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A 2012 NAEP report concluded that only one-third of eighth and twelfth graders performed above the basic level in writing skills. How did we get here?

Steve Graham, Ph.D., is a professor at Arizona State University and for the past 30 years, he has studied how writing develops and how to teach writing effectively.

“There’s just not enough attention paid to teaching writing in schools today,” says Graham. Graham says 20-30 percent of teachers deliver a robust writing program, but when you look at the remaining classrooms, there’s no emphasis on teaching writing.

“It hasn’t been a major part of most reform efforts in the U.S. in the last century or this century.” Graham acknowledges that Common Core standards did put a priority on writing, but he says it wasn’t never really actualized.

But writing is essential in almost every job. Graham says he recently heard a police officer say that he draws a pen or a pencil every day. He has not drawn his gun once in the last year.

What can we do?

There have been some grassroots efforts to improve the way we teach writing. The National Writing Project has been actively promoting writing for over 50 years. They started with teachers in San Francisco at the grassroots level who were interested in writing, and now they work with educators all over the world.

Graham says at the policy level, we need to start treating writing the way we treat reading.

“Reading enjoys considerable emphasis as a policy initiative. We want our kids to read, and we want our kids to read well,” says Graham.

Graham credits public campaigns and the public as a whole for putting pressure on policymakers to put a focus on reading.

“A similar kind of thing needs to happen for writing,” says Graham.

Five things educators can focus on

Graham offers five things that educators should do to improve writing in their classrooms.

  1. Kids have to write and its better if they write about something that has a real purpose
  2. We need to look for ways of supporting them. Teachers need to be clear about their writing goals for the students and look for ways to support them.
  3. We need to teach specialized skills…
        • Spelling
        • Typing/Handwriting
        • Planning
        • Evaluating
        • Sentence Construction
  4. We want to create an environment where kids can thrive and take risks. Writing is personal
  5. We want to make sure we connect writing to learning and reading and vice-versa.

To hear more suggestions on how we can improve the way we teach writing, listen to Episode 113 of the Class Dismissed Podcast on your favorite podcast app or on iTunes.

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