Characteristics of a High Quality Classroom Environment for Writers

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Greetings and Salutations,

For one of my graduate classes, I am to define characteristics of a high quality classroom environment for writers (this post). I am then to figure out which one I need the most help with and come up with a plan (future post). Finally, I need to share. Thus this is part one of a two part post. I know I have the other post series I am working on too. I received lots of feedback, and I still need to revise a whole lot of stuff before giving you the final results. If there is some erroneous errors in my writing or even small ones please let me know. And if you would ever be so kind as to leave a comment about what you have learned or read please do so. I need feedback to write about in my paper. So without further words here is my list.

Artfully, Mrs. Berry

 Characteristics of a High Quality Classroom Environment for Writers

  • A teacher has established a safe environment for writers.

When a teacher hands students writing materials it is like sending them out on the tight rope walk. Some students can navigate the rope easily while others need a pole and safety net. Both set of students need to know that if they do fall they will still be safe. Having a safety net in the classroom enables writers to navigate writing because they feel safe. Erin Gruwell lists establishing a safe environment as part of her secret sauce recipe for a creating a high quality classroom environment for writers. Gruwell (2007) writes, “Once I realized that my students saw my classroom as a refuge, I tried to foster an environment where they felt comfortable expressing their opinions and beliefs” (p. 6). When a student feels safe from ridicule or fear they will open up and express themselves and try new writing challenges. The key ingredient is that they need to feel safe.

A safe environment for students is where the student does not feel threatened. Eric Jensen (2005) states, “ Students who feel threatened will fight back if they can feel they can get away with it. . . But make no mistake; if there’s a threat, the student’s brain is going in high gear” (p. 72). A student who feels threatened will be focusing on trying escape the situation, even if it is writing. The perception that writing is a threat will stop a student in his/her tracks and they will not be able to get very far. If students establish a positive emotion with a learning experience then there will be a great association in the brain (Jensen 2005). A teacher establishing a classroom that does not cause negative stress or fear in students will create an environment where students will make positive association with writing.

Goodwill and Tan teach college writing at the Bringham Young University-Hawii where foreign students represent 40% of the total enrollment. “Because of the lack of emphasis on the human element of learning process in the freshman English writing class, many foreign students fell unnecessarily pressured and they quietly suffocate as the class verbally steamrolls over them” (Goodwill and Tan p. 2). To create a safe environment for their students they introduced writing journals. “Students are able to ask questions, express feelings, criticize, and make meaning in a medium that is relatively safe. They do not have to fear embarrassment or retaliation from classmates nor do they have to worry about whether or not their comments will jeopardize their grades” (Goodwill and Tan p. 4-5).

  • Students are engaged in writing.

You can lead students to paper but you can’t make them write. Student engagement is another key ingredient in having a high quality classroom environment for writers. For students to be intrinsically engaged the environment must be staged where students are able to chose. The role of the teacher is to create conditions for interest learning and then provide the activities and structure (Erwin, 2004). Jonathan C. Erwin (2004) describes two types of motivation internal and external. For a quality classroom the internal motivation needs to be implemented for students. Erwin (2004) states, “…internal motivation, which depends on motivation to come from needs or drives within students” (p. 6). Motivation for students comes from being given a choice. The student established an ownership of their choice and is more engaged in something of their interest.

Along with choice students need to be involved in the process of choosing their learning process with writing. Gruwell writes, “The goal is to establish a collaborative an supportive academic environment that will draw your students into the learning process…” (p. 11). When students establish their own goals for writing they take ownership and become intrinsically motivated to see their learning though the process. Gruwell continues to say for engagement in a students a teacher needs to, “help them make connections between who they are as individuals and who they are as students, and encourage then to discover commonalities with their classmates” (p. 11). By encouraging students to make connection with one another they are establishing their own community for writing. Students then have an invested interest in their own writing. Erwin (2004) states, “When teachers provide a number of opportunities for students to gain power, these students will work harder on their assignments…” (p. 101). Students are move willing to write when it is something that are interested in and have the power of choice for an assignment.

  • Students are given daily time to work on writing and word work.

Every day there needs to be time to stop and smell the words. In a high quality classroom environment for writers there needs to be time to work and play with words. Boushey and Moser (2006) use writing as part of the Daily Five and they, “… use it as a twenty- to thirty- minute supplement to writer’s workshop, which takes place each afternoon in our classroom” (p. 80). When students are in this time frame they are playing or working with words rather than working on a set writing skill. Boushey and Moser (2006) go on to say, “Working on writing provides students with time to spend on writing that really matters to them” (p.80). Having scheduled time to work with words correlates directly between student motivation, ability, productivity, and increase in writing practice (Boushey and Moser (2006). Time for writing is an important ingredient in establishing a high quality classroom.

  • Students are surrounded by words.

