Best Practices for Using Utah Compose

This article presents best practices for using Utah Compose. Recommendations are based on results of implementation research and the Institute of Education Sciences’ (IES) What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) recommendations for teaching elementary and secondary students to write effectively.  


Recommendation 1: Provide daily opportunities for students to write.


Successfully learning and using Utah Compose requires time to plan and carry out daily writing instruction. Look for ways to dedicate more time for writing in the classroom, such as through cross-curricular initiatives that provide students with more opportunities to practice different types of writing. Be sure to consider what role Utah Compose will have in the context of your writing curriculum.  Possible ways to integrate Utah Compose with your writing curriculum include:

·       Assign writing tasks spanning argumentative, informative, and narrative writing purposes using Utah Compose's pre-packaged prompts.

·       Assign supplemental practice tasks and/or curriculum-specific writing activities using customized prompts you create for these purposes.

·       Assign shorter response-to-text tasks and/or writing across the curriculum tasks using pre-packaged or customized constructed-response prompts.


Recommendation 2: Teach students the writing process.


The writing process includes planning, drafting, sharing, evaluating, revising, and editing. Explicitly teach students writing strategies for the various components of the writing process:

·       First, model strategies for planning and goal setting, drafting, evaluating, revising, and editing. Use the Modeling feature in Utah Compose to demonstrate to students the steps of a strategy and how to execute each step.

·       Next, provide opportunities for students to apply and practice strategies. Assign varied writing tasks in Utah Compose that allow students to practice their writing for different topics, audiences, and purposes.  Additionally, assign interactive, skill-specific lessons (available at different levels of difficulty) to students to apply and practice strategies. Consider having students complete prewriting and planning activities and various parts of an essay (e.g., introduction, body, conclusion) throughout the course of instruction, rather than all at once.

·       Finally, have students evaluate and reflect upon their own and their peers’ writing and use of strategies. Provide students with scoring rubrics to guide self-evaluation. Use Utah Compose's peer review feature to facilitate peer evaluation. Select from pre-loaded peer review questions or add your own specific to the task, text, or strategy you are teaching.


Teach students how to select and use graphic organizers appropriate to the writing purpose (whether to persuade/argue, inform, narrate, or describe).


Encourage multiple revisions; students typically benefit from revising each essay numerous times to make significant improvements. Do not discourage students from making relatively minor changes between drafts. Revising in this way will allow students to see the relations between text features and writing quality.


Teach students the difference between revising and editing. Revising an essay improves the development, organization, style, and word choice (i.e., higher-level components) and will have the greatest impact on quality. Editing corrects spelling and grammar errors (i.e., lower-level components) and will have much less of an impact on quality.


Recommendation 3: Teach students to write for a variety of purposes.


Help students understand the different purposes of writing. Assign a variety of prompts in Utah Compose so that students have opportunities to persuade/argue, inform, narrate, and describe through writing.


Assign writing tasks that lend themselves to different audiences to expand students’ concept of audience. For example, create two assignments in Utah Compose in which students write about the same topic for two different audiences.


Teach students techniques for writing effectively for different purposes. Create assignments in Utah Compose that require students to apply specific techniques, such as including sensory details when writing to describe, or using story grammar (who, when, where, what, how) when writing to narrate.


Review Utah Compose's rubrics for a given writing purpose. For example, engage students in a discussion of the key elements of argumentative writing and then review the development of ideas and organization rubrics to look for alignment.


Recommendation 4: Integrate writing and reading to emphasize key writing features.


Teach students to emulate the features of good writing. Share example texts using novels, your own writing, and/or student writing. Then, create prompts in Utah Compose that challenge students to emulate specific characteristics of exemplary texts such as strong ideation; organization and structure; word choice, grammar, punctuation, and spelling; use of literary devices; sentences

meeting the writers’ intentions; and voice, including tone, mood, and style. Alternately, create prompts in Utah Compose that provide a springboard for students to use concepts from exemplary texts for their own writing.


Use Utah Compose's sample essays to further help students learn to recognize the characteristics of good writing. Encourage students to engage in their own evaluation of texts of different quality in response to the same prompt. Compare whether students' highest and lowest rated essays were also rated highest and lowest by Utah Compose.


Utah Compose includes many pre-packaged prompts with associated reading stimulus materials such as articles and websites. You can also associate reading stimulus materials (using a file or URL) when creating custom prompts.


Recommendation 5:  Use assessments of student writing to inform instruction and feedback.


Utah Compose's automated writing quality scores provide timely and reliable assessment data which can be used to inform instruction and feedback. Use these data to differentiate instruction and practice opportunities based on students’ individual strengths and weaknesses. Examine changes in student performance within writing purposes overtime.


Utah Compose can further be used to screen for students who require additional support. To use Utah Compose as a screener, assign students at least three writing tasks across different purposes and average scores across tasks to improve reliability. Based on the results, provide additional interventions to students who need help with specific skills.  Then, use Utah Compose data and reports to monitor progress and response to interventions targeting the development of writing skills.


Many students will need support interpreting and implementing Utah Compose's feedback. Explicitly teach students the structure and components of the score report, in particular the writing analysis. Ensure students understand the writing characteristics of development of ideas, organization, style, language, sentence structure, and conventions. Model how to revise an essay, considering the evaluation questions and any feedback recommendations in the writing analysis.


Supplement Utah Compose's feedback with your own feedback, focusing on higher-level writing skills. In Utah Compose, you can add your own comments within the body of the student’s essay, provide scores and feedback for textual evidence and content accuracy, and/or send and respond to student messages. Be sure to provide each student with supplementary feedback on occasion; automated feedback is not a replacement for teacher feedback. 


Recommendation 6: Create an engaged community of writers.


“When students are part of a community of writers, they collaborate with other writers, make decisions about what to write and how to write about it, and receive constructive feedback from peers and teachers” (Graham et al., 2012, p.8).


There are many ways to utilize Utah Compose when creating a supportive classroom writing environment. First, provide students with choices when assigning writing tasks and lessons. Configure peer review and create peer review groups within Utah Compose to allow students to provide and receive feedback. Participate in the writing community by sharing examples of your own writing. Finally, display student writing in the classroom and school.


Student motivation to write, attitudes towards writing, and writing self-efficacy are fundamental for writing performance; thus, use strategies known to boost motivation when implementing Utah Compose. Encourage students to notice how their effort and use of writing strategies impacts the quality of their writing. Work with students to set goals, review and celebrate progress, and help students reflect on the feedback they receive from their teachers and the system.