Sunday, May 23, 2010

wRITING REASONS ~ The First of MANY Posts

Inspired by Kelly Gallagher's Reading Reasons, I have been contemplating why we write. Using a similar format as the esteemed Mr. Gallagher, and withOUT his permission, I will share a few ideas that wake me at night and distract me by day.

If educators were ONLY concerned about test scores, then we would be overwrought about our students' writing results as reported by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP, considered the Nation's report card, indicates that Utah's READING scores are "pretty good," but students' WRITING scores are significantly lower than students nationwide.
Like most teachers, however, I have a difficult time standing before a classroom of students to tell them that the main reason they need to be better writers is because they have GOT to earn better scores on standardized tests. Yes, some would be motivated by this concern, but many - if not most - would not. (Starting in the 2010-11 school year, we do not even have the UBSCT writing assessment to hang over high schoolers' heads.)
On the other hand, NOT many students challenge the necessity of learning to write like they question other kinds of learning: "I'll NEVER write in the real world." Too many, however, fail to realize how much required writing or the expected high level of writing they will encounter after leaving public school - whether it's college or career-related.
The questions about writing, therefore, are similar to those posed about reading:
    • How do we turn around apathetic attitudes about writing?
    • How do we address an unwillingness to draft, revise, revise, revise, and edit?
    • How do light a writing fire under our students?
    • How do shelter fragile adolescent writers and help them grow into confident people for whom writing well matters?
    • How can we meaningfully and consistently reinforce the benefits of writing and writing well?
    • Where do we start?
Just as educators need to explicitly teach READING REASONS to students, teachers must also EXPLICITLY teach WRITING REASONS to their pupils. By the time adolescents are in middle school and/or high school, we assume that most of them understand the importance of writing. As a result, we assign the essay or the reflective written response without explicit instruction that includes the reason.
Furthermore, the strong emphasis upon summative assessments, along with accompanying administrator and teacher angst, supports the less important reason for writing - scoring well on the Direct Writing Assessment or some other summative test. It is important that educators ensure that students know and understand there are much stronger reasons for learning to write effectively.
As with reading, before teachers and students discuss, discover, and develop solid and motivating writing reasons, building blocks must be in place to support young writers.
Building block 1: Students must experience many different kinds of writing, including WRITING TO LEARN and LEARNING TO WRITE a variety of genres. Among the traditional kinds of writing taught in schools, the National Common Core State Standards (NCCSS) requires students to be proficient in writing effective ARGUMENTS. This type of writing is different from creating persuasive pieces of writing but is used more in ALL disciplines.
Building block 2: Students must have ample time to compose, especially extended pieces of writing. They must be able to draft, review with peers, revise, edit, and PUBLISH.Thinking and drafting take TIME; reviewing and revising take more TIME because writers often go through this step again and again.
Building block 3: Teachers must model writing and the VALUE of writing. Composing, sharing, revising and editing with students, and thinking aloud while working through the process makes the writing process more transparent for students.
Demonstrating a positive attitude about writing is crucial! Too many teachers lack confidence in their own writing; consequently, they may AVOID teaching writing or LIMIT the number of writing assignments.  Tracy Gardner, NCTE Inbox editor writes, "YOU are a WRITER when you BELIEVE that you ARE—and once PEOPLE BELIEVE they are WRITERS, they are ON THE PATH to a life-long LOVE of WRITING."
Building block 4: Teachers must STOP GRADING EVERYTHING. The paper-grading horror stories that follow English teachers not only scare away prospective language arts teachers, they also discourage educators from assigning writing. Because students hang from fluorescent lights in Utah's classrooms, grading EVERY essay, response, or narrative is especially daunting. BUT there are many ways to effectively assess student writing and learning WITHOUT grading every paper. Rather than limit writing, teachers need to PICK and CHOOSE what they will and will not grade. This can be accomplished without diminishing the value of all student writing.
Additionally, Utah Write and MY Access online writing programs are available to support student writing by providing feedback. When used correctly, these tools ASSIST teachers; they DO NOT REPLACE teachers!
Building block 5: Teachers must incorporate writing into MOST aspects of learning. WRITING to LEARN includes tools that help students process learning through writing. Some of these tools include graphic organizers, admit/exit slips, R.A.F.T., Silent Discussions, etc. A new report from the Carnegie Institute, Writing to Read: Evidence for How Writing Can Improve Reading, shares recent research that supports the importance of writing to the reading process.
Building block 6: Students must WANT to write, and they MUST see what's in it for them. Too many young people believe that writing is only important in the academic world. The second part of "wRITING REASONS" will share why we write - reasons that go beyond those connected to school.
While I have some ideas, I plan to search out more; and I would LOVE to hear YOUR ideas. Please share your thoughts with Link2Literacy, and then teachers can share them with future students.

Thanks so very much.

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