The article, “Why Kids Can’t Write,” in the August 2, 2017, issue of The New York Times, includes some eye-popping statistics:
Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete successfully a college-level English composition class, according to the company’s data.
Teachers Need Writing Training
That stat has dire consequences for companies when those students graduate and make their way into the business world. The article goes on to comfort, if just a bit, those who are mortified by these facts by adding that “Poor writing is nothing new, nor is concern about it. More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874.” Unfortunately, the fix for this situation is not easy.
The root of the problem, educators agree, is that teachers have little training in how to teach writing and are often weak or unconfident writers themselves…. A separate 2016 study of nearly 500 teachers in grades three through eight across the country … found that fewer than half had taken a college class that devoted significant time to the teaching of writing, while fewer than a third had taken a class solely devoted to how children learn to write. Unsurprisingly, given their lack of preparation, only 55 percent of respondents said they enjoyed teaching the subject.
The Emphasis Should Be on Content Not Mechanics
The process of educating teachers how to write well is underway. The National Writing Project alone is training more than 100,000 teachers each summer. And what may be a surprise to some is that the focus is not on the mechanics of writing, but the content. The article points out “that formal grammar instruction, like identifying parts of speech, doesn’t work well. In fact, research finds that students exposed to a glut of such instruction perform worse on writing assessments.”
We All Have an Instinct for Writing
Writing teachers should focus on developing their students’ instincts for writing good sentences, good content. The article quotes Anne Lamott—from her bestselling book on writing, Bird by Bird—who says that “You get your intuition back when you make space for it, when you stop the chattering of the rational mind. Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.” In other words, spend less time on the “rational” aspects of writing—grammar, spelling and punctuation rules—and more on what you are trying to say to your reader. That’s great advice for students, and businesspeople looking to improve their writing skills.
- Honey is the only food that doesn’t spoil.
- A kiss stimulates 29 muscles and chemicals causing relaxation.
- A hamlet is a village without a church, and a town is not a city until it has a cathedral.
- Assuming Rudolph is in front, there are 40,320 ways to arrange Santa’s other eight reindeer.
- Which item can heat spontaneously when stored in large amounts and is classified as a dangerous cargo by international maritime officials: coconut husks, pistachio nuts, tea leaves, bird feathers? (Trivia Answer: bottom of this page)
Word of the Month
elucidate | ih-LOO-suh-dayt |
1: to make lucid, especially by explanation or analysis; 2: to give a clarifying explanation
“Keith hoped that his speech would elucidate the more difficult parts of his company’s new HR policy.”
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SATisfy Your Curiosity
SAT Exam practice question: Select the pair that best expresses a relationship similar to that expressed in the original pair.
ABSTRUSE : COMPREHEND
- antique : renovate
- valid : authenticate
- indistinct : discern
- unethical : expurgate
- practical : utilize
(SAT Answer: bottom of this page)
A red herring, a clue or false fact that is intended to be misleading, has a checkered etymology. The commonly understood origin of the phrase is that the extremely pungent dried fish was used to train hounds how to follow a scent. But that doesn’t make sense, because the modern definition of red herring means to mislead from the truth (“scent”), not to lead to the truth. The Oxford English Dictionary traces the figurative sense of the phrase to the journalist William Cobbett, whose Weekly Political Register in the years 1803-35 exposed the corruption of the English political system. He wrote a story about how as a boy he had used a red herring as a decoy to deflect hounds chasing after a hare in order to save the hare. He used the story as a metaphor to criticize the press, which had allowed itself to be misled by false information about a supposed defeat of Napoleon, causing them to take their attention off important domestic matters. Cobbett referred to this false information as a “political red herring.”
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Answer: Just as something abstruse is difficult to comprehend, something indistinct is difficult to discern.
Fun Facts Answer
Pistachio nuts can burst into flames under pressure and are considered flammable solids.
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