Writing curriculum and instruction has been in the news a lot in recent years. Why are our students falling short in the realm of written communication? How do we best teach them these skills?
Teachers and experts banter back and forth with ideas and “fancy” writing curriculums, but as it turns out (and as we at Online Scribblers knew all along) “fancy” isn’t the answer.
Recently, Nell Scharff Panero, a veteran English teacher and PhD in education leadership, set out to find the best ways to improve student writing outcomes in the classroom. What she learned is maybe not what most schools want to hear—but it IS what works.
American Students are far below grade level
What she found is that 75% of students in grades 8 to 12 in the United States are below grade level when it comes to written skills. Even more shocking is that teachers continue to move on to teach grade level writing skills each year regardless of where students are on the spectrum of skill.
The problem is that you can’t build upon skills that aren’t there. Presenting 9th grade skills to a student who has mastered only 5th grade skills is ludicrous. It would be akin to teaching calculus to students who have not even had basic algebra. Yet, this is what is happening in classrooms across America.
There are several reasons.
First, students are not tested annually for writing skill as they are for reading and math, so we don’t have a “writing level” established for them.
Second, even when students are recognized as lacking in writing skill, fixing the problem takes time and manpower.
No quick fixes
You see, it isn’t a matter of simply filling the gaps and bringing kids up to speed with an extra lesson or two. To really improve an individual student’s writing skill, it takes precious time. A teacher must look at a sample of work, assess the actual breakdown in understanding, and remediate to that exact level and situation.
For every, single student.
While one student may need to remediate all the way back to basic sentence writing, another may need paragraph basic remediation. There is no one size fits all. And, of course, once the remediation is made, there must be continued, frequent practice to retain and build true skill.
There is no quick fix.
There is simply no substitute for one to one instruction for each student at his or her own precise level. Writing curriculum and education should begin early and occur often for best results. But it is never too late to begin the process.
There is no shame in remediating students to simpler skills and solidifying the experience. The only shame exists in pretending that there is not a national crisis in student communication and refusing to address it with the resources it requires.
More about Nell Scharff Panero’s study can be found in the article The Writing Revolution in The Atlantic.