By Meredith DeCosta, PhD
Assistant Professor, College of Education
By Emily Bergquist, MEd
Full-Time Faculty Manager, College of Education
How many of us remember learning how to write in school?
Surely many of us were taught some grammar and we responded to assigned readings with writing, but how many of us actually learned how to thoughtfully and carefully craft a piece of writing?
Probably not too many of us!
This is because writing is the neglected “R” in schools (The National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges, 2003). With reading and arithmetic taking center stage in most classrooms, writing is pushed to the back burner and forgotten. Even though we know writing matters, writing ability, or lack thereof, influences lots of social, academic and professional tasks.
Writing is an essential life skill and is critical to success both in and out of school (Graham & Hebert, 2011). Studies show that improved writing skills can enhance reading comprehension, fluency and communication (Graham & Hebert, 2011). Composing a well-written letter, application, script, manual or essay brings students closer to scholarship, job and internship opportunities more than any other skill.
How many of us have benefited from good writing? We know we have! Yet, writing is the long forgotten sibling of other subjects.
In our opinions, if we want to close the achievement gap, we need to teach writing.
But, why is it this way? If we know that writing opens up gates for students (Early & DeCosta, 2012) and has the potential to break down the walls that divide us, why don’t we teach writing more in schools?
The answer is simple and complex at the same time.
- Reading and math are more easily tested than writing. It’s much simpler to teach and test multiple choice questions than it is to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of writing. Efforts have been made through machine scoring and common rubrics to systematize the process, but the effects still linger.
- Teachers are not often taught in their preparation programs to teach writing. (We like to think this isn’t the case here at Grand Canyon University!) At many universities, the so-called core subjects are emphasized while writing is compartmentalized into a topic of interest rather than an essential subject of instruction.
- Writing tasks often find their way into a teacher’s lesson as an afterthought rather than a key strategy to develop a learner’s mind or discover new topics.
- When writing is explicitly taught, it is often structured and predictable, asking students to use formulaic types of writing and discuss only the topics requested by the teacher (Singer & Scollay, 2006). This causes students and teachers to dislike writing.
Teachers’ comfort levels with instructing lessons on genres, grammar, organization and voice are low across content areas. But, teachers are intuitive! We know there’s a need to improve students’ performance in writing (Singer & Scollay, 2006), and we know change is needed now.
Because of this, teacher-led professional development groups like the National Writing Project and the National Council of Teachers of English have tried to flip the script and change how K-12 teachers see the role of writing in their classrooms (Heitin, 2016; Singer & Scollay, 2006). Writing professional development “by teachers for teachers” helps teachers develop confidence in their own writing while also honing strategies to support their students’ writing.
With programs like these, teachers can more comfortably teach and model writing skills in their lessons, while also helping students to make connections between writing and other content areas (Heitin, 2016; Singer & Scollay, 2006).
As teachers and future teachers, we need involvement in writing-rich professional development and a keener focus on writing across content areas.
If we want to close the achievement gap and make strides as a nation, it’s time we start teaching the “right” way by making writing an emphasis in all classes.
Grand Canyon University helps the next generation of teachers prepare for a lifetime of learning, leading and serving. Learn more about GCU’s College of Education.
- Early, J., & DeCosta, M. (2012). Real world writing for secondary students: Teaching the college admission essay and other gate-openers for higher education. New York: Teachers College Press.
- Heitin, L. (2016). National Writing Project shows to benefit teachers, students. Education Week. Retrieved from: blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2016/03/ national_writing_project_shown_benefit_teachers_students.html
- Graham, S., & Hebert, M. (2011). Writing to read: A meta-analysis of the impact of writing and writing instruction on reading. Harvard Educational Review, 81(4), 710-744,784-785. Retrieved from lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.lopes.idm.oclc.org/docview/914260118?accountid=7374
- Singer, N. R., & Scollay, D. (2006). Increasing student achievement in writing through teacher inquiry: An evaluation of professional development impact. Retrieved from: org/cs/public/download/nwp_file/15446/Gateway_LSRI_Cohort_II.pdf?x-r=pcfile_d
More about the Authors:
Emily has enjoyed 10 years in the field of education. Her background is in elementary education, with much of her public school experience in a first grade ELL classroom. She transitioned from the Phoenix public school system to GCU in 2010 to serve both the online and traditional campus in the College of Education. Emily is currently a manger of full-time faculty and instructor, as well as a researcher, writer and continuing scholar. She is currently working on her PhD in psychology with an emphasis in cognition and instruction at GCU, with an expected graduation this year. Emily has written several articles and has presented at regional, national and international conferences on a variety of topics ranging from social media in the classroom to classroom assessment. In recognition of her work in the field of research and education, she was recently awarded the Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award from Grand Canyon University.
Meredith DeCosta, PhD, is a former public school teacher and current faculty member, researcher and writer at Grand Canyon University. Her work focuses on literacy education, teaching English as a second language and educational equity in urban, multicultural contexts. She has written more than 12 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and has a co-authored a book with Columbia University’s Teachers College Press, titled “Real World Writing for Secondary Students.” Meredith’s most recent award for her work is the Grand Canyon University Leadership in Research and Scholarly Activity Award.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.