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SOESD / Learning Matters / Newsletter Archive / January 2006 / Real Writing for Increased Student Success

Real Writing for Increased Student Success

Real Writing for Increased Student Success
Mary Palmer Nowland

pencils

Lucy McCormick Calkins wrote, “When teachers study together, it’s not just novice teachers whose teaching stands on the shoulders of others. This is true for us all.” That quote resonates within us. We are truly part and parcel of every child we have ever had in our class and everyone with whom we have ever shared those students. Teaching requires learning, every step of the way.

The art and science of teaching writing requires that you take baby steps as well as giant leaps, and it can seem like it’s all up hill. Thank goodness there are people that can help you and me, people who live what they teach, and who use best practices: Lucy Calkins, Donald Murray, Nancie Atwell, and Ralph Fletcher, just to name the tip of the research-based iceberg. They agree on several points: All of us learn to write by writing; generating ideas, formulating opinions, questioning issues, retelling stories and finding meaning in text, solving a problem, or remembering a family tradition. Children do not learn to write from weekly drills of isolated skills. Mem Fox, another writer said, “Writers don’t improve their craft unless they have a real purpose, a real audience, and a real investment in their writing.”
 
In order to help our students “get real” we must show them that writing requires wondering, organizing, detailing, rethinking, proofreading, elaborating, and clarifying. In other words, totally interacting with language, incorporating what we hear with what we notice with what we feel, and so on. Jessica Page Morrell, an Oregon writer says, “Writing is good for us. It deepens us, strengthens us, and teaches us how to be honest and patient and loving.” You will be more likely to elicit authentic writing from your students if you join them in the writing assignments, at least from time to time.

Model parts of the whole process in front of your students. Get stumped, wallow around, take risks, make mistakes, and rearrange your thinking right in front of everyone. You are showing courage and authenticity in your practice while you exhibit the thinking that goes with the process.

The National Commission on Writing recommends that we teachers double the amount of time we spend on writing, replicate best practices, apply new technologies, and develop as writers ourselves. Finding enough time is the challenge for most of us. But if we don’t make time, the message to students is that writing isn’t as important as other skills such as reading and mathematical thinking. The Commission further states that writing is a “threshold skill” for both employment and promotion. One way to keep kids in school so they can get the jobs they want is to teach them how to write, with meaning, clarity, and heart.

If you would like some assistance in developing curriculum, managing writing workshops, finding resources, attending professional development workshops, or just need some advice about a particular methodology, please contact us here in the Curriculum Department at the ESD. We have lots of ideas and are happy to help you and your students develop as writers. “Grandma said when you come on something good, first thing to do is to share it with whoever you can find; that way, the good spreads out where no telling it will go. Which is right.” The Education of Little Tree by Forrest Carter




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