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Improving K-12 Writing Standards: What Will It Take?

By Matthew Lynch — October 23, 2013 3 min read
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While global communication has grown and improved by leaps and bounds in the past two decades, the same cannot be said for K-12 writing skills. A new study released by Gary Troia at Michigan State University finds that K-12 writing standards are stagnant from a decade ago, along with student writing achievement. What’s more, Troia says that nearly 25 percent of K-12 students in the U.S. are not performing at a proficient writing level. He takes aim at the Common Core standards for writing and says that though some ideas are strong, others are still not asking enough of student writing success.

Any U.S. K-12 educator, in any topic area, can certainly relate to Troia’s findings and surveys have found that employers also bemoan the writing deficiencies of their workforce. So if Common Core suggestions are not enough, what is needed to truly transform the writing landscape of K-12 classrooms and learners? Here’s what I think:

Earlier computer/keyboarding introduction

Troia touches on this point in his study when he says that most schools do not comprehensively address keyboarding until third grade. Many children are learning to type, or peck out letters, on a computer keyboard long before they are tracing letters in a Kindergarten workbook. Through keyboarding, children learn spelling and reading, as well as develop their memory skills. So why are schools waiting until the third grade to maximize on this facet of early composition and phonics? Basic handwriting and traditional ways of learning to write are important, but so is the technology that supports contemporary communication. Writing curriculum should include keyboarding and generally more screen instruction at a much earlier age to capitalize on the technology that can catapult U.S. students into a higher level of writing proficiency. The ideas are there - they just need to start earlier.

More interdisciplinary focus

Writing is not an isolated school subject; it is a skill that permeates all topics of learning. Parents, teachers, students and administrators need to stop considering writing an area of strength or weakness (much in the way we gear students towards math/science pursuits or creative areas if the talent exists). Writing is a must-have skill in the global economy and one that will be needed in some capacity for every career. We can’t let students off the hook if writing is simply not their strong suit. Writing is a skill that anyone CAN master with enough practice and its practical applications need to be emphasized in every subject area.

Remedial intervention

College is not the place where students should receive remedial help on their writing. Stronger programs need to exist as young as pre-K to ensure that no child moves forward without a firm grasp of the writing skills required. Teachers need time and resources to intervene on an individual level. Of course parental help here is also a necessity but cannot be relied upon to ensure that all students have writing proficiency as graduates. Promoting students that lack grade-level writing skills in the hopes that they will catch up only furthers the problem down the road.

It’s time to put writing on the pedestal it deserves. It is the foundation of K-12 academic success and workplace achievement. If we put writing on the back burner, it has the potential to damage every other subject area and hold our students back from their true achievement in school and life beyond the K-12 and college years. Now is the time to make writing a priority, particularly if we expect this next generation of students to lead globally.

How do you think we can collectively improve K-12 student writing proficiency?

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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