American students aren’t good writers because they don’t write enough

I have six words of advice for people who want to develop their writing talents: “Read a lot. Write a lot.”

American students aren’t good writers because they don’t write enough, asserts Andrew Rotherham in U.S. News. That’s because English teachers “see far too many students to be able to assign the quantity of writing students need to do to become skilled.”

So why are we surprised that a 2015 Education Trust analysis of middle school language arts work found that only 9 percent of assignments required writing multiple paragraphs? Almost one in five assignments Ed Trust looked at required no writing at all.

Often, students are asked to “peer review” classmates’ work. I don’t think the average middle or high school student is capable of providing useful feedback.

To give teachers time to help students improve their writing, we’d need smaller English classes — and larger classes for other subjects, writes Rotherham. That’s politically impossible. He adds:

“We could also deploy assistants for teachers so that math teachers could cover more ground or English teachers could assign more writing, (However) the teachers unions hate that idea because it disrupts today’s labor model.”
 Common Core won’t help, argues Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. It encourages a “furniture-assembly approach” to writing, he writes.

Robert Pondiscio proposes persuading selective colleges to “stop asking for personal essays and require instead at least two graded research papers with students’ applications.”

More students would write research papers, which would prepare them to write college research papers.

In addition, teachers are in a better position than admissions officers to tell when a paper was written by Mom rather than the student.

This post first appeared on the Joanne Jacobs blog.

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Joanne Jacobs

Joanne Jacobs

Joanne was born in Chicago and named after her grandfather, Joe Jacobs, who’d been a police reporter for the Omaha Bee-News. At the age of eight, she and her best friend became the creators and co-editors-in-chief of "The Wednesday Report" for four years. After years as a San Jose Mercury News columnist, Joanne started an education blog in 2001 and wrote "Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds." She freelances for online sites, newspapers, magazines, foundations and think tanks. In addition to blogging at joannejacobs.com, Joanne writes Community College Spotlight at ccspotlight.org.

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