Although there has been increased visibility in literacy and the ways in which we can improve literacy amongst our students, there seems to have been an unfortunate de-emphasis on writing. This is quite evident in the many standardized tests where writing sections are now ungraded or completely removed. For example, what startles me is that despite writing having such an integral base in the legal profession, the writing section of the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT, is ungraded and barely receives a glance from admissions representatives. This is troubling to say the least.
Having the ability to express thoughts, feelings, emotions, and knowledge into words is a skill that is necessary in any profession. A mathematician has to have the ability to effectively share their findings, scientists must publish articles to share their new studies, and judges must write opinions in order to justify their decisions. Most, if not all, careers require some sort of writing portion that is integral to the work that is being done so why is it so de-emphasized?
I remember how restricting it felt in middle and high school to write such specific prompts that were either incredibly boring or required very little critical thought. I always had a passion for writing but Harry Potter Fan Fiction was hardly a writing that was taken seriously in school (for better or for worse). Without having the ability to write on subjects I had an interest in, writing felt like more of a chore than a passionate means of expression. Writing can no longer be ignored in the conversation surrounding literacy and education. In order for us to improve in literacy we must also find ways to improve writing as well.
In the novel “Adolescents on the Edge”, author Jimmy Santiago-Baca shares methods to in-classroom instruction integrating the use of freedom in the class and story telling to educate his students. I found his suggestions for writing and learning in the classroom to be quite informative.
Santiago-Baca first mentions that there are four steps to enabling better writing in the classroom. These steps are outlined as such:
Santiago emphasizes here the importance of allowing students to map out their thoughts in ways that are more conducive to their style. Instead of emphasizing a straight and narrow path to paper plans, such as using a popular “concept map”, students can choose to jot down lists, free write, use the map if they choose, or create outlines.
Drafting and Revising:
During this phase, students will draft their paper and revise their papers in either a group or with a fellow peer. Revising a paper with a familiar peer is important because the peers will soon recognize each other’s writing style and will give better critiques based on their styles.
As grammar can be a tricky concept for students, Santiago recommends editing as the student writes so that students do not feel as though they have to complete restart once they get their papers back with revisions. He recommends that each student in the class specialize in an area of grammar so in a sense every student is responsible for different mechanisms. This ensures that while writing students can direct their questions to specific individuals as they write.
Teacher Feedback/ Assessment:
The last and final step is teacher feedback and assessment, which essentially is the step where teachers are to grade the assignment. Santiago- Baca says the teacher should not grade every written piece of work the student produces but instead students should submit portfolios at the end of the year with their chosen selected works. Through the process of writing the student’s work should be steadily progressing.
Santiago-Baca then goes on to emphasize a journal that students can free write thoughts into (thoughts ranging from lyrics to lists to poetry). This journal allows students to continue writing and channeling their thoughts into a central location where they can even reference these thoughts for writing prompts later on. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his suggestions for teaching writing in the classroom because they emphasized flexibility. Much like surrounding discussions on reading, student choice has become an important factor in improving education in our schools. Allowing students to read, and write what they want creates student-focused education that allows for expression of creativity. I hope that in the future we can continue to experiment with teaching methods that will eventually allow freedom and self-expression.