Why Isn’t Writing a Dedicated Subject?

classroom of students raising hands

Schools pack their students’ days with many subjects…math, social studies, science, and literature. Most students are also exposed to a variety of specialty courses that they attend, once a week, for enrichment. They enjoy art, music, PE, Spanish and maybe even computer science or speech. What I often wonder is what has happened to writing and grammar? Which teacher takes responsibility for the actual teaching of writing?

Well, often it is grouped into an all-around English course where it must share space with grammar, literature, and vocabulary. In these cases, writing will usually be assigned but not given the time and attention it needs. It may be a journal prompt that is never collected or a story that is shared in small groups. In other schools, writing is, for lack of a better term, “shoved” into all subjects.

“Who is teaching writing?” You ask at Back to School Night.

“Oh, writing is a top priority,” the administration assures you. “It is being taught across all of our curriculums.”

Really? So, the science teacher is teaching writing? The math teacher has added an essay to his weekly assignments?  And don’t even get me started as to what qualifies all of these teachers to teach the form and structure of the discipline of writing.

The bottom line is that very few schools are providing the actual writing education that our students need and deserve. They are not receiving the feedback they need for improvement.  

I see it in the students I tutor and even in my own children. They are not writing as much as I did in school. I don’t see book reports and research papers in my elementary and middle school students who attend traditional classroom settings. Sure, I see gimmicks that look like writing (cue the oversized posterboard kite cutout that we had to write character descriptions in one corner, a chapter summary in another, and so on…) But I don’t see the emphasis on excellent paragraph formation (use of transitions, detail, avoidance of repetition, etc.) In 4th grade, one student was told that they would be writing a 3 paragraph essay on a leader of their choice. But when the lesson began, they were handed a pre-written draft with fill in the blanks to add the specifics of the leader they had chosen. I’m sure this was sold as a way to “model” proper structure and format. But I’m also sure that this checked off the writing box for their curriculum and looked great hanging on the bulletin board outside the classroom. “Wow, look at that writing!” passersby must have said.

Ugh. What have we done?

I believe there should be an entire class in elementary and middle school just for writing. There would be a unit on paragraphs, a unit on poetry, a unit on all the various forms of essays…students would learn to properly cite materials and quotes from novels. It would be the class of messy scratch paper and trial and error. It would be daily practice and growing success.

Yes, in my dream, there would be a dedicated 45 minute subject as part of the school day in which a specialized writing teacher presents the lessons and practice needed to teach students to write in a variety of genres. I’d even settle for it to be a “once a week” specialty course.

Not every teacher is a strong writer. Not every teacher enjoys writing. So why are we leaving this very important skill to a wide range of teachers who largely don’t ever get to properly teaching it (or grading it!)?

In the current world of AI and artificial writing, students who don’t feel confident in their own skills will most certainly find another route to formulate their assignments. We need to show students how gratifying it can be to produce their own words on paper and how eloquent they can be.

Writing is thinking. And we are at a crossroads.

It’s now or never, people.

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