According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, three-quarters of 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, and 40 percent of high school juniors who took the ACT writing exam in 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete a college-level English composition class. (Dana Goldstein New York Times “Why Kids Can’t Write”). Furthermore, SAT mean scores in writing dropped from 497 to 484 over nine years (2006-2015), and only 25 percent of students test proficient in writing. Unfortunately, most students are not competent writers.
Several current popular Language Arts curricula rely on a teaching method called “Freewriting.” This methodology hopes that children will learn or gain a love of writing merely by writing their thoughts without concern for conventions, organization, structure, or even content. According to Professor Peter Elbow, a free writing advocate, learners should write down every idea they can think of about a topic, no matter how “crazy,” and not worry about correct grammar or spelling.
According to Dr. Judith Hochman, the freewriting methodology hasn’t worked. Dr. Hochman, a renowned writing instruction expert, advocates that students need to learn effective writing behaviors to present meaningful content across all curricular areas. She states that students need explicit instruction in writing, beginning in the early elementary grades. Furthermore, “Sentences are the building blocks of all writing,” and “the two most important phases of the writing process are planning and revising.”
Competent writing has discernable elements that must be explicitly and directly taught. These elements include a composition and revision process where students plan, prewrite, draft, edit, and publish. Unfortunately, the common Freewriting assignments disregard students’ inability to organize their ideas into sentences and paragraphs and use appropriate vocabulary. Additionally, the Freewriting concept does not teach or expect student writers to effectively plan and revise their compositions.
At Standards Plus, we believe students require explicit instruction in the skills they need to become accomplished writers. The Standards Plus Writing Highway development team recognized that excellent writing requires students to master and use a wide array of skills, including appropriate vocabulary, paragraph and sentence structure, and the ability to organize and convey ideas.
Standards Plus Writing Highway lessons begin by teaching students to understand the elements of specific writing genres and to write effectively in each genre. These lessons teach students to write sentences, paragraphs, and whole compositions that remain on topic and convey their ideas.
One of the most critical elements of effective writing, regardless of the genre, is to employ a writing process that includes planning, prewriting, drafting, editing, and publishing. Standards Plus Writing Highway teaches students to plan their writing. They learn to deconstruct a prompt (topic) and identify what they need to write. The lessons also include prewriting tools, such as graphic organizers and rubrics. Students learn to write a coherent draft that addresses the prompt, is structured according to the graphic organizer, and is written to meet the requirements described in a scoring rubric.
Freewriting assignments seem to assume that students already know how to edit their writing and subsequently rewrite coherent, well-organized compositions. As demonstrated in the statistics, this is often not the case. Writing Highway has direct instruction lessons that explicitly teach these crucial skills. Students learn to apply the quality criteria from the rubric to evaluate their writing and the writing of others. They also begin to master the quality criteria and write effective compositions.
It is mistaken to assume that writing without concern for coherence and structure is good practice. Freewriting and brainstorming might be useful tools after students learn how to communicate their deep thoughts effectively. Writing Highway includes Independent Writing Activities, Performance Lessons, and Integrated Writing Projects, where students learn to employ the writing process and crystalize their ability to write effectively.
At Standards Plus, we know that it is essential to teach students to complete every step on the way to excellent writing rather than assume they will learn to write without instruction. We believe this is what creates competent writers.