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On a bright July morning in a windowless conference room in a Manhattan bookstore, several dozen elementary school teachers were learning how to create worksheets that would help children learn to write. Hochman, founder of an organization called the Writing Revolution, displayed examples of student work.
Unsurprisingly, given their lack of preparation, only 55 percent of respondents said they enjoyed teaching the subject.“Most teachers are great readers,” Dr. “They’ve been successful in college, maybe even graduate school.
But when you ask most teachers about their comfort with writing and their writing experiences, they don’t do very much or feel comfortable with it.”There is virulent debate about what approach is best.
A first grader had produced the following phrase: “Plants need water it need sun to” — that is, plants need water and sun, too.
If the student didn’t learn how to correct pronoun disagreement and missing conjunctions, by high school he could be writing phrases like this one: “Well Machines are good but they take people jobs like if they don’t know how to use it they get fired.” That was a real submission on the essay section of the ACT.“It all starts with a sentence,” Dr. Focusing on the fundamentals of grammar is one approach to teaching writing. Many educators are concerned less with sentence-level mechanics than with helping students draw inspiration from their own lives and from literature.That ideology goes back to the 1930s, when progressive educators began to shift the writing curriculum away from penmanship and spelling and toward diary entries and personal letters as a psychologically liberating activity.Later, in the 1960s and 1970s, this movement took on the language of civil rights, with teachers striving to empower nonwhite and poor children by encouraging them to narrate their own lived experiences. Hochman’s strategy is radically different: a return to the basics of sentence construction, from combining fragments to fixing punctuation errors to learning how to deploy the powerful conjunctive adverbs that are common in academic writing but uncommon in speech, words like “therefore” and “nevertheless.” After all, the Snapchat generation may produce more writing than any group of teenagers before it, writing copious text messages and social media posts, but when it comes to the formal writing expected at school and work, they struggle with the mechanics of simple sentences.Thirty miles away at Nassau Community College, Meredith Wanzer, a high school teacher and instructor with the Long Island Writing Project, was running a weeklong workshop attended by six teenage girls.The goal was to prepare them to write winning college admissions essays — that delicate genre calling for a student to highlight her strengths (without sounding boastful) and tell a vivid personal story (without coming off as self-involved). Wanzer led the students in a freewrite, a popular English class strategy of writing without stopping or judging.But the Common Core State Standards, now in use in more than two-thirds of the states, were supposed to change all this.By requiring students to learn three types of essay writing — argumentative, informational and narrative — the Core staked a claim for writing as central to the American curriculum.According to Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, a scan of course syllabuses from 2,400 teacher preparation programs turned up little evidence that the teaching of writing was being covered in a widespread or systematic way.A separate 2016 study of nearly 500 teachers in grades three through eight across the country, conducted by Gary Troia of Michigan State University and Steve Graham of Arizona State University, found that fewer than half had taken a college class that devoted significant time to the teaching of writing, while fewer than a third had taken a class solely devoted to how children learn to write.They took turns reading out loud the freewriting they had just done in response to “The Lanyard,” a poem by Billy Collins.The poem, which is funny and sad, addresses the futility of trying to repay one’s mother for her love: Most of the teachers’ responses pivoted quickly from praising the poem to memories of their own mothers, working several jobs to make ends meet, or selflessly caring for grandchildren.