October 16, 2012

Atlantic Magazine - thoughts from a Pacific NW Gal

The October online issue of Atlantic Magazine is teeming with 20-ish articles about Writing Instruction, with catchy titles, pragmatic solutions, dire predictions, and dogged opinions about grammar and public school.

So I dove in, and here is my takeaway: 

1) Writing is Thinking. Well, I could make a snarky political statement here, woven nicely into the headlines of the Election Season, but I will refrain. I named my business Reading*Writing*Thinking for this very reason. There is logic to the idea that students  become better critical thinkers by writing complex pieces. It forces them to recycle, and organize your thoughts. Writing encourages us to try different ideas and combinations of ideas. Writing encourages us to select our words carefully. 

2) We are in the dark ages in many ways about how we teach writing, because we are trying to create "mini-adults" like in the Middle Ages or something. Sure, in the early grades, teach handwriting, to get the fluency of mechanics going, create poems, tiny stories, even plays, and micro reports for science. But don't do what so many school districts do: examine what expert adult writers do, then transfer that to, say, a middle class 2nd grade classroom: keeping a writer's notebook, creating rough, then next, then final drafts, training students to be good observers, and harvesting a collection of pieces "in the works". 

Um, Hello? Second graders are thinking about recess and are not known to be the best keepers of various pieces of paper and drafts of their ideas from last week, which in their 8-year old brain is a century ago.It is just not developmentally appropriate. 

3) On the other hand, I say a big, "YES" to writing everyday, but careful of the two extremes: teaching to the test, and emphasizing the importance of indenting paragraphs and perfect punctuation, or, on the other end of the spectrum, writing with little regard for grammar, and composing mostly personal narratives all the way up until Middle School and not giving weight to expository "voice." Adults who come to work with me, or mention their struggles at work with writing, do not want coaching in their novel, but, rather, their ability to string sentences together and be taken seriously. Power emails. Articulate letters. Convincing Reports. Succinct Written Requests. Opinionated Responses to News Reporters. 
4)Teachers are afraid to introduce academic writing, because they think they will create yawns and resistance. Just like with decoding, I hear teachers say that teaching it will turn kids off to reading. Well, if that is true, then why do I have so many students in my private practice who cannot decode well, or pull sentences together clearly. 

5) At The Windward School Judith Hochman challenged this notion that preparing students to master expository writing stifles their creativity: 

" We've reared a generation of students on this diet and we see the outcome of that misguided thinking in test scores throughout the country. [Our] program does focus on the fundamentals of writing, but it doesn't do so in a dull, creativity-killing way. Assignments that ask students to explain a process, justify a position, describe a room, or trace the history of an event can be extremely engaging (depending on the topic, of course, and provided they are taught the skills needed to complete them). It is insulting to students to assume that the topic has to be about their own lives in order for the assignment to be interesting."

There is more, but I have been told my blogs are too long-winded. Am trying to cut myself off. Not that I take anything personally anymore, because I am SO healed of my ADHD tendencies towards that. 

Looking forward to presenting this weekend, on WRITING DESPITE YOUR DISTRACTIONS at the annual ADD Conference