Teaching Writing Is My Job, Too

Last week I was fortunate to be invited to observe Jed Smith’s biology classes while they worked on a research/writing assignment. Rather than spending hours lecturing on fungi, mammals and fish, Jed decided that his students would be better served discovering information themselves and writing about various organisms in newspaper-style articles, including feature interviews, sports stories, horoscopes and even comics.

The lesson is an excellent reminder of two facts.

1. Students learn more about the content you are teaching when they write about it. When they have to research it and get creative with the writing, the effect is even stronger. Jed’s assignment epitomizes this challenge.

2. Writing is not an English-only activity. Exposure to writing in all disciplines, in various formats, for various audiences and purposes, enhances students’ writing skills.

Still, under pressure of EOCs, VOCATS, and mile-wide SCOS, writing instruction is often neglected. We all have a responsibility to teach writing (if for no better reason), so that our students’ scores on the 10th grade writing test will demonstrate growth. The scores do factor into the ABC model, but with no department holding responsibility for the scores, we seldom bother to process the data as carefully as we do EOC scores.

Here’s what the data shows us:

  • Over the past three years, our projected mean score was 11.93. Our actual mean score was 11.18, an effect size of -.73.
  • Last year, our effect size was -1.25.
  • African American students predicted to perform at middle and higher levels on the test had an effect size of -1.68 and -2.03 respectively.

What does this mean?

In brief it means our sophomores, and particularly our African American students, are performing below potential in writing. It means they are not growing adequately in their writing skills.

Why? That’s much harder to answer. It is easy to blame student motivation, which is certainly a factor in most schools throughout the state. Let’s ignore motivation for now and consider three questions about writing instruction, instead:

1. Do our students write in most classes most days?

2. Do our students spend time revising writing assignments?

3. Are we teaching students skills that might improve their writing?

I would love for Rose High to be able to answer, “yes, yes, and yes.” That’s where I come in. As instructional coach, it is my responsibility to help teachers find strategies for incorporating writing instruction without significantly detracting from their ability to cover the content of their courses. I can:

  • Model or co-teach writing and revision lessons.
  • Collaborate with you to create writing assignments pertinent to your course.
  • Offer write-to-learn strategies to increase the frequency of writing in your class.
  • Assist with time-saving strategies for writing assignments.

Unfortunately, I can only help you if you want my help. Stop by my office in student services or send me an e-mail if I can help you with writing instruction.

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