Core skills for teaching writing

I read a blog post this week  about teacher preparation that has my brain whirling:  “What Core Skills Do Teachers Need to Be Effective?” by Emily Hanford of American RadioWorks.

Great teachers aren't born. They're taught.

The article, which is worth reading in its entirety—a fuller version of Hanford’s piece is on the American RadioWorks website—prominently features the work of Deborah Loewenberg Ball, dean of the School of Education at the University of Michigan.

The article talks about the inadequacies of teacher preparation programs and the necessity that prospective teachers learn not only their subject but how to teach the subject.

Of course, I put the article immediately into my own frame of reference. Writing and teaching writing are different skills.

Haven’t you observed that the ability to write well does not qualify people to teach writing?

Ball and colleagues are attempting to prepare teachers for the classroom by teaching them how to teach.  They have identified 19 core skills Ball calls “high leverage practices.

To get teacher ed students to use the practices, the teacher education faculty:

  • put prospective teachers in classrooms with outstanding teachers
  • greatly increased the time prospective teachers spend studying how to teach
  • use video to allow prospective teachers to see their mistakes and build skill at better ways of teaching
  • insist prospective teachers figure out how students derived their answers

That last bullet point is a skill that is particularly important to those of us who must teach remedial grammar;  I never cease to be astonished at ideas students misunderstood in elementary school and continue in their thirties and forties to believe is what the teacher meant.

I can readily understand how Ball’s high leverage practices apply in teaching situations where there are right and wrong answers, or at least poor, good, and better answers.

I’m not sure they explain the best way to go about teaching nonfiction writing.

I’ll have to chew on that for a while—perhaps a few years—to see if I can identify what I sense is missing.

Meanwhile, I recommend Hanford’s article and some study of the TeachingWorks resources for your teaching and reflection.

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