Come out with your pencils up because students have been surrounded by words in a high quality classroom environment for writers. A way to incorporate space into the classroom is to establish a word wall. Anne McGill-Franzen (2006) describes word walls as a way to, “help children become independent readers and writers by making the patterns within and across words more apparent to them (p. 186). By having a spot where students can see several words next to each other they are able to establish word spelling patterns. McGill-Franzen goes on to say, “The words are displayed for easy reference so that children can use these words and word patterns to help them read and write” (p. 186). Also, by having words on the wall students are able to use those words readily in their writing. When a student becomes stuck for word-choice they are able to grab one of the word wall words and use it in their writing. Having students surrounded by words is another key factor in establishing a quality classroom.

  • Teachers and peers provide specific feedback in regards to writing.

It’s easy being a critic if you only give a thumbs up or down. In an high quality classroom environment for writers giving specific feedback is important to help students with writing. Ruth Culhan writes, “Regardless of their age, students need specific, constructive feedback to know what is working well and what need improvement” (p. 15). By giving specific feedback students are able to make adjustments to what is not working as well in their writing. They are also able to establish what is working well and continue with it in their writing.

Feedback is also important in the early stages of writing. Practice of writing a sentence structure several times, even if it is wrong, will establish a permanent pattern in a student’s brain. That is why it is important to give prompt and accurate feedback. Jensen (2005) writes, “Students tend to make more mistakes in the early stages of any new learning. Prompt feedback at this time is essential to prevent them from getting too far off course” (p. 55). In a high quality classroom feedback will redirect a student to be on course and give Emmy worthy performance.

  • Teachers have visuals in the classroom to develop word knowledge and letter formation.

To see and understand or not see and understand,” is a question that teachers need ask themselves when developing a high quality classroom environment. Visuals can help support understanding and comprehension of text. Students who struggle with English as either their first or second language need additional support when developing their writing and visuals can give this support. Jeffrey Wilhelm (2004) writes, “All thinking proceeds from the concrete to the abstract, from the the visible to the invisible” (p. 14). By having visuals in the classroom to describe words or enhance a phrase, students are able to make concrete connections to the abstract word.

Margaret Bailey and others conducted a study with twenty-five second grade students on the impact of using visuals with the writing process. Bailey (1995) writes, “There is evidence that the integration of visuals into the process had positive affects on the length and quality of student compositions” (p. 143). Bailey (1995) concludes that because of the use of the visuals, “The majority of student’s final themes reflect longer length, and greater risks taken with vocabulary, dialogue, and sentence structure” (p. 143).

  • Students are writing for authentic reasons.

Authentic writing is another key ingredient in an high quality classroom environment. Culham (2005) writes, “For students to become good writers they must do more than practice skills-they must have personal reasons for writing” (p. 27). Giving students an authentic writing challenges and actives brings a part of themselves into the writing. The authentic writing is also tied to motivation.

Sharon Ulanoff studied two ESL students over a period of three school years. She used writing samples in the form of dialog journals. Part of Ulanoff ‘s(1993) conclusion included a reflection of using authentic writing, “When teachers allow students to write for their own purposes and engage the students in authentic writing activities, students are able to perform within this context using writing for their own means, rather than to fulfill an assignment” (p. 52).

  • Teachers emphasize the processes of writing over the end product.

The emphasis on the journey that a student takes when writing is another key ingredient in a high quality classroom environment for writers. Culham (2005) writes, “When we emphasize finishing the work and making it look neat, students don’t become writers. They become task-completers” (p. 28). When students take their energy and work through the process of writing they are focused on completing specific tasks within writing. Rather than, focusing on the end results and not achieving their own potential in writing.


Bailey, M,. Others. (1995). Eyes on the future: Converging imgages, ideas, and instruction. Selected Readings from the Annual Conference of the the International Visual Literacy Association. Retrieved from ERIC:

Boushey, G., Moser, J. (2006). The daily 5: Fostering literacy independence in the elementary grades.Portland, MA: Stenhouse Publishers.

Culham, R. (2005). 6 + 1 traits of writing: The complete guide for the primary grades. Portland, OR: Scholastic Inc.

Erwin, J. (2004). The classroom of choice: Giving students what they need to and getting what you want. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Goodwill, S., Tan, W. 1997. Do you hear what I hear?: Chinese and American writing instructors compare journal voices from international writers. Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Conference on College Composition and Communication. Reterived from Eric

Gruwell, E., The Freedom Writers Foundation. (2007). The freedom writers diary: Teacher’s guide. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

Jenson, E. (2005). Teaching with the brain in mind: 2nd edition revised and updated. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

McGill-Franzen, A. (2006). Kindergarten literacy: Matching assessment and instruction in kindergarten. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.

Ulanoff, S. (1993). Dialogue journal writing and the mediated development of writing: How do second language learners engage in authentic writing activities develop as writers?. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Retrieved from ERIC:

Wilhelm, J. (2004). Reading is seeing: Learning to visualize scenes, characters, ideas, and text worlds to improve comprehension and reflective reading. New York, NY: Scholastic Inc.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Characteristics Of A High Quality Classroom Environment Part II « Berryart's Blog
  2. Trackback: Characteristics Of A High Quality Classroom Environment Part II « Berryart's Blog

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