Writing Is Taught, Not Caught  

June 16, 2014
In the April edition of Educational Leadership, author Carol Jago talks about the fact that teachers can’t count on students to inherently catch the writing bug. Teachers must give them something to write about, frequent opportunities to write, and thoughtful feedback. The following strategies can help teachers with the writing process by enabling students to think clearly and express what they think coherently.

Give Students Something to Write About

Students rarely respond positively when offered extraordinarily thin prompts for their writing. Teachers need to design instructional plans utilizing collections of texts students read-novels, poetry, non-fiction, artwork, photographs, and data displays to help inspire a response in their writing. Traditionally, teachers offer students thin prompts for their writing and are disappointed by the uninspired and underdeveloped papers that are turned in. Teachers need to provide students with a range of information they can draw from as they compose.

Have Students Write Frequently
In order to ensure that students have ample opportunities to write the expectation in schools should be that they write in every class across the curriculum. Recent research by Applebee and Langer (2013) finds that in any given week, the average secondary student produces only 1.6 pages of writing in English class and 2.1 pages of writing in all their other classes combined. The writing that students do in classes outside of English rarely resemble good composition instead is a “show what you know” task. Applebee and Langer recommend that in order to move writing forward, teachers need to create conversations appropriate to grade level content and use the writing process in order to learn. When students can create ideas and participate in conversations with a community of learners, they are more likely to develop a deeper understanding of the underlying principles.

Offer Students Feedback that Matters

Teachers should never accept a student’s first draft as a finished paper. When they are required to refine their sentences it will not only improve their writing but their thinking as well. In order to help students improve feeble sentences they must not be allowed to display feeble thinking. This will require the teacher to give time to providing students with thoughtful individual feedback. According to Grant Wiggins (2012), feedback should be goal-referenced, tangible and transparent, actionable, user-friendly, timely, and ongoing. The student does not need a teacher to become their personal copy editor, correcting every error, but focus the student on a single aspect of the paper that needs improvement. They have to become better equipped to read their own writing and know what good writing looks like.

Teach the Features of Good Writing

In order for students to have a clear understanding of what good writing looks like, teachers need to show students how effective writing is:
   •Organized
   •Well-developed
   •Audience-aware
   •Free of mechanical and grammatical errors

It is more important than ever that we are preparing students for the kind of writing they will be expected to produce in college and beyond. Students must be allowed to think clearly and express themselves critically through their writing. If we make writing a core skill and deliberately instruct what good writing is, we will produce a generation of writers that are prepared for the 21st century.

Jago, C. (2014). Writing is Taught, Not Caught. Educational Leadership, 17-21.


-by Dallas Lewandowski, Professional Development Coordinator