Why does writing matter? Ruth Culham talks about the National Day on Writing
By Alex on October 15th, 2012
It’s not your typical Hallmark holiday. It’s probably not on your calendar. There are no cards or gifts involved; there is no catchy song or color scheme for decoration. National Day on Writing, however, is worth noting as the work to improve student writing moves forward, without skipping a beat in every classroom and school across the country.
National Writing Day may only get a mention on the morning TV shows or in an email blast from professional organizations that focus on language arts such as IRA or NCTE. You won’t get showered with gifts from students thanking you for helping them become better writers. Sorry. It won’t happen even though you deserve it. The best thing that can happen to celebrate National Writing Day is to notice improvement in student writing because that really would be the best present any teacher could receive.
So who cares about National Writing Day then? Why even bring it up? Because writing matters. Knowing how to write and write well is one of the hallmarks of a good education.
Reading, math, and writing are the triumvirate of learning in today’s schools. Until recently however, reading and math were the big, important subjects. Funding was tied to improvements in both and precious staff development time focused on new and better methods to increase student performance. But recently, writing has moved to the grown ups table to take it’s rightful place with reading and math instruction because, as it turns out, writing is how students connect the dots of their learning. From the ground-breaking report by The National Commission on Writing in Today’s Schools and Colleges we learn, “If students are to make knowledge their own, they must struggle with the details, wrestle with the facts, and rework raw information and dimly understood concepts into language they can communicate to someone else. In short, if students are to learn, they must write” (2003). Scoot your chairs over and make room, reading and math. Writing has arrived.
This renewed appreciation for the importance of writing and writing instruction is reflected in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The Standards make it clear that students need high quality writing instruction that permeates the entire school day to meet their requirements. The CCSS challenge us to change how we teach writing and the 4Ws show us how: writing process, writing traits, writing modes, and writing workshop. Each of these Ws provides a key to unlocking what the writing classroom should look like to maximize learning. The classrooms that embrace all four will be the most successful.
The winds of change swirl around writing instruction these days. The focus on writing in every school and classroom across the country is a positive step in the right direction. In our zeal to do the best we can for students, let’s remember lessons from the past: Writing is a complex thinking skill, and as such, it can’t be bottled, homogenized, and packaged into a learning process that is linear and inflexible. Let’s move forward with writing instruction, not back to the Dark Ages where every student was doing the same thing at the same time and learning to hate writing and all that it represents. We know so much more about what a high quality writing instruction classroom looks like today. And now that writing is on everyone’s radar, let’s not squander this opportunity to grow as professionals and do a better job of teaching writing to our students.
My hope for you on National Writing Day is that you take time to celebrate the act of putting ideas down in words on paper for others to read. It’s messy, it’s fraught with complications, it’s a juggling act, it’s intense, but teaching writing in today’s schools can be one of the most rewarding tasks teachers ever undertake. By teaching writing and embracing its contraries, to paraphrase Peter Elbow, you teach students to think. And what could be a better gift on National Writing Day than to know that and double down on your resolve to get it right.
Don’t forget to join Ruth on Wednesday October 17th @ 5:30 EST on the Scholastic Teachers Facebook page for a National Day on Writing Facebook Takeover!
image via jimmiehomeschoolmom