Student Writing Programs Are Seriously Distorted

Whwnever I speak to an elementary or secondary student, I always question them closely about the kind and frequency of the writing assignments they get. Almost invariably I hear the same story: “We are writing “Book Reports” each month (elementary kids); We are writing paragraphs on any topic we choose (middle school); we do a major paper in grade 11 that requires research , quotations, and proper citing techniques.”

Since leaving school, how many Book Reports have you been required or asked to write? How many formal “research” papers have been assigned to you by your employers? How is it that K-12 teachers are still locked in this horrible practice of making kids adapt writing skills that will never be either required or helpful in real life?

The alternatives are painfully clear! Have students write a news article on specific national, international or local events (one that could be published). Have them write persuasive arguments to their parents, friends or public officials. How about film or book reviews designed to encourage or dissuade potential readers and viewers? Couldn’t they get familiar with someone in their family that runs a business, and explore how it could be expanded or run better?

My point is that there are so many practical, realistic writing tasks teachers could assign that would build useful skills and have lasting value, if only a little thought and creativity were put into creating the assignments.

Is this too much to ask of our teachers? Can we put an end to Book Reports and 11th grade research papers?

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