I got an editorial published in the Savannah Morning News about local writing scores! http://savannahnow.com/column/2013-05-15/commentary-how-teach-write-stuff#
HOW TO TEACH THE WRITE STUFF BY CATHERINE KILLINGSWORTH
People are asking a lot of questions about Chatham County’s low eighth-grade writing scores. There is much speculation about curricula, test fairness and time spent writing in the classroom.
Yet no one is asking the question that will really make a difference:
Do kids care about becoming skilled writers?
If not, how can we change their minds?
Every parent knows that kids can learn how to do pretty much anything they really care about and get satisfaction from. Kids master impossible video games. They practice free throws for hours to perfect their shot. They text faster than the human eye can follow.
If kids are not learning how to write essays in standard academic English, it is most often because they do not believe it is important.
Either that, or they think it is impossible and thus not worth the effort.
Imagine a kid — a smart, talented kid — who doesn’t speak standard English at home. He uses body language to make a point.
None of the people he admires have gone to college. He, like every kid, wants to grow up to be like the people he loves.
While we educators may believe that teaching him to write a timed essay on a topic he knows nothing about is important (indeed, learning how to do this will give him access to the cultures of commerce and academia, thus providing him with more choices in the future), to this kid it seems pointless and demeaning.
He is forced to translate his thoughts into a language no one has taught him. Perhaps he wants to pass the test so that he can go on to the next grade, but odds are he doesn’t think that writing itself will be useful in his future. He is not going to go home and scribble persuasive essays into his journal for fun.
In my work at Deep, a nonprofit that provides free after-school writing programs at local public schools, we have achieved tremendous results with improving students’ writing skills, and we are successful because we believe that motivating kids is as important as teaching them.
We use the Georgia State Writing Test rubric to score writing samples from our students, and on average our kids improve their scores by 20 percent after just 10 Deep classes. Our students — many of whom come from the schools that are facing criticism, including DeRenne and East Broad — are winning state, regional and national prizes for their writing.
Our kids write well because we give them a compelling, rewarding reason to: we publish their work in a professional anthology and invite them to read it to hundreds of community members at a book release event. We give them an opportunity to share what is important to them with a large audience.
We are not in this game to “fix” our students (a surefire way to destroy anyone’s desire to learn). We are simply here to help students through a difficult but rewarding writing project.
If we want children to succeed, we must approach the project not from the test down but from the kid up. We must ask: how are we making the project of writing meaningful, relevant and rewarding? How are we making it worth their time?
If we can answer that, then our kids will rise to any challenge.