Academic Writing Skills: K-12?

Question:So we're taking a look at my school's latest release of test scores. 44% of our juniors passed the state writing exam (a 5-paragraph response to a prompt, graded holistically on organization, cohesion, vocabulary, mechanics, effectiveness). The state average was 40%.

Our building has been railing on academic writing across the curriculum...or so it seems. Every year we have 2 school-wide writing prompts and each student gets individual feedback. But it's not solid (no standardized prompts, training on scoring or feedback).

60% of Michigan's juniors aren't able to successfully write a 5 paragraph essay. And I look at our curriculum -- where is there explicit instruction in process writing and grammar? It comes up in a haphazard way. Never in high school ELA - these classes are literature-based.

Do you think whole-language instruction has led the kids to better literacy, but poorer writing skills? Any building-based suggestions for improvement? Buck stops where? How?

Answers:
The problem starts right with elementary schools, where kids are not even taught the basics of grammar and composition. They are then thrust into middle school and a foreign language class replaces the reading class. While many have still not mastered the basic reading comprehension skills, many English teachers are trying to have the kids analyze the deeper meaning behind the text. While many writing assignments are given out, students are never really taught how to write, much less everything about cohesiveness, syntax, diction, and organization. It gets worse and worse because the Honors kids are pulling away and general classes are held to a lower standard. An C paper in honors class is easily an A in general class. Thus, those lower kids never learn what a good paper is like.
To solve this problem, elementary and middle schools should dedicate their time drilling in grammar and putting them into practices by giving the kids exercises on all that they've learned. They should give the kids samples of good papers and then tell their students how to write so their papers could more closely resemble the model paper. Without instruction, most kids will just pull something out of their ***. Also, the level of reading materials and quality of writing directly correlate. Instead of having kids read all these books that they can sparknotes, teachers should give newer yet still critically acclaimed books so the kids actually have to read.

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