Opinion
Education Opinion

Teaching Writing Poses Unique Challenges

By Walt Gardner — February 13, 2015 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In 2005, the College Board added a writing section to the SAT to provide admissions officers with additional evidence about an applicant’s ability. Test-takers were given 25 minutes to produce an essay in response to a question during the first part of the exam. Subsequently, the College Board announced that it would allow test-takers 50 minutes to write an optional essay during the last part of the exam. I question if either of the two formats allows valid inferences to be drawn about a student’s writing (“Using an Op-Doc Video to Teach Argumentative Writing,” The New York Times, Jan. 29).

I say that because I maintain that both are largely measuring the ability to write under pressure. If the goal is to identify future journalists, who have tight deadlines, that’s one thing. But speed is not the same as depth. For example, I doubt that Walter Lippmann knocked out his syndicated column in 50 minutes (“Walter Lippmann: Umpire of American Public Debate,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 15, 2014).

I also believe that making the writing sample the last section is measuring endurance more than anything else. Don’t forget that test-takers have already sat for hours before getting to the essay. How many students can sit for that length of time and produce quality writing?

The larger issue, however, is how to teach writing, whether for the SAT or for any other purpose (“Three lessons from the science of how to teach writing,” the Hechinger Report, Oct. 27, 2014). The most important strategy is for teachers to provide students with frequent practice that is appropriate for the objective. The problem is the lack of prompt feedback. Otherwise, students don’t know if what they’ve written is satisfactory. It’s impossible to do so when English classes are large. Unlike math or science, where multiple-choice responses can be swiftly corrected by means of an answer key, even mini essays take time to read and evaluate. That’s the reason it’s imperative for the size of English classes to be capped at perhaps 15. My high-school English classes averaged 32.

When I was working on my M.S. in the Graduate Department of Journalism at UCLA, the writing lab section averaged nine students. The professor used to circulate around the room as students typed their stories on yellow paper, peering over their shoulders to offer immediate comments. That’s how I learned. Contrast that environment with a typical English class, and it should be evident how unrealistic the present situation is.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check 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.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Data Webinar
Education Insights with Actionable Data to Create More Personalized Engagement
The world has changed during this time of pandemic learning, and there is a new challenge faced in education regarding how we effectively utilize the data now available to educators and leaders. In this session
Content provided by Microsoft
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Accelerate Learning with Project-Based Learning
Earlier this year, the George Lucas Educational Foundation released four new studies highlighting how project-based learning (PBL) helps accelerate student learning—across age groups, multiple disciplines, and different socio-economic statuses. With this year’s emphasis on unfinished
Content provided by SmartLab Learning
School & District Management Live Online Discussion Principal Overload: How to Manage Anxiety, Stress, and Tough Decisions
According to recent surveys, more than 40 percent of principals are considering leaving their jobs. With the pandemic, running a school building has become even more complicated, and principals' workloads continue to grow. If we

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education California Makes Ethnic Studies a High School Requirement
California is among the first in the nation to require students to take a course in ethnic studies to get a diploma starting in 2029-30.
4 min read
FILE - In this Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Democratic Assembly members, from left, James Ramos, Chris Holden Jose Medina, and Rudy Salas, Jr., right, huddle during an Assembly session in Sacramento, Calif. Medina's bill to make ethnic studies a high school requirement was signed into law by California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
Education California Requires Free Menstrual Products in Public Schools
The move comes as women’s rights advocates push nationwide for affordable access to pads, tampons, and other items.
1 min read
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Tammy Compton restocks tampons at Compton's Market, in Sacramento, Calif., on June 22, 2016. California public schools and colleges must stock their restrooms with free menstrual products under a new law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, Friday, Oct. 8, 2021.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
Education Florida to Dock School District Salaries for Requiring Masks
Florida is set to dock salaries and withhold funding from local school districts that defied Gov. Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates.
2 min read
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks, Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021, at the Doral Academy Preparatory School in Doral, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP
Education More Than 120,000 U.S. Kids Had Caregivers Die During Pandemic
The toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans, a new study suggests.
3 min read
FILE - In this Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021 file photo, a funeral director arranges flowers on a casket before a service in Tampa, Fla. According to a study published Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021, by the medical journal Pediatrics, the number of U.S. children orphaned during the COVID-19 pandemic may be larger than previously estimated, and the toll has been far greater among Black and Hispanic Americans. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, File)