The rules of education always seem to be changing. Just when we learn how to do things, the way we are supposed to do them changes due to new research and methodology.
It’s hard to keep up.
This is especially true about writing instruction. Given that there is not much information about how to teach writing that is readily available (compared to reading and math instruction), it’s easy to get stuck in a rut that we may not even realize that we’re in. The result is that we keep teaching the same way we've always taught, even if there is a better way.
With that in mind, we wanted to share five myths about teaching writing -- ideas that may once have been true, but no longer are -- that you should be aware of:
1: Everything my students write has to be graded. Kelly Gallagher, high school teacher, researcher, and author of Write Like This, reminds us, “Students should be writing way more than a teacher can grade. When teachers grade everything, the writing pace of the classroom slows down. Volume suffers. It is only when students begin writing more than the teacher can grade that they approach the volume necessary to spur significant growth.” How much writing is this? Gallagher suggests students should write FOUR times more than teachers can grade.
2: All of my students must be working on the same thing at the same time. Just like in the reading classroom, student choice is imperative to increase engagement and growth when it comes to writing. If you are worried about how to manage independent writing time, check out this article from Rebecca O’Dell and Moving Writers for one solution.
3: I need to see students writing every second of writing class time. Take a minute and think about your writing process. Does it include time to just sit and let your ideas marinate? Just because you don’t see students writing, doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about writing.
4: I need a script to teach writing. I remember the reading basal I used my first year of teaching. It literally told me what to say, word by word. The problem with scripts is that they assume you are talking to a classroom of one student. They do not take into account that each student has different needs from their peers. The alternative? Google “mini-lessons for teaching writing”, keep your mini-lesson to 5 minutes of your writing block, and let students show you how they can apply the lesson to their independent writing.
Teachers don’t need to be writers. When you are a writer, you are a better writing teacher. Period. Being a teacher who writes means that you get to know the writing process from the inside out. Being a teacher who writes means that you can confer better with your student writers. Being a teacher who writes means that you are more intuitive with what your student-writers need. If you are not a teacher who also has a writing habit, starting one is perhaps the best thing you can do to grow your writing instruction skills.
In the coming weeks, we will break down each of these myths and expand on ways that you can make sure you are up-to-date on the best practices for teaching writing. Please stay tuned!