Writing is one of the more interesting subjects to teach, it may not be the most difficult, but it is definitely different than teaching math or science.
William G. Tierney and Stefani R. Relles, two professors, guest wrote an article in the Washington Post about teaching writing. Their main point is that teachers spend too much time addressing bad writing and not nearly enough time helping students improve.
They see writing as a product and not a process, and that is the root of the problem.
Together, they have created a program that seeks to effectively teach writing to college-bound students who have struggled with the subject. Most of the students they help have never written the prototypical, formal five-page paper. They have very little experience developing a core idea or argument to articulate beyond two or three pages.
Through this course, Tierney and Relles have identified four ways to teach students how to write better.
Define set, understandable goals: There are too many writing tests. These tests only give students vague results, like you scored in the 85th percentile. Instead, teachers need to pick a set goal, like helping students become college-ready writers. Teachers need to break down what good writing is into compartments and subjects, and show how one begins to craft a solid essay.
Teach students how to revise: Teachers need to stop just writing comments at the end of essays, as ways to improve their next essay. Most of the time, students don’t even remember them. Teachers need to spend more time with students during the writing process, helping them improve an existing paper.
Teach students how to form thoughts: Writing is not thinking. Writing is putting thoughts into words. Students are often taught how to think critically and analytically about themes and problems, which is the first step in writing. However, they are not taught the second step nearly enough, which is finding the words for your thoughts.
Require more/longer writing: Budget cuts have increased class sizes, and larger classes means one thing for English teachers: more reading. So, many cut down on the essays and writing pieces they assign – simply because they don’t want to read more. Longer papers force students to stretch out their writing, instead of cramming it all into a one- or two-hour block. This forces students to spend multiple days with their assignments, which creates more revisions and ultimately better writing.
Tierney and Relles say that making these suggestions could change the entire way in which writing is taught, something that might be too controversial to implement.
But, the problems bad writing causes are simply unavoidable. Many college freshmen are placed in “remedial” writing courses, which are lower-level, college classes designed to help them catch up with other students. These classes are often referred to as the gateway to dropping out because the graduation rate for these students is very poor at only 17 percent.
Tierney and Relles argue that these teachers need to place a stronger emphasis on teaching the craft in these courses, instead of telling the students they are not good writers. Even President Obama is targeting these classes, saying they could help produce more college graduates.