Report: Students are not spending enough time writing

Dive Brief:

  • Students don’t spend enough time writing, and writing is not practiced across the curriculum, new research by The Learning Agency shows. Only about 25% of middle-schoolers and 31% of high school students practice writing 30 minutes a day, which curriculum experts say is the minimum amount of time necessary. A slightly greater number of middle school (33%) and high school students (34%) only spend 15 minutes a day writing. 
  • In addition, only 15% of 8th-graders and 13% of 12th-graders practice persuasive writing each week, though it’s considered a key skill for college success and in the workplace. Students also aren’t practicing their writing skills in non-ELA classes such as math and science. 
  • One-quarter of 8th-graders studied said their English instruction centers on grammar. But more than one-third of Black students and one-quarter of Hispanic students said grammar makes up most of their English curriculum, even though grammar instruction in isolation does not improve writing outcomes, research shows. 

Dive Insight:

Many students’ lack of writing skills — and the struggle to teach them — are top concerns for many educators.

Forty percent of students who took the ACT writing exam in the 2016 high school class lacked the reading and writing skills required of a college-level English composition class. In addition, most recent results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress said that 75% of 12th- and 8th-graders aren’t proficient in writing. Common Core State Standards require students to learn argumentative, informative and narrative essay styles, but little improvement has so far been measured since these standards were put in place.

In a New York Times article, Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said part of the problem is that educators aren’t prepared to teach writing in teacher prep programs. One technique is to expose students to great writing so they can learn to hear sentence structure, rather than focus on grammatical sentence structure.

In an effort to improve literacy, leaders at Chemawa Middle School in Riverside, California, developed a plan to emphasize writing skills across multiple subjects that focused on reading, writing, speaking and listening. The Title I school established a close-reading protocol and developed specific ways for writing to be taught in ELA, history and science. At the school, 68% of students are Hispanic and 12% of those are English language learners. 

Another way to teach writing is through “passion blogging,” where students tap into the topics they love as a way to develop stronger writing skills and then apply those skills to more formal assignments like analyses of classic literature. The student’s “voice,” or passion, expressed in their writing can be weighed in their final grade. 

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