The poor quality of writing among high school and college students has led to the creation of many professional development models promising dramatic results in improving student writing. But, in an article in National Staff Development Council, Vicki Urquhart cautions district administrators, teachers and principals to be skeptical of claims about teaching writing that are too good to be true. She cites four seductive myths about teaching writing that often lead educators astray.
Myth 1: Teachers don’t have to write
As with students themselves, teachers learn best by applying the skills they are trying to learn. Urquhart stresses that it is imperative for teachers to write themselves to be effective at teaching others. She notes that when teachers model specific strategies such as prewriting, drafting, revising and editing, students begin to see them as tools that they too can use effectively. One way to encourage teachers to think of themselves as writers is by supporting writing communities in the school.
Myth 2: Teachers won’t have to grade it
Research has shown that writing-to-learn can be an excellent way to assess what students are and are not learning in any content area, not only English. But many content-area teachers are leery of giving writing assignments if they have to grade them.
Urquhart says there’s no way to get around the importance of giving students corrective feedback and encouragement to improve. But she stresses that teachers have a lot of flexibility in the way they grade writing. Analytic and holistic rubrics, portfolios, self-assessment and peer feedback are some of the ways teachers can reduce their workload; software companies are also developing new writing assessment programs and improving existing ones.
It’s important for teachers to have easy online access to state writing assessments and related scoring rubrics, she says. Urquhart also notes research that teachers at higher-performing schools discuss rubrics with their students and incorporate them in their instruction.
Myth 3: It doesn’t take much class time
Setting aside time to write in science, mathematics, or social studies might not seem like a good idea at first, but it is important for students to use their newfound writing skills during the school day so they understand how they can apply their skills in different settings. She also notes that building in writing time “sends a clear message to students about the importance of proficient writing as a lifetime skill.”
Myth 4: Technology is the answer
No technology will relieve teachers of the responsibility for improving their students’ writing and no technology will make acquiring good writing skills effortless for students.
“Programs that integrate writing research emphasize the reading-writing connection and recognize writing as a process in which student writers test, evaluate, revisit, and clarify their ideas,” Urquhart says. “The opportunity to reflect and discover voice and ideas along the way helps turn writing into an opportunity for learning.”
Technology can be a great tool for supporting learning and writing, she notes. For example, inserting audio and video clips from the internet can bring student writing to life; students can work on their editing and revising skills on PCs, they can use software to help them brainstorm and cluster and organize their ideas. Effective teachers have clear learning objectives for the use of technology, Urquhart says.
“Examining 4 Myths About Learning To Teach Writing,” by Vicki Urquhart, National Staff Development Council, Summer 2006, Volume 27, Number 3, pps. 30-35.
Published in ERN September 2006 Volume 19 Number 6