Tuesday, November 27, 2012

There Will Be Writing

I used to teach freshman writing.  Loved it.  LOVED IT.  Would do it again in a heartbeat.  College kids are challenged by writing for a lot of reasons.
  1. They associate ENG101 with dreaded grammar.
  2. They don't think they are writers.
  3. They know they don't know how to spell very well.
  4. They got bad grades in English in school.
Some of those are legitimate reasons for being concerned about writing, but everyone is a writer.  Not everyone is a good writer, but by virtue of putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, thumbs to smartphone surface, everyone is a writer.

But here's the thing about most writing in college: papers of assigned word length and page length.  Seriously?  To anyone paying attention: stop it.  Just stop it.  I told my students that papers needed to be as long as they needed to be.  If they needed to write 20 or so pages, I'd read them all.  If they thought they could address a topic sufficiently and achieve their purpose in a few pages, so be it.  Hey.  That's what revisions are for.

I could write a lot about writing, and I will write more posts about writing, but my purpose just now is to spend a smidge of time addressing writing and Common Core State Standards.  And here it is: there will be writing.  In fact, there MUST be writing.

As a quick sidebar: I'm consistently astonished by the number of educators who spent a lot of time yapping about the Common Core State Standards and yet have never actually read them.  Please.  Let's talk about evidence-based argument and opinion.  Curious about the ELA standards?  Go here.

Check out page 7 of the ELA standards.  See?  Notes about reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language.  Fundamental literacy skills.  For anyone.  I know this isn't easy to read, so it might be better to go to the source anyway.  Hint, hint.  Look at that third paragraph that students are able to "respond to the varying demands of audience, task, purpose, and discipline."  That's the stuff of almost any writing class.

And I'm sure you can pick out the subheading that students can "comprehend as well as critique" and that students "value evidence."  This is good stuff.  Stuff that makes sense.

And now look at page 18: the anchor standards for writing.  Some of this could come from a college writing class syllabus.  There is nothing outrageous or unsettling here.  At least, it shouldn't be.

I could do a short history of writing instruction here, and might do so in another post, but the point is that people write all of the time.  Sometimes we write well; sometimes we write badly.  Most of us have no idea when or how to use an adverb; that is the stuff of a different blog, Writing Matters.  We know, however, that writing and writing well is important.  We also know the danger of the misunderstood email, the misintentioned email, the slip of the thumb of a text.

Writing is critical not only to K-12 education as a function of literacy and learning, but it is critical to success in college and success on multiple levels in the work place.

Writing instruction can be challenging, I won't deny that.  For the college writing professor, part of the challenge is that every other college professor believes that writing instruction is not part of his or her job.  That mindset is often prevalent in K-12 classrooms, but, the reality is--and the Common Core State Standards reinforce this--writing instruction is the responsibility of every classroom teacher because literacy is the responsibility of every classroom teacher.

Where to start?  Start with the anchor standards for writing  Then go check out the writing standards for K-5.  Even if you teach middle or high school, look at the K-5 writing standards.  That is the foundation of what kids will be learning and doing before they get to your classroom; those are the benchmarks for instruction and learning.  And then review the writing standards for 6-12.  Take your time.  Underline. Highlight.  Write questions in the margins.

Even if you're only worried about writing, go back and look at those reading standards.  In fact, print out the anchor standards for writing and the anchor standards for reading.  Analyze those texts.  Compare them.  Contrast them.  Think about what you see.  Think about what you already do in the classroom and what works.  Think about how you can build on those successes to help students continue to refine and improve their skills, their thinking, their literacy.

See?  That wasn't so hard.