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Is It Time To Go Back To Basics With Writing Instruction?

KQED News Mind/Shift – Katrina Schwartz

“Most educators acknowledge that literacy is important, but often the focus is on reading because for a long time that is what achievement tests measured. In the last few years there has been more focus on writing in classrooms and on tests, but many students still have difficulty expressing their ideas on paper. Often students struggle to begin writing, so some teachers have shifted assignments to allow students to write about something they care about, or to provide an authentic audience for written work. While these strategies are important parts of making learning relevant to students, they may not be enough on their own to improve the quality of writing.”(more)

How Writing Can Help Close the Achievement Gap: An Interview with Turnitin’s Elijah Mayfield

Ed Surge – Wendy McMahon

“You might expect Turnitin’s Vice President of New Technologies, Elijah Mayfield, to have a lifelong penchant for technology. But Mayfield’s true passion is language—particularly writing. Mayfield spent his grad school years studying natural language processing, computational linguistics, and machine learning. He also spent time consulting for high profile companies like CTB McGraw-Hill and College Board, which wanted to learn more about student writing. Those combined experiences led him to one key realization: writing is a core skill that many students haven’t mastered—and for a variety of reasons don’t have the opportunity to master—leaving many students at a disadvantage.”(more)

A quarter of pupils ‘write only for school’

BBC – Hannah Richardson

“A quarter of eight- to 18-year-olds rarely or never write something that is not for school, a report says. Just one child in five told a survey for the National Literary Trust they wrote daily outside of school in 2015, compared with 27.2% in 2014. And that writing was dominated by social network posts and text messages, the survey of 32,500 pupils suggests.”(more)

In writing foundational skills more important than volume

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

We would never expect a child to become proficient in algebra without a strong understanding of arithmetic, yet we expect kids to write well by osmosis.

For much of the 20th Century, elementary-school teachers taught the general rules of spelling, sentence structure, and basic paragraph writing. In secondary school, students focused on building paragraphs into essays. This regimented approach produced some excellent writers and many average writers.

In the 1970s, academics began experimenting with new strategies for teaching writing. A group of professors argued that making writing assignments less regimented and more creative and social would encourage students to write more. If the students wrote more they would become better writers. In other words, writing could be “caught” rather than “taught”.

The proponents of this method of writing instruction were persuasive. Gradually formal instruction in grammar, sentence structure, and essay writing took a back seat to creative expression. By the 1990s, most students were learning to write by this “caught not taught” approach.

Sadly, very few students learned how to write well. Universities and employers began complaining about the written communication abilities of high school graduates. Universities were forced to introduce remedial writing classes and employers began hiring English speakers educated overseas. Students expressed frustration with writing.

In the early 21st Century, a few K-12 schools reintroduced a structured approach to teaching writing with a creative twist. At one school, students begin writing instruction with phonics-based spelling. Then they learn how to write simple, creative, grammatically correct, properly spelled sentences. The following year they learn to construct slightly longer sentences (creative, grammatically correct, and correctly spelled). Next they learn to creatively combine sentences into simple four to five sentence paragraphs; then how to write outlines and creative, eight-sentence paragraphs; and finally how to construct creative, twelve-sentence paragraphs that include more interesting sentence structure. By the end of elementary school students can write a well-organized, grammatically correct, properly spelled, interesting three-paragraph essay without stress.

In the early 21st Century, a few K-12 schools reintroduced a structured approach to teaching writing with a creative twist. At one school, students begin writing instruction with phonics-based spelling. Then they learn how to write simple, creative, grammatically correct, properly spelled sentences. The following year they learn to construct slightly longer sentences (creative, grammatically correct, and correctly spelled). Next they learn to creatively combine sentences into simple four to five sentence paragraphs; then how to write outlines and creative, eight-sentence paragraphs; and finally how to construct creative, twelve-sentence paragraphs that include more interesting sentence structure. By the end of elementary school students can write a well-organized, grammatically correct, properly spelled, interesting three-paragraph essay without stress.

As with math, learning to write in a slow methodical way is better than rushing ahead without the necessary foundational skills.

How Writing Novels Expands Students’ Expectations of Themselves

KQED News Mind/Shift – Ki Sung

“Writing can be a challenge for anyone staring at a blank screen, faced with creating something from scratch. Making the leap to writing a novel can seem like a daunting task, but for English teacher Laura Bradley, assigning her students to write a novel every year is now part of how she teaches English to middle school students. The Young Writers Program at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has helped make that possible.”(more)

Written Off

The U.S. News and World Report – Andrew J. Rotherham

“American students don’t write well. At least that’s the consensus view based on standardized tests, teacher perceptions and various studies. As someone who hires for jobs that require skilled writing, the evidence resonates with me. Even students from elite schools often struggle to write clearly and get from one end of an argument to the other on paper. And what one might add, secondly, is that they’re really seriously good at deploying adverbs and throat-clearing phrases like confetti.”(more)