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Colorado Framework for Writing Instruction

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

The Colorado Framework for Writing Instruction is intended to support district- and school-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 district and school wide writing initiative and framework.

The Write-Read Connection: The Impact of Research on Literacy

Why should educators and leaders refer to reading and writing research to guide instructional decisions and practices? Historically, research and pedagogy have separated reading and writing instruction (Shanahan, 2006); however, studies over the past 40 years have concluded that reading and writing are interrelated (e.g., Jenkins et al., 2004Berninger et al., 2002Abbott & Berninger, 1993Tierney & Shanahan, 1996Juel et al., 1986Juel, 1988, 1983; Loban, 1963Shanahan, 1984), and neuroimaging studies have shown that writing and reading activate overlapping brain regions (Pugh et al., 2006). Furthermore, instruction that has focused on the transfer of skills show that writing instruction has a positive effect on reading (Weiser & Mathes, 2011Graham & Hebert, 2011; Tierney & Shanahan, 1991) and reading instruction on writing (Shanahan, 2006). 

When we think about reading, especially early reading, Hollis Scarborough comes to mind. In 2001, Scarborough developed a model of reading that depicts the multiple skills required to successfully read as strands in a rope. The model goes beyond the simple five-component model identified by the Reading Panel (2000). The reading rope identifies five language comprehension skills and three word recognition skills.  

  • The language-comprehension (upper) strands (background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge) reinforce one another and then weave together with the word-recognition strands. 
  • The word-recognition (lower) strands (phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition of familiar words) work together as the reader becomes accurate, fluent, and increasingly automatic with repetition and practice. 

The strands in the rope become more tightly intertwined as students become increasingly more strategic and automatic in their ability to apply and transfer all of the skills until they finally become skill readers. This does not happen overnight; it requires high-quality instruction and practice overtime.

With a nod to Hollis Scarborough’s (2001) Reading Rope, Joan Sedita created the Writing Rope. Sedita’s (2019) writing rope provides a framework for explicit writing instruction that organizes multiple writing skills, strategies, and techniques into five components that represents the elements of a comprehensive writing curriculum: critical thinking, syntax, text structure, writing craft, and transcription. Instruction for most elements can be readily integrated into instruction in all content areas. For example, stages of the writing processexplicit instruction of strategies for writing about or in response to reading, activities to improve sentence and paragraph writing, and text structures for the three types of writing (i.e., informational/expository, argumentative/opinionated, and narrative). The strands in the rope become more tightly intertwined as students become increasingly more strategic and automatic in their ability to apply and transfer all of the skills until they finally become skill writers. This does not happen overnight; it requires high-quality instruction and practice over time. 

The Colorado Framework for Writing Instruction emphasizes and elevates the findings and evidence-based practices from research to depict the interconnected, interdependent, and inter-relational nature of the skills and concepts Colorado students must know, understand, demonstrate, and be able to transfer in order to become skilled writers and readers as outlined in the Colorado Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, and Communicating. 


Organization of the Colorado Framework for Writing Instruction

Colorado's Writing Framework begins with belief statements and culminates with instructional practices. The depiction has blue boxes with arrows that depicts the interdependency of each element (i.e., beliefs, research, desired state, current state, action steps, systems and structures, and the write-read connection) to help district and school leaders examine the state of writing and writing instruction in order to increase writing and overall literacy proficiency of their students.

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 and school leadership 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 and align those beliefs with research and evidence-based practices that support the effective teaching of writing. The Framework for Writing Instruction committee has carefully, collaboratively, and strategically outlined the process districts and schools can take to create a framework within their local context through research and evidence-based practices that speak to the write-read connection, the systems and structures that should be in place to effectively impact both student and teacher outcomes in the implementation of high-quality writing instruction. 


