Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What is Writing?

I was recently sitting  in a grade level data meeting. As usual, I sit and listen, often keeping my comments to myself as my opinions and viewpoints are often counterproductive to the mission of the people driving these meetings. However, as the discussion turns to standardized testing, the comment was made that the students could not write as evidenced on the recent scores.   What they were calling writing is the portion where students answer an open-ended test question in reading or math. Yes, they physically have to use a pencil to compose an answer, but is that really writing?

I continued to sit and listen until I finally had to jump in.What they were describing is not writing unless you are calling the action of using a pencil to compose words on a page writing. Now don't get me wrong. My students do well on open-ended questions. I teach them a basic formula for answering this type of question that even my lowest of students can use with success.

When I expressed my opinion that what they were describing was not writing, I was met with confused faces. I honestly don't think they had ever thought about the true difference in the physical act and the craft. Unfortunately, the only "writing" that is given any credence is the writing that is done for standardized testing.

Not only was I irritated that they refused to listen, but I worried about the students who would never know the thrill of composing something that reaches others or helps them to explore who they are as people. What if students aren't given the opportunity to create something new and communicate it to others through their writing? Think about all of the ways that we write every day...mostly using a keyboard or touch screen. Students do it everyday through texting, messaging in games, blogging, Facebook, etc. Shouldn't they have the opportunity to learn how to amplify their voice through the written word at school?

This was still bothering me when my students and I returned to the classroom. So I asked them to explain through their blogs what writing is to them. It was not an assignment, just a request. I just wondered if my 10 year old students understood what teachers missed. Here are three examples of what I found:
I think we write so we can first of all learn. The only way we can learn certain things is by reading. Another reason we read and write is to express our feelings about different topics. Two more reasons that I think we write are to share our learned findings with other people and to explain how to do things. Everyone should write. ~LH
What is inspired writing?  Inspired writing is a good way to connect to your conscience. The hardest part of inspired writing is allowing the writing to happen instead of questioning what people will think about it. But how do I know my writing is true? It’s what speaks to me that’s true. When I write I think about what would interest my readers about this writing or what could make it better, but I also must be true to myself. I hope you begin writing with the intention to share your soul or the thoughts that amaze you.  ~KV 
When I write I like to express what I think about the question or the answers I write down.  Also, some grown ups don’t like to write anything even sometimes for work.  Writing is fun to me  because when you write you can express your feelings in it. That is why I like poetry. ~KA 
Do my students understand the importance writing? Is it more than the physical act of picking up a pencil or pen and putting it to paper? You can tell from these three examples (I could have put many more) that they each understand not only what writing is but also why we write.

I recently read that one of the biggest downfalls of students today is their inability to communicate. One of the biggest ways that we can communicate with one another is to write.. compose, create, explore. So no matter what age group or content area, please encourage your students to write. So even if you feel uncomfortable as a writing teacher, I hope that the quote below will give you something to think about.
We write because my teacher said so. We write to prepare for standardized testing. We write to explore who we are, to connect to those in the world around us, and to create something new.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I feel your frustration! Sounds like your students understand why it is important to write -- you are heading on the right path with them. We've had the same discussions in our district as well. However, I can refer to the reading (extended response) rubric -- it is not assessing writing. We used to have writing assessments in the state of Illinois, but apparently it costs too much money to score. So, out the window it goes. Not that we need an assessment to teach it, but unfortunately, district support of teaching writing also goes out the window. I love your quote at the end. Great mantra!