RSI Corporate - Licensing

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.

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