Is our writing curriculum broken?

Preschool. My son started to write, exuberantly, exultantly.

Kindergarten. More fun with words.

First grade. Chugging along.

Second grade. Dead stop.

What happened? What changed?

We need to know that because it’s not just my son. It’s a lot of kids. It’s a lot of adults. How many people do you know who say, “I can’t write,” or “I’m a bad writer”? How many people do you know who are ashamed to share their writing with other people? What happened to their confidence?

I have two theories. First, when writing began to be graded and evaluated, suddenly it became a Thing you could Fail At. And second, the way grammar and spelling is taught makes writing Ever More Perilous.

Anybody else have any theories?

The sad and frustrating thing about my son is that he’s an advanced learner with just amazing creativity and depth of analysis. You can hardly see any of that from his writing.

He’s been making a ton of improvement in third grade. But you know what I wish? I wish it wasn’t graded at all. Or rather, I wish it was graded on the number of words and nothing else. Or the amount of time he sat and worked steadily, rather than staring off into space with who-knows-what going through his head.

In short, ideally, I would love to have a complete overhaul of writing curriculum. And to throw out some of the Common Core standards as being actively harmful to kids.

Short of that, what should I do???

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6 responses to “Is our writing curriculum broken?

  1. If you can make writing fun, than that’s the best way of getting him to squeeze a few words out. Otherwise it’s hard. AS adults, we don’t write unless we’re forced to, which is sad.

    • Part of the struggle for him, I think, is that he can think so much faster than he can write – and so the act of writing stops his thought process. Often when helping with homework I take dictation and then have him copy what I wrote. It’s still torturous though.

    • Have you tried a tape recorder? Have him record what he wants to say, then write what he wants (without hearing it). Then play what he said initially and he can add to what he already wrote.
      It can be really empowering for him to do all the steps himself, and it is good practice for when he is in class (or work or life) when you might not have a stenographer. http://www.comedycentral.com/video-clips/go8cre/chappelle-s-show-home-stenographer

    • I think it’s a great idea but we have another obstacle, which is serious homework overload. We are pretty much rushing through the assignments. I actually was pondering getting Dragon Naturally Speaking – whether that would be a help or would interfere with his ability to write independently. Part of the question is whether this is something that will turn itself around soon, or not.

  2. I would like to see creative writing and spelling/grammar be completely different subjects. Imagine if math and science were combined, and we asked young children to only record findings that they could mathematically quantify, wouldn’t that limit what they could tell us?

    Kids have heads full of stories and we tell them that we only want to see the stories they know how to spell and compose “correctly”. I want to read your story even if your sentence has 48 words and none of them would pass spell check. Focusing on the “right way” really limits the stories children want to tell. I have seen children tell me a story with one word and in writing, replace it with one they KNOW how to spell.

    I had the opposite problem growing up. I had perfect grammar and spelling and knew how to make a paragraph, so I always had As and thought I was a good writer. But no one ever looked at my actual content and told me it was all fluff.

    For grade school, I would like to see a grade based on progression through steps from brainstorming to recording your ideas on paper or voice to first draft(with peer review) and final draft. I would like to see peer review be graded as well, perhaps even with specific assignments (Ask four questions you want to know that the author didn’t tell you. Suggest how to make the story half the length. Find the theme and plot in the story, what do you think about them?) Peer review was just spelling/grammar editing (which again, I was awesome) but absolutely useless in helping strengthen ideas.

    • Laura, that’s beautiful: “Imagine if math and science were combined, and we asked young children to only record findings that they could mathematically quantify, wouldn’t that limit what they could tell us?” I like your ideas about peer review, too.

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