“Writing is crucial to literacy development” (Kelly Gallagher)
Over the past several years, I have been fortunate to work with an incredible array of teachers from across the United States who have given me valuable insight into their professional challenges. For a while now, I’ve started each workshop by asking the same question: “How many of you are seeing a decline in your students’ writing abilities?” Sadly, no matter where I’m presenting or what the demographic of their students, the teachers’ responses overwhelmingly confirm my worst fears: Wide swaths of students are not developing their writing skills—skills we know to be foundational to their literate lives.
Why are writing skills in decline? To answer this question, one might start by reading a recent study of U.S. middle schools conducted by the Education Trust (2015), in which the researchers examined a key question: Do classroom assignments reflect today’s higher standards? Their findings were sobering. Only 38 percent of assignments were aligned with a grade-appropriate standard. About 85 percent of assignments asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts. (The assignments were “largely surface level,” the report noted.) Only 1 percent of assignments required students to think for extended periods of time; most assignments could be completed in one class period.
This lack of rigor was especially evident in schools’ writing expectations for students in middle school (see fig. 1). Read more