Saturday, October 28, 2006

Making the grade

In pursuit of better student writing

In Chicago public schools, district officials are working on a plan that would require students in certain grades to pass a writing exam before moving to the next grade.

Since the No Child Left Behind federal law was passed five years ago, many schools, especially those in low-income communities, have focused most of the instruction time on reading and math - —the two subjects where the law requires student testing. As a result, critics contend, writing has been downplayed.

More from the Chicago Tribune.

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Alina said...

I've always considered reading and writing very much connected. Don't really imagine how one could separate one from the other. However, I've met average students in maths who cannot manage to write correct sentences.

Deb S. said...

Alina: I was thinking the same thing. How can one teach reading without teaching writing?

I have noticed that in general, the writing skills of students is not at the same level as it was when I was in school. It is even this way for students at the university level. I have read some master's theses where the writing was simply horrible.

Rose said...

I think that the schools are missing something critical here. The focus should be on reading, comprehension and writing. The reasons kids are failing has nothing to do with Math, they can't comprehend simple things and become frustrated trying. You are correct about their ability to write. I have many friends who are teachers and they report that their students can't write at all.

Deb S. said...

Rose: Good points. I would add that it's also important to encourage and teach our kids critical thinking skills. I think a student who has good skills in reading, writing and critical thinking stands a good chance of succeeding academically and in the workplace.

The responsibility should not rest solely on the shoulders of teachers. As I see it, parents have a responsibility to encourage their children to read and write well. Parents, after all, are their children's first teachers.

We parents can set the tone by reading to our children when they are small. I read to my children when they were infants. On more than one occasion, I've had a baby in my lap, reading. Often, the baby was interested in chewing on the book, but I kept reading to that wiggling little being. I'm sure it must have made for some funny photo moments. :-)

By the time my children entered kindergarten, they could already read. For some time after that, my kids and I would take time to read to each other. I cherish those moments.

My greatest claim to fame today is being the mom of some very good writers. I wish that for every parent.

Tubby said...

"As I see it, parents have a responsibility to encourage..."


Your right but as time goes by and the American popluation increases, I believe there is less and less parental encouragement in basic educational skills such as reading writing and math.

Therefore, I admire greatly teachers who persevere and do what they can in what must seem at times and in some cases like teaching on the Titanic.

Ian Lidster said...

This warms the heart of this former English teacher and longtime journalist. Wish all education authorities would do the same. Just check the level of illiteracy on blogs alone, Deb. It's frightening.

Deb S. said...

Tubby: I agree. Teachers are our miracle workers.

Ian: Since you are a former English teacher, I'm sure you have many stories to tell!

As for the blogs - yes, I know. It's sad. Some of the work coming out via the vanity press also makes me cringe. I applaud any educational program that is focused on making students better writers.

dsargent said...

Oh yes, and writing/communications skills are exactly what current businesses leaders are looking for in new hires. This dog's day has definitely come.

Deb S. said...

Amen to that, DSargent.

Jaimie said...

Our kids don't have to PASS the writing test, but there is a writing test that starts in 4th grade.

I'm not sure what happens if they fail it.

Students don't know how to write! Its terrible, really. When I was in school, we were writing all the time.

Deb S. said...

Jaimie: Thanks for your perspective on this. I, too, have noticed that many kids don't have the writing skills that I expect them to have. To what can we attribute this?

I suspect that one of the reasons is that kids as a group don't read as much as other generations. I think they get too much of their information from TV and other instant media.

I put limits on how much TV my kids could watch, and I instilled in them a love for reading that exists to this day.

I wonder if classroom teaching is different, too.

I am aware that standardized tests in language arts now have essay questions in addition to multiple choice ones. I think that's great. I just hope our schools are doing a better job of turning out students who read and write well.

One way to do this is to to make good writing a priority in all classes, not just language arts. In other words, I'd like to see all schools take an interdisciplinary approach to writing.