I suppose I am far too opinionated about a few things, and one of the things I am most opinionated about is the teaching of writing. Three things I read today made my blood boil a bit.
First was the newsaper report that just came out on the status of Colorado schools. Despite schools turning themselves inside out to improve test scores for a number of years now, nothing much has changed—and that includes writing scores. Now if all the teaching for "high-stakes writing tests" that has been done has resulted in no improvement, maybe, just maybe we should look at the approaches that are being used. In my opinion, many of them are simply wrong-headed. They result in kids thinking writing means (a) trying to follow a baffling array of rules and (b) being pretty much bored to death.
Then I read an ad I got in the mail for a product to teach writing, grades 6-12. It has "metacognitive questionnaires." (Metacognitive!). It has rubrics. (Rubrics!) It uses the computer. (The computer!) It has boring classroom examples. (Boring!.....Okay, the ad didn't say that. I did.) I'm sorry, but just looking at the materials in the ad, I felt completely inadequate. Writing looked way too hard for a mortal being like me. (I suppose it didn't help that I had to look up "metacognitive.")
Then I picked up English Journal and read a piece written in what I call "snooty style," and it made me a little crazy, too, with its clear focus on methods that, yes, can work quite well in a writing lab or with a small group of students who really want to improve their writing. But what about those teachers facing 33 eighth graders who mostly don't care about improving their writing? Using the same methods would result in disaster. I've taught small groups of passionate writers. I've taught small groups of so-called "remedial" students who wanted to improve in a college writing lab. And I've taught those 33 eighth graders. I'm sorry, but they are not all the same.
What's needed with those 33 eighth graders? In my opinion, it's more language play. We need to engage them with creative, silly, goofy, interesting, and/or challenging writing activities that get their attention and allow them to see language in a new light. We need to let them have some fun with language and see its power. We need to let them experiment and use their brains and share. What we don't need is more rubrics and metacognitive questionnaires.