Opinion
Teaching Opinion

It’s Time to Streamline Writing Expectations From Secondary to Higher Ed

By Starr Sackstein — January 10, 2017 2 min read

This morning I had a great conversation with a colleague about the inherent challenges of academic writing and teaching students to write it. As high school English teachers, it is our obligation to help students become “college ready” by preparing them to write academically.

However, academic writing is far different than a lot of other kinds of writing, and transferring skills isn’t as easy as it seems for our current students.

The conversation started about the term “claim” over thesis, which is what our curriculum wants us to use. Both of us are of the mind that “thesis statement” is more appropriate, as it is more robust than claim and is also aligned with the expectations of the academic writing in the future.

We both agreed that students should be exposed to the expectation as early as 9th grade and that they should be made aware that sometimes words are being interchangeably used despite the fact that they aren’t inherently the same. Sharing this belief, we got into a whole conversation about purpose and audience which also impacted the way we wanted to teach the writing.

Students need to understand that there’s a point to the writing we ask them to do and it needs to connect to their lives now and also later. It’s our job as teachers to make sure that this connection is clear and evident while we teach so that the purpose can resonate with our kids and help them buy in and really internalize the learning.

One solution we came up with is that students need to be taught some explicit skills that are a part of all good writing:


  • cohesion
  • organization
  • diction
  • mechanics
  • voice

In addition to teaching them these skills, we also need to teach them how they can be manipulated for different purposes and different settings. The truly masterful writer is able to take his/her ability to communicate and appropriately make choices about the audience and purpose and adjust as needed. That is what we must strive for.

In the past I’ve been fortunate enough to collaborate with some higher ed professors of writing and try to streamline expectations between their composition classes and what I was teaching in 12th grade English. What we learned was that not just the content but method of delivery were wildly disparate. How can we expect students to be successful in college if we aren’t having these important conversations and then adjusting our pedagogy and expectations accordingly to suit the students? It is their needs that should be driving instruction and not just our thoughts about expectations.

One thing that high school educators strive to do is meet students where they are so that they can find success. But what I learned from my higher ed counterparts was that this was not always the case.

How can we build better partnerships with the local institutions our students will likely attend (especially in urban settings) to ensure college graduation not just acceptance? Please share

Photo Credit: iStock

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