Turns out it isn’t always the case. Some children make it to high school and can hardly write at all. As they get older the glaring holes in their writing ability get bigger, and can interfere with their performance in nearly every subject.
That’s why some schools have begun teaching writing in every class, at every level. Science? Writing assignments. Math? More writing. Kids are required to write essays and critical responses, and they are taught a very precise method for doing so. The Atlantic recently took a close look at one school that has succeeded with hardcore writing instruction.
Why does this matter to you? Soon, this approach to writing will spread to public schools in 46 states as part of the new Common Core State Standards.
The Common Core State Standards will be coming into play over the next two years. The Atlantic describes the new writing standards:
For the first time, elementary-school students—who today mostly learn writing by constructing personal narratives, memoirs, and small works of fiction—will be required to write informative and persuasive essays. By high school, students will be expected to produce mature and thoughtful essays, not just in English class but in history and science classes as well.
One way to prepare students to meet these standards is through a rigid, formulaic approach to writing instruction. That’s the method focused on in this Atlantic article. It’s a smashing success story about a failing urban school teaming up with a posh private one to create a Writing Revolution for its students. Graduation rates shoot up! Previously doomed-seeming students turn their academic careers around! Kids who couldn’t write a sentence produce essays!
Sounds great. Every kid should be learning this method, right?
In a round-up of responses to the article, also at the Atlantic, a group of educators and thinkers debate the benefits of the Hochman Program, as this approach is sometimes called. Views on it are more varied than you’d expect from the original article.
Everyone seems to agree that what happened at New Dorp high school was a great achievement on the part of its leaders, teachers and students. There’s some substantial caution among these educators, however, about leaping too quickly to the idea that rigid, formulaic writing instruction is the root of the change.
Instead, they point to other facets of the New Dorp situation, like the fact that the school expected teachers as well as students to learn new skills. Like the way writing was integrated across the curriculum, giving students opportunities to develop ideas about a wide variety of topics.
As one respondent, Arthur Applebee, writes:
In the current enthusiasm for expository text, we need to be sure we don’t cut the roots of the very skills we are trying to nourish. When we look at the end goals of education, the achievements in reading, writing, and language that are outlined in the Common Core are not a curriculum, but rather the kinds of oral and written language skills that students should be engaging as they explore issues that matter in literature and in life. And when students do this as a matter of course, we will have the real writing revolution.
The point here is that schools are learning writing is a skill which must be taught, and it must be taught in every classroom. It’s not rote drills and formulas that will teach it necessarily, though. What it will take is schools where the administrators, teachers and students are all dedicated to the process and willing to learn new approaches.
What has helped your children learn to write? Do they focus more on creative or critical writing? How will they handle the new Common Core State Standards?