Where Has All the Writing Gone?
Every time I get the chance to present what I want schools to become I talk about the 5 Cs. If I had it my way, every kid would have the opportunity to do each of these every day and every hour:
- Curate information
- Critically analyze the information
- Create their own thoughts
- Connect with others on the topic
- Communicate their findings
To me, this is the most simplistic way I can explain how schools can create the citizens of the future we desire. It is nearly impossible to communicate with others if you cannot write effectively. The issue is that schools do not give writing the attention it demands or deserves. While one can make a strong assertion at the organizational level, the lack of attention persists because it is not part of the rank-and-sort standardized assessment system.
That notwithstanding, I think we can identify three core reasons why writing is not more prevalent in our schools today and by doing so we give ourselves a path forward to a more writing-inclusive educational experience for our kids. The three core issues are time, know-how, and silos.
The research is abundant that writing must be a time-intensive process if we expect our students to reach a level of proficiency. This has been repeatedly proven in research and studies. Meanwhile, studies by Coker, Drew, and others show that in most schools students experience less than an hour per day of writing across various grade levels. So, we have a natural disconnect. If we know it takes time to do something well, but do not make space for that time, the task will stay cumbersome, hard, and frustrating. This is what we have somewhat systematically done to writing in most schools.
The research is also clear that many teachers lack the knowledge of best practice instructional strategies in order to teach writing. So, when we are teaching something without the best possible technique and not giving it the time necessary for success, how can we expect outstanding results? The answer is we cannot—and as educators, this should sincerely trouble us.
Lastly, we have designed schools in silos. This is not just a high school problem, this is something that persists even at the earliest elementary level. When we talk about needing to teach writing, a common refrain is to ask what it will replace. Writing should not replace anything—it should amplify everything. Our job is to create thinkers and communicators that can discuss elements of English, Math, Social Science, and Science, and writing should be the mechanism through which they do just that.
SO, WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE US?
Writing cannot remain an afterthought in the American educational system. In fact, I believe that writing can and should serve as the lynchpin that ties together effective curricula that focus on creating critical thinkers who can effectively and admirably communicate. This, for me, is quite literally our charge as educators and too often we find ourselves making excuses as to why it cannot be done instead of finding ways to make it happen.
Dr. P.J. Caposey is a dynamic speaker and a transformational leader and educator. Most recently, Dr. Caposey was awarded Superintendent of the Year by IASA. P.J. began his career as an award-winning teacher in the inner-city of Chicago and has subsequently led significant change in every administrative post he has held. He became a principal at the age of 28 and within three years was able to lead a small-town/rural school historically achieving near the bottom of its county to multiple national recognitions. After four years, P.J. moved to his current district, Meridian CUSD 223, and as Superintendent, has led a similar turnaround leading to a myriad of national recognitions for multiple different efforts. P.J. is a best-selling author and has written 8 books for various publishers. His work and commentary has been featured on sites such as the Washington Post, NPR, CBS This Morning, ASCD, Edutopia, the Huffington Post, and was featured in a Global Leaders Forum think-piece alongside the likes of General Petraeus and General McChrystal. He works in the Education Department of two universities and in a myriad of capacities with the Illinois Principals Association including Principal Coach and author of the first complete stack of MicroCredentials offered in Illinois.