A Wakeup Call on Writing Instruction (Now, What’s an Adverb?)

Aug 3, 2017 by

Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to successfully complete a college-level English composition class, according to the company’s data… The root of the problem, educators agree, is that teachers have little training in how to teach writing and are often weak or unconfident writers themselves. 

New York Times

Education Life 

A Wakeup Call on Writing Instruction (Now, What’s an Adverb?)

By DANA GOLDSTEIN  AUGUST 2, 2017 

On a bright July morning in a windowless conference room in a Manhattan bookstore, several dozen elementary school teachers were learning how to create worksheets that would help children learn to write.

Judith C. Hochman, founder of an organization called the Writing Revolution, displayed examples of student work. A first grader had produced the following phrase: “Plants need water it need sun to”—that is, plants need water and sun, too. If the student didn’t learn how to correct pronoun disagreement and missing conjunctions, by high school he could be writing phrases like this one: “Well Machines are good but they take people jobs like if they don’t know how to use it they get fired.” That was a real submission on the essay section of the ACT.

“It all starts with a sentence,” Dr. Hochman said.

Focusing on the fundamentals of grammar is one approach to teaching writing. But it’s by no means the dominant one. Many educators are concerned less with sentence-level mechanics than with helping students draw inspiration from their own lives and from literature.

Thirty miles away at Nassau Community College, Meredith Wanzer, a high school teacher and instructor with the Long Island Writing Project, was running a weeklong workshop attended by six teenage girls. The goal was to prepare them to write winning college admissions essays—that delicate genre calling for a student to highlight her strengths (without sounding boastful) and tell a vivid personal story (without coming off as self-involved).

Ms. Wanzer led the students in a freewrite, a popular English class strategy of writing without stopping or judging. First, she read aloud from “Bird by Bird,” Anne Lamott’s 1995 classic on how to write with voice. “You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind,” the memoirist writes. “Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.”

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