To the Editor:
Teaching to the test, or teaching just enough to allow students to pass the writing portion of exams, seems to be all too frequent these days (albeit, not solely the fault of teachers). Many teachers are inexperienced writers themselves, not confident of their own writing and, therefore, unsure of their ability to teach writing to others (“Romantic Fiction,” Commentary, Sept. 15, 2004).
I have taken many writing courses and gained some assurance in my own ability, yet I find that teaching students to write is a far more complex task even than teaching them to read.
If teachers understand the interconnected nature of reading, writing, spelling, vocabulary, and content learning, they will teach these subjects in concert and save much time in the teaching process. Children, of course, need to be taught progressively more difficult skills and strategies in both reading and writing. If a child can’t write a letter, he certainly won’t be able to write a research paper.
Most children initially are excited about learning. They want to read nonfiction books and learn all kinds of facts. This ought to be encouraged in elementary school and beyond. Simple reports in elementary school can be steppingstones to the academic research papers that Will Fitzhugh rightly states in his Commentary are so important.
We ought also to realize that there is a big difference between “can write,” “will write,” and “loves to write,” the same as with reading. Moreover, if students don’t read well, they certainly won’t be able to write well. If we want students to love to write, we need to hook them early on by allowing them to read about, and write about, what interests and excites them. It is important that they be allowed to experience all of the various reading and writing genres (modeling is very important). Some children will be more drawn to creative writing and others to nonfiction writing.
I agree with Mr. Fitzhugh that students need to write research papers before leaving high school. Keeping their options and opportunities open is of paramount importance and the responsibility of all educators.