristin Gross, ELA Curriculum Specialist/Learning Design, Mesa Valley School District 51

Deborah Horan, Department Chair and Professor of Elementary Education, Metropolitan State University

Vince Puzick, Adjunct Professor, Literacy Consultant, and former Reading, Writing, and Communication Content Specialist at CDE

Jan Stallones, Professor, Literacy Consultant and Instructional Coach, and former ELA Teacher in California and Texas 

Important News, Announcements, and Updates

FAQ: READ Plans Beyond Third Grade 

The Colorado READ Act passed in 2012 by the Colorado legislature with the purpose of ensuring every student in Colorado can read at grade level by the time they exit third grade. The legislation was born out of convincing research by a variety of sources, including by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, that shows students who cannot read by the end of the third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school. The provisions of the Act promote early identification of reading difficulties and effective intervention to quickly close reading gaps and ensure all Colorado students can demonstrate a level of competency in reading skills necessary to achieve success in school.

READ Act starts by making sure all students receive instruction in the foundational skills of reading. This continues through the grades until each third-grade student can read with ease, understand the materials, and think critically. What happens if a student enters into the fourth grade and cannot read grade-level texts with ease, demonstrate understanding of grade-level material, and/or think critically as asked in the Colorado Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, and Communicating? What happens if the same student has been identified as having a Significant Reading Deficiency (SRD) and is subsequently placed on a READ plan prior to leaving third grade? What does it mean when a student in grades 4 thru 12 is on a READ plan?

The frequently asked questions and subsequent responses found here are the first step in our phased, but targeted approach to provide guidance, support, and resources to districts regarding the topic of READ Plans beyond third grade.

For questions and/or more information, please contact Olivia Gillespie at gillespie_o@cde.state.co.us

On-Demand Professional Development Opportunities

The Office of Standards and Instructional Support has compiled several on-demand learning opportunities for educators. Visit the on-demand library on the CDE website

Contact Information

Olivia Gillespie
Reading, Writing, and Communicating Content Specialist
720-930-1298
gillespie_o@cde.state.co.us