Is it completely impossible to teach students to write well?
By Alex on November 13th, 2012
Ruth Culham, the creator of Traits Writing, is no stranger to OOM, and today she’s back to talk about the “writing revolution.”
Make no mistake about it, a writing revolution is exactly what we need right now. Last month, NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) reported the results of the 2011 writing assessment–and it’s a dismal accounting. Only 3% of 8th graders are “Advanced.” Only 24% are “Proficient.” Add those together and you get a miserable 27% of students writing well enough to demonstrate acceptable writing skills. Deplorable. The data for 12th graders is even worse since it is virtually identical to the report for 8th grade. On the heels of the NAEP report came the news from S.A.T. that since 2005, when the writing portion of the test was introduced, there has been a nine point drop in writing scores. Good grief! Is it completely impossible to teach students to write well? I don’t believe that, I never have. And after twenty years of working with the traits, I know with certainty that the traits are a key to revolutionizing writing instruction for every student at every grade. It’s time to make them a core part of every writing curriculum.
Change is slow. Teachers and administrators are skeptical of new methodologies designed to improve writing, favoring instead the old tried and true: worksheets, five paragraph essays, and assigned topics. But in the words of Samuel L. Jackson, “Wake the %#!@* up!” It’s not working to do business the same way. Don’t people say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Well then, let’s not be insane one more day. Let’s change how writing is taught.
If you include the traits in your writing instruction, you have a language to talk about how writing works that creates opportunities for deep thinking and learning. You have an assessment tool that informs instruction every single day. But don’t take my word for it—here’s what the 2011 Carnegie Foundation report, Informing Writing,concludes about the use of formative assessment, “When teachers monitor students’ progress, writing improves. When students evaluate their own writing, writing improves. When students receive feedback about their writing, writing improves. When students are partners in writing assessment, giving and receiving peer feedback, students’ writing improves” (p. 27). Writing assessment has to be the springboard for instruction–it’s simply not working to do it any other way.
Consider the power that the traits provide every teacher and student writer: If the same terms describe writing (ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, conventions, and presentation) and the three modes or purposes (narrative, expository, and persuasive) in every classroom regardless of the subject area, then every year–each building upon the last–students and teachers learn the details, intricacies, and nuances of writing. The potential for growth and improvement is limitless once we stop practices that don’t work and start doing those that do. Couple the traits with the writing process and writing workshop to support how and when texts are developed, then students have the tools they need to expand knowledge and skills about writing to make it stronger and stronger over time. Teaching writing with the traits has changed the trajectory of writing instruction. It’s strategic, it’s logical, it’s revolutionary.
For those of you attending NCTE don’t miss Ruth’s session!
image via redcargurl