« Teaching Students to Be Victims | Main | How to Devalue a College Degree »

Can Writing Be Taught?

Three-quarters of 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress.  Some say it's because teachers have inadequate training in how to teach writing and can't write well themselves ("Why Kids Can't Write," The New York Times, Aug. 6).  I say it's something else.

What does proficiency in writing mean?  Is it the ability to produce argumentative, informational and narrative essays that are free of grammatical errors?  I know countless highly educated people who can't do all three.  Does that mean their teachers have failed them?

When I was working on my M.S. in the Graduate Department of Journalism at UCLA, we were told that the best way to learn how to effectively write was to extensively read.  Doing so trained the ear.  That's why the highest compliment given by my professors was that a student's writing "sings." I realize that the success of students in the journalism program was largely the result of self-selection.  But there is much truth to the importance of reading.

The trouble is that most young people today don't read. As a result, they don't internalize the sounds of good writing. When I was growing up, reading was widespread among my peers. We read newspapers, short stories or novels.  Today, young people are hooked on electronic devices of one kind or another.  They text, but that hardly qualifies as reading or writing. 

When teachers assign reading, they can't count on students to follow through.  As a result, class discussion about how authors expressed themselves are futile.  Students want a recipe book on how to write.  These books contain some helpful information, but they are no substitute for actually reading.  Students have to do the hard work or they won't learn how to write.

That's why I don't think NAEP scores will ever show significant improvement. 

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Follow This Blog

Advertisement

Most Viewed on Education Week

Categories

Archives

Recent Comments