In a recent opinion piece, former NYC Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg and journalist Peg Tyre argue that with homeschooling sweeping the nation, it is becoming apparent that young people aren’t being taught writing. As they put it:
Why do students write so poorly? Mostly, it’s because they haven’t been taught how to do it. For the most part, teachers don’t provide instruction on how to use the building blocks of language to create powerful sentences that can be combined to form thoughtful paragraphs and wonderful essays.
I certainly observed something similar in my work coaching ELA teachers. The teaching of ELA or English has been reduced mostly to the teaching of reading. Why? Because reading can and is more confidently assessed on state exams. It’s really hard to assess writing with the same confidence.
But when schools dodge the teaching of writing, they miss an opportunity to magnify the impact of their teachers’ teaching and student learning. Writing is the two-for-the-price-of-one of literacy instruction. Think about it. When teachers focus on reading, they get just that: reading. But when teachers focus more heavily on writing, they get reading too. You can teach reading without teaching writing, but you can’t teach writing (well) without also teaching reading.
I agree with Weinberg and Tyre that writing should be the driver of so much instruction, not just in ELA class. And there are resources that teachers and parents can take advantage of. The one that I have found most useful is the position statement from the National Council of Teachers of English. It emphasizes, for instance, that teaching writing well is about the process, not the product. It emphasizes that students must learn to write to think.
For parents managing their children’s learning at home these days, look for ways to make writing a part of the day. For example, journal together in the morning about what you hope the day brings. Or, encourage your child to email or write a letter to a friend rather than text message them. Explore who your child is as a writer, and in doing so you might even uncover a new voice of your own.
I’d love to know how your child is teaching writing. Please share in the COMMENTS section.