"Creating People On Whom Nothing is Lost" - A high school English teacher in Colorado offers insight and perspective on education, parenting, politics, pop culture, and contemporary American life.
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Wednesday, February 1, 2017
Far too many "College-educated" kids can't write
As I've noted many times before, teachers are pretty good at assigning writing but not so much at teaching kids how to do it. Especially at the high school level and especially in content areas other than English class, too many teachers assign and grade essays and reports without ever teaching kids how to write for their class. It's as if educators believe that the skills of reading and writing are solely the English teachers' domain - they're not. Reading and writing are learning skills; they are academic skills. They are not just the language arts domain. And, currently, too many kids are graduating high school and college with very limited writing and reasoning skills. That concern and warning comes most recently from education researcher and writer Marc Tucker who opines in EdWeek.org "Our Students Can't Write Very Well - It's No Mystery Why."
My friend Will Fitzhugh points out that high school students are rarely required to read entire works of fiction and are almost never asked to read entire works of non-fiction. I know of no good writers who are not also good readers. More directly to the point, high school students are hardly ever asked to write anything of significant length. Why not? Because in this age of accountability, they are not tested on their writing ability. By which I mean that they are not asked to submit to the testing authorities 10- or 15- or 20-page papers in which they are expected to present a thesis and defend it, analyze something complicated from multiple points of view and draw a reasoned conclusion, or put together a short story in which characters are developed in some depth and insights are revealed.
Writing is a craft. Like any other craft, it is learned only by doing it, over and over and over, at increasing levels of challenge, under the watchful eye of an expert. How on earth are our students to learn to write if we do not ask them to write, and write a lot, and write well? The reason, of course, that they are not asked to write much is because their ability to write a substantial paper is not tested. And why, in this age of accountability, when we judge teachers by how well their students do on the test, would we expect their students to write well when we do not test their ability to write a good paper, 10 to 20 pages in length. Our own research tells us that a large fraction of community college professors do not assign writing to their students because their students cannot write and the professors do not consider themselves to be writing teachers. It is no wonder that employers like us find it so hard to find candidates with serviceable writing skills.