Writing on the wall
Expert Douglas Reeves says kids aren't learning to write, and it's a disaster in the making.
"Nonfiction writing is the most highly leveraged kind of learning — it improves kids’ reading, math, social studies, music, and PE. It’s 'thinking through the end of a pen.' Writing improves thinking." — Douglas Reeves
By Carol Lloyd
"Michael’s class didn’t do that much writing this year,” mused a friend whose 9-year-old son attends a high-performing California public school. "Then I realized California didn’t administer the writing test this year because of the budget problems."
It’s an ugly equation: No testing = no curriculum = no learning.
But it’s one many parents around the country may be grappling with as budgets fall short and standardized tests rule the classroom. Of course, not every school allows its teachers to skip what their students won’t be tested on, but writing occupies a particularly precarious place in curriculum battles. No one would dispute that it’s part of the core curriculum, but it’s both time-consuming to teach and expensive to assess since you can’t test it through computer-corrected, multiple-choice questions.
Yet Douglas Reeves, an expert in educational standards and the author of Reason to Write, argues that these obstacles are no reason for schools to avoid teaching writing — even in elementary school. In fact, beefing up writing expectations across the curriculum may be the key to helping kids improve in other subjects as well.
GreatSchools: What is happening with writing standards? Is writing being taught more or less than when we were young?
Douglas Reeves: Writing standards are now lower. More than 60% of students never write a single term paper in high school. Universities are finding that a majority of incoming freshman don’t have adequate writing skills. Yet according to a report from Carnegie, writing is essential in teaching kids to be good readers.
Someday — supposedly in 2015 — the common core standards will be implemented, and with them significant new writing standards that require nonfiction writing across the curriculum. But in the meantime, states determine standards, and when it comes to writing, they vary substantially. And because of budget cuts, a lot of schools have retreated from writing.