Source: The Atlantic
In “The Writing Revolution,” Peg Tyre traces the problems at one troubled New York high school to a simple fact:
The students couldn’t write coherent sentences.
In 2009 New Dorp High made a radical change.
Instead of trying to engage students through memoir exercises and creative assignments, the school required them to write expository essays and learn the fundamentals of grammar.
Within two years, the school’s pass rates for the English Regents test and the global-history exam were soaring.
The school’s drop-out rate — 40 percent in 2006 — has fallen to 20 percent.
The experiment suggests that the trend toward teaching creative writing was hurting American students. In a debate about Tyre’s story, we asked a range of experts, from policymakers to Freedom Writers founder Erin Gruwell, to share their thoughts on Tyre’s story.
My Response / Commentary from the Chilean Perspective:
I make my comments based only on the information given above, and as a teacher of writing in both the university and high school setting.
Let’s proceed. Having said that, I question the phrase, “coherent sentences“, and wonder aloud if “cohesive sentences” may have been the appropriate term, or quite likely, “grammatically correct sentences”.
Not being able to write a “coherent sentence” means quite simply, the students were writing incoherent sentences, or put another way, sentences which make no sense. I wonder how true that statement is of the previous situation at New Dorp High School.
Next, we are told that a return to a focus on the fundamentals of grammar and expository essays brought tremendous improvement, described as, “soaring pass rates for the English Regents test and the global-history exam.”
We can only imagine that the pass rates soared to some acceptable level, though we are not given any quantifiable data to make a judgement on. We shall assume that everybody was happy, in comparison to what the previous passing rates were (obviously not soaring).
This then led to a drop from 40% to 20% since 2006. Again, the data leads us to assume that the drop out rate was cut in half, though we do not know what concrete number the 40% and the 20% represent. Going from 2000 dropouts to 1000 dropouts (hypothetical) would be a major achievement, but from 20 to 10 dropouts (again, hypothetical) puts the matter in a different perspective. Again, we shall assume that everyone was happy, in comparison to the previous number of dropouts.
Also, I wonder out loud, again, here if the connection between passing the exams and the reduction in the drop out rate can be intellectually sustained, as it begs the reader to assume that no other factors were involved in reducing the drop out rate.
In other words, kids who write well and can pass exams, drop out of school 50% less frequently than kids who don’t write well (presumably not passing the exams). Somehow, it seems to me, writing ability is not a sufficiently robust measure, or predictor of success in New Dorp High, or any school for that matter, if it is to be considered alone, unaffected by any other variables, known or otherwise unknown. I find it difficult to entertain such a premise as explanatory for the drop out rate.
Let us turn now to the major theme, which is writing.
In my experience, students get better at writing, by writing. Yes, I concede the point, happily, that the focus on grammar is an undeniably important factor. I’m not suggesting you can write well without focusing on grammar at some point. However, if one is using, for instance, a Process-Approach to writing, then a first and even second draft would be used to get your ideas on paper (or on screen), discard what is not useful / needed, add what is missing, order it, organize it, give it a clear beginning, middle and end.
That done, in the editing stage the grammar, spelling, vocabulary and punctuation, with regard to impact on the intended audience and the purpose for writing, could be considered holistically. In other words, the writer asks the question: “Is my choice of language in the appropriate register / style for my audience and purpose for writing?
The final act is publication, sharing what was written in some public forum, going public, so to speak. To conclude, I congratulate the school, New Dorp High, on finding a methodology that was able to make everyone (teachers, students, parents, administration, Department of Education) successful.
Regardless of the methodology used (process or product writing), solving the problem of poor writing results is complex, and the New Dorp High School solution to the problem that plagued their students is commendable, and deserves merit, without oversimplifying what was done, or overgeneralizing what was done to a wider population.
Yet, in the final analysis, I caution, do not generalize their success as to mean that this is a solution applicable and appropriate to all teaching and learning situations. That would be a set up for failure, for unnecessary problems. Rather, as we can all agree, no two writers are exactly alike, and therefore, in the final analysis, each student writer needs to be assessed holistically for what works best in each specific context, for each individual student…
Teaching Academic Writing
At most universities world-wide, future EFL teachers are required to write in an academic style. Essays, research papers, and theses are examples of the most important academic writing that the student-teacher (hereafter ST) does. Furthermore, when they become EFL teachers, it is quite possible that they will teach students wishing to study at undergraduