Reading a blog post by George Couros about the role of writing in education recently made me get out my soapbox.
Couros began by referring to a teacher’s account of a student named Maddisyn who in her third grade class blogged about The Dot and got a response from the book’s author, Peter H. Reynolds.
Four years later, when the student came back to share her experience with her third grade teacher’s current class, Couros quotes the student telling her listeners, “It was a really big deal for me … because most creative writing you do in grade 2 and grade 4ish, doesn’t really get out there, doesn’t really make a difference.”
From there, Couros segues to wondering:
Do we teach students to write in compelling ways that someone would actually want to read what they write, or do we teach them to write in a way that we can say we have simply taught to the curriculum?
Is “good enough” our standard or are we reaching for something much deeper and much more profound?
I don’t know what the answers are in Canada where Couros works, but here in America the answer to his first question is that we scarcely teach writing at all. If teachers spend any time on writing, they typically present what the curriculum says about writing.
The Maddisyns who want to write and have the skills and home environment to learn to write by imitating professional writers come along perhaps once or twice in an English teacher’s career.
The rest of the time, an English teacher’s classes consist mainly of students who don’t want to write, or don’t have the skills to write, or don’t have the home environment to learn to write.
Those are the students the English teacher must teach to write because they aren’t going to learn to write on their own.
I believe that “good enough” is a sufficiently high writing goal for the general English classroom provided teachers teach so every student writes competently.
Most English teachers don’t want to hear that. They want to think their job is to inspire the Maddisyns, the 1–3 percent of students who could get along without them.
But teachers who aim to get every student to write competently find that a surprising number of the students who don’t want to write, don’t have the skills to write, or don’t have the home environment to learn to write turn out to write far better than they or their teachers could ever have expected.
At least that’s been my happy experience.