The Writing Revolution

A very interesting article in the most recent issue of The Atlantic about how teaching writing seems to vastly improve the academic potential of students who have a history of poor academic performance.

From a personal perspective, I would agree with this experience. I credit most of my academic success to my eleventh-grade English teacher who focused the entire class on writing solid essays. I can’t think of a better skill to teach students. A focus on good writing leads to clear and critical thinking in virtually any field, not just English classes.

I have two cautions though. First, the premise seems based on anecdotal evidence. I’d really like to see this tested under controlled conditions.

Second, I’d hate to see this turned into a call to “teach grammar.” That’s an approach that has been proven not to work. From the description of the program, they are not teaching grammar; they are teaching writing. The students have known English grammar since they were five years old; they just don’t know how to apply it to the written page. The focus is on teaching how to write coherent complex sentences, not to teach the difference between a gerund and participle. If you have to do some quick remedial instruction on grammar to get a point about good writing across, so be it, but the grammar instruction is an ad hoc, instrumental step, not the objective of the instruction.

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