Monday, July 18, 2016

What Kind of Student Writing Do We Want? And Where?

| By Susan Perkins Weston | 

 Some writing makes an argument to support a claim.  Other pieces inform or explain, and still others provide narratives or real or imagined experience.  Our Kentucky Academic Standards call for students to become skilled in all three, but that still leaves room to puzzle about how much teaching and learning time should be invested in each kind. 

In EdWeek's new coverage of Changing Practice in Writing Instruction, that balancing pops up in multiple places.  In one interview, Lucy Calkins says "the common core says that a third of kids’ writing should be narrative."  Another article reports that "By the time students are in 12th grade, literary writing to convey experiences is expected to take up 20 percent of the time allotted to composition, compared with 40 percent each for informative writing and argumentative writing."

Both statements share a part of story. The 2010 Common Core State Standards aimed to align with an earlier Writing Framework for the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  The original CCSS document show that framework using this table:
It's clear that Dr. Calkins' comment is about the grade 4 expectations, and the other article was explicitly looking at grade 12.

Both leave something big to be said.  This isn't all about English and the study of composition. Much of the high school writing for argumentation and explanation can be, should be, and must be part of mastering scientific communication and civic participation. That work belongs in science classes and social studies classes. That version of literacy needs teachers who are expert in the work of those disciplines.  Still more, those disciplines need literate students: they need students who are equipped to make sense of texts about science and social studies and equipped to organize and share thinking in those fields. 

For example, a high school's writing plans might be spread out like this, with plenty of room for narrative in English because major slices of argument and explanation happen in other classes.

The elementary and middle years can prepare students for that high school range, with argument and explanation becoming increasingly important as students mature.

Seeing the role of disciplines beyond English is essential to understanding how richly English classes can engage narrative writing, literary texts, and other classic undertaking.

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