New York Times journalist Dana Goldstein, who isn’t a teacher but likes to write about them, recently wrote “Why Kids Can’t Write,” an infomercial for Common Core.
A takeaway from the article is that Common Core may not be working to teach writing, but it’s the teacher’s fault. The real danger here, however, is the idea that student words don’t matter–that writing instruction is only about mechanics.
Goldstein highlights Dr. Judith C. Hochman who founded a nonprofit called The Writing Revolution. Hochman believes in teaching children writing mechanics and she poo poos student self-expression. She just doesn’t think it’s necessary.
If that sounds eerily like the College Board’s David Coleman, chief in charge of Common Core, who said no one gives a “shit” about what students write, well, surprise! Coleman sits on The Writing Revolution’s Board of Trustees.
Goldstein has gotten pushback by Furman education professor P.L Thomas in “Why Journalists Shouldn’t Write About Education,” and Jim Horn’s “Bad Writer? Blame a Teacher, Says Goldstein.” Those authors especially note the disgraceful way Goldstein slams teachers.
Kate Walsh, who also doesn’t like teachers or student self-expression, is mentioned in the article. Walsh is with the National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ), highlighted in Goldstein’s article. This is a group supported by Bill Gates that pretends to know what makes good teachers.
I have known many career English teachers. I don’t remember one of them not being confident in their ability to teach writing.
I enjoyed teaching students with learning disabilities even though it was often a challenge because they had difficulty writing.
As the new school year begins, here are some suggestions how to help students be better writers. Teachers with a good background in writing and reading probably already know this and more. If anyone wants to add to the list let me know.
- Teach cursive writing to children. Working on writing letters is relaxing, and kids take pride in developing their personal writing style. It also highlights the importance of writing. The exception is a child with motor disabilities.
- Validate students by telling them that their writing is important. Let them know their words are important. If students don’t believe anyone cares about their words, why should they care about writing?
- Start with journal writing everyday for 15-20 minutes. This gets students warmed up and in the mood to learn how to write better. Give students topics to write about, or let them write whatever they want. Look at journals later to figure out how students write. This is their baseline work. Don’t correct. Writing in student journals should improve as time goes on.
- Correct student writing. After free writing for awhile, tell students you will correct special pieces of their work–the writing which they take most pride. Correct their work, and have students rewrite with corrections. Grade that second paper where they have added the corrections. Praise them, of course, as they so deserve.
- Showcase student writing. Every student should have their fine writing displayed for all to see. This can be on a wall or in a self-published book.
- Writing mechanics is also important. Along with journal writing, students need to work on writing mechanics. If students understand that constructing good sentences will help them to express themselves better, they will be more likely to want to learn how to be better writers. Teaching only mechanics ignores what makes writing most important for students.
- Both self-expression and writing mechanics go together. Diagram sentences when students are old enough. This can be fun when presented in an interesting way.
- Some drill and practice is necessary. Worksheets or exercises on paper or computer are helpful. Just don’t overdo.
- Learning to be good writers is most important before writing on a computer. The exception, as noted before, is a child with fine motor writing difficulties who can more easily strike a keyboard.
- There are many programs to assist teachers with students who have learning disabilities and difficulty writing. Qualified teachers know which programs they are most comfortable working with in their classes and which ones work for their students.
- Poor spelling and reading holds students back. Spelling, writing, and reading go together, of course. Some children will require more help with spelling and reading.
- Young children and older kids have amazing stories to tell! It is a thrill for students to dictate their stories to their teacher. Let young students copy those stories later on paper. This helps them see how wonderful writing can be. Teachers of young children often have the class tell them a story the teacher writes on large chart paper. This makes words come alive and socially brings children together.
- Kindergartners should not be pushed to write on their own too early. It’s troubling that Goldstein casually states that kindergartners are already writing paragraphs. This seems premature. Like reading, if children are pushed to write before they are ready, they will see it as drudgery.
- Writing on paper is important. Goldstein gives too much importance to writing on the computer. She fails to note her sources. Learning to write on paper is the most important first step. Once a student writes well on paper, writing on the computer is a cinch.
- Computers are great for writing once a student knows how to write. I don’t know anyone who wishes to go back to the typewriter. Spell and grammar checks are helpful, but they won’t miraculously fix poor writing.
This is a little bit about teaching writing. Much of what I learned about writing expression came from Donald Graves and the National Writing Project.
Goldstein’s article is really off the mark. Good teachers have always known how to teach writing. Don’t let her or any other corporate reformer gaslight you into thinking today’s English and elementary teachers don’t know how to teach writing.
And never, never, disregard the importance of student self-expression when it comes to writing.
Grant Alexander Murray says
Students should be writing more than you can possibly read/grade/feedback. Teach revision and editing strategies (self, and peer) and make students write more. Let go of feedbacking all of it (see tip 4) and only do particular items. If you read all their work, they’re not getting enough practice. If you’re not teaching them to reflect on their own writing, you’re ignoring good pedagogy.
Lisa M says
I was in PA for a few days and while watching TV at night in the hotel, I was shocked by the TV ads (informercials) advocating for Competency Based Education and Personalized Learning. WOW! Guess the silicon valley billionaires are poised to strike big.
Roy Turrentine says
I find it interesting that you advocate cursive.. My daughter has a fascination with cursive, but she has never learned it. She is an excellent reader, as is evidenced not by multiple choice questions but by her exultation so at the latest triumph of Harry Potter. It remains to be seen whether she will develop writing with the flair she has for spoken language. It is a pretty good bet.
When I want to really express myself, when it is really important, I not only write in cursive, I go and dip my grandfather’s fountain pen into a bottle of ink. I think you are on to something with that cursive idea. But I have not done the studies. I will not be doing that either. I would rather teach school.