Skip Navigation

Home Blogs REL Pacific Partners with Hawaiʻi School Teams to Develop a Toolkit for Teaching Effective Writing

REL Pacific Partners with Hawaiʻi School Teams to Develop a Toolkit for Teaching Effective Writing

Pacific | February 20, 2024

Teachers believe they need more preparation to teach writing.

Recent research shows that despite the importance of writing in learning (and life), teachers feel that their preparation to teach writing is minimal or insufficient.1 In a national study of teacher preparation programs, writing instruction was most often embedded within reading courses rather than delivered as a stand-alone course.2 An analysis of 28 studies of writing instruction revealed that although some teachers provide exemplary writing instruction, the majority of teachers devote much less than one hour per day to writing instruction and provide few opportunities for students to practice writing in class.3

The What Works Clearinghouse practice guide Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively is a resource that provides middle and high school teachers with evidence-based recommendations for helping their students develop effective writing skills. REL Pacific is currently developing a toolkit of practical resources and professional learning activities that school-wide teams of middle school teachers, instructional coaches, and professional learning leaders can use to deepen their understanding of writing recommendations and application in the classroom.

Hawaiʻi schools are informing the development of the toolkit.

The Secondary Writing Toolkit is a multi-year undertaking made possible by a team of partners from multiple organizations who are managing the development, usability testing, and evaluation of the toolkit.4 The project aligns with the Hawaiʻi Department of Education (HIDOE) strategic plan, which includes goals for increasing students' language arts proficiency. We also received invaluable support from our partners at the HIDOE district office and from individual Hawaiʻi schools throughout the development process and usability testing.

  • Educators at Innovations Public Charter School, a K–8 school serving around 240 students in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaiʻi, piloted the professional learning materials with colleagues and provided feedback that REL Pacific incorporated into the toolkit.
  • Connections PCS, a K–12 school serving nearly 350 students in Hilo on the island of Hawaiʻi, was a usability study partner whose educators completed the draft toolkit's professional development, used the initial diagnostic and ongoing monitoring tools, and participated in usability testing interviews.
  • Teachers and students at ʻĪao School, serving more than 800 students in grades 6–8 on Maui, allowed REL Pacific to film their toolkit-based writing classes and Professional Learning Community (PLC) meeting, which will be featured in the toolkit's classroom example videos.

More Hawaiʻi schools now have an opportunity to join the toolkit project as participants in the evaluation study planned for the 2024/25 school year. Participating schools will gain early access to the toolkit and will receive implementation support from the study team. This study will provide REL Pacific with invaluable information about the usefulness and effectiveness of the toolkit before the final stages of publication.

If you work in a Hawaiʻi school and are interested in participating in the study, please check out these frequently asked questions and contact the REL Pacific toolkit study team at for more information.

The toolkit's professional learning resources focus on writing policy arguments.

What is effective writing?

Effective writing can be defined as the skillful composition of text that achieves the writer's goals, aligns with the specific audience and context, articulates ideas with clarity, and prompts the intended response from the reader.

While the practice guide recommendations are rooted in two themes––writing encourages critical thinking and writing occurs in every discipline––the toolkit's professional learning resources are focused on one form of disciplinary writing: policy arguments. The lessons of the toolkit can be applied to any curriculum, but REL Pacific chose to focus on policy arguments so that teachers can deepen their content and pedagogical knowledge5 about one form of writing. Focusing on policy arguments also helps middle school students develop their capacities to make arguments and build a foundational understanding of the key ideas of claims, evidence, and reasoning—skills that will prepare them for argumentation across disciplines in high school.6

The final, published version of the Secondary Writing Toolkit will be a free resource that schools anywhere can use to organize and facilitate PLCs to strengthen teachers' evidence-based writing instruction, and ultimately, increase students' efficacy as writers.

The toolkit will include professional learning resources and activities to help teachers explore the recommended instructional strategies and guide their own lesson planning. The toolkit also contains videos showing the strategies being used in actual classrooms. Through collaborative learning experiences in a PLC, educators expand their knowledge as they read, discuss, share, and apply the key ideas and strategies presented in the practice guide. Over time, teachers will:

  • demonstrate knowledge and skills for teaching writing.
  • assess students' strengths and areas for growth in writing.
  • plan instruction that incorporates recommended practices and addresses students' needs.
  • exhibit a sense of efficacy as writers and teachers of writing.

To support language arts teachers in the PLC bringing the writing process to life in their instruction, the toolkit is organized in four topical modules. Each module includes videos that illustrate how to implement the practice guide recommendations. Check out our infographic Teaching Secondary Students to Write Effectively: Practice Guide and Toolkit Overview.

Module 1:
Reading and Writing to Improve Students' Arguments

Module 2:
Writing Strategies for Planning, Goal Setting, and Drafting

Module 3:
Writing Strategies for Evaluating, Revising, and Editing

Module 4:
Formative Assessment to Improve Students' Writing

As teachers use the toolkit and change their practices, we anticipate that their students will begin to use the writing strategies, be better able to assess the quality of their writing, increase their sense of efficacy as writers, and, ultimately, improve the overall quality of their writing.


1 Graham, S. (2019). Changing how writing is taught. Review of Research in Education, 43(1), 227–303.

2 Myers, J., Scales, R. Q., Grisham, D. L., Wolsey, T. D., Dismuke, S., Smetana, L., & Martin, S. (2016). What about writing: A national exploratory study of writing instruction in teacher preparation programs. Literacy Research & Instruction, 55(4), 309–330.

3 Graham, S. (2019). Changing how writing is taught. Review of Research in Education, 43(1), 227–303.

4 REL Pacific's cross-organization team includes McREL International (management), WestEd (content development lead), and Abt & Associates (evaluation study lead).

5 Shulman, L. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. American Educational Research Journal, 15(2) 4–14.

6 Unlike early reading development, there is not a widely agreed upon developmental framework for writing development. Between 2012 and 2017, a group of writing scholars convened to synthesize what is known about writing development. These convenings resulted in the development of eight principles of writing development. [See Bazerman, C., Graham, S., Applebee, A., Masuda, P. K., Berniger, V. W., Murphy, S., Brandt, D., Rowe, D. W., & Schleppegrell. (2017). Taking the long view of writing development. Research in the Teaching of English, 51(3), 351–360.]


Sheila Arens

Sheila Arens

Connect with REL Pacific