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 framework 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. Successful districts and schools should view this framework as a blueprint that helps them take the necessary steps to move from their current state to their desired state of literacy instruction—reading, writing, speaking, and listening—seeing the intersectionality of each literacy and how students, through research and evidence-based systems, structures, and instructional practices, can demonstrate mastery of the Colorado Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, and Communicating at each grade-level and/or grade band and become prepared graduates with the essential skills to be successful in their chosen post-secondary pathway (e.g., college/university, military, workforce, or as an entrepreneur).

Recognizing that Colorado is a local control state, the resources identified and the thinking behind this framework allows districts to develop their own approach to teaching writing in a coherent, aligned, and deliberate manner. Therefore, the framework 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. 

Learning Modules for Professional Development (Coming Fall 2023)

  • 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 Multilingual Learners

Writing Framework Process Cohort Members

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

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

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

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

Dr. Kasey Andrade-Smith, Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Coordinator, Harrison 2 School District

Dr. Melissa Peterson, Performance Improvement Partner, Cherry Creek Schools District

Karen Smith, Elementary Language Arts Coordinator, St. Vrain Valley School District

Georganna Rapaport, TOSA for Literacy, Academy District 20 

Jennifer Chappell, Secondary Literacy Support/Instructional Coach, Colorado Springs District 11

Mykel Donnelly, K-12 Literacy and Language Arts/Social Studies Facilitator, 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

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

Janelle Clay, Instructional Coach, Delta School District

Anne Folsom, Elementary Content Specialist, Jefferson County School District

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

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

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

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

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

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

Important News, Announcements, and Updates

New Instructional Program Review Rubrics for Grades 4-12

CDE, in partnership and collaboration with WestEd, has created instructional program rubrics for Colorado school districts to use as a resource when reviewing programs for grades four through 12. Similar to the instructional program review rubrics for K-3, the rubrics for 4-12 have two phases: Phase I demonstrates alignment between K-3 and 4-12, utilizing existing language from the K-3 rubric to delineate similarities, differences, and the vertical changes and complexities students in K-3 to 4-12.  

Phase I Categorical Buckets 

  • Existing Phase I Rubric for K-3 
  • Phase Rubric for 4-12
  • Explanation of Changes

Phase II of the 4-12 rubrics focus on and are divided into the categorical buckets listed below. They have been selected and designed to intentionally reflect all components of literacy (i.e., reading, writing, speaking, and listening), elevating conversations, considerations, and analysis for districts and schools prior to and during the curriculum adoption process. Each indicator is grounded by a question for leaders and educators to not only ponder in its use of the rubrics for instructional program and/or curriculum selection, but also in instructional practices both leaders and educators desire to provide their students. The sections within the categorical buckets of the rubric are aligned to the Colorado Academic Standards for Reading, Writing, and Communicating and highlight the foundational principles of disciplinary literacy while supporting literacy proficiency for students who remain on READ plans beyond third grade. 

  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Fluency, Vocabulary, and Word Analysis
  • Oral Expression and Comprehension 
  • Research and Analysis

The Instructional Program Rubrics for Grades 4-12 are grounded in research and evidence-based practices that can be found on the 4-12 Literacy Instructional Rubrics Reference List. The reference list is organized into two main sections: cross-category references and rubric-specific references. The cross-category references address skills and knowledge that cross all rubric categories. The rubric-specific references are subdivided by rubric category. However, some references appear in multiple rubric categories; these references have been indicated with an asterisk. Please note that while this list has been divided into categories, many of our references could inform multiple aspects of literacy instruction and apply to other rubric categories even if not explicitly marked.


CDE Release of Guidance for READ Plans for Students in Grades 4-12


The purpose of the Colorado READ Act is to ensure that every student in Colorado can read at grade level by the time they exit the third grade. 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 if the same student has been identified as having a Significant Reading Deficiency (SRD)?  

CDE has comprised guidance for supporting students who remain on READ plans in grades 4 thru 12. The guidance is intended to provide all Colorado districts with research, resources, and training opportunities to support students who remain on READ plans beyond the third grade. The guidance and other information can be found at 

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, Ed.D
Reading, Writing, and Communicating Content Specialist