If you are a teacher who has struggled with teaching your students to write, you’re not alone.
The research studies and reports have become relentless over the past couple of decades: Students are having more and more trouble learning to write well. It’s not one particular age – elementary, secondary, and post-secondary teachers all cite examples. And the growing inability to write is the topic of research studies, books, newspaper and magazine articles, podcasts, and blogs written by teachers and professors.
The reasons given are many, and change depending on who’s discussing the issue. The truth is probably a combination of many factors:
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LDOnline, a website that works in association with the National Joint Council on Learning Disabilities, focuses on information about learning disabilities and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It makes several points about why students today might dislike or even avoid writing. For some, it’s because the act of writing requires multiple components that must be used together. Some students have differences in how they process information. Others, used to the fast-paced information superhighway of television and smartphones, have difficulty focusing on the quieter, slower activity of writing. Other aspects:
LDOnline creates a pyramid, with “underlying processing skills” at the bottom, a shared middle portion between “mechanical skills” and “content skills,” and “writing efficiency” – the goal – at the top. Processing skills are such things as language formulation, working memory, the physical aspects of writing, and how quickly a student performs at motor tasks. Mechanical skills involve such things as an understanding of basic spelling, capitalization, and punctuation. Content skills include organizing and expressing ideas, or understanding the viewpoint of the reader. To build upon any level enhances the upper levels of the pyramid, but to ignore the lower levels means you’ll never progress to the top.
Here’s another truth: If you’re not a good writer yourself, you’ll struggle more with teaching your students. “We can’t teach what we don’t know, and when it comes to writing, it’s important to continue honing our craft,” writes David Cutler, a teacher in Massachusetts, for Edutopia. “If you haven’t engaged in much formal writing since college, you will remain a less effective writing teacher. No matter what subject you teach, try starting a blog, writing articles, or developing short stories – all terrific ways to engage the mind and keep your skills sharp.”
To meet both needs, Dominican University Online has designed a five-course continuing education series on teaching writing — Teaching the Foundations for Skillful Writing — which supports the Common Core Standards and breaks the content into “writing traits:” ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions and presentation. The courses build upon one another as follows:
How about you? If you feel that improving your personal writing skills and/or your ability to teach writing could help your students, explore the Teaching the Foundations for Skillful Writing series. You can find more information or register here.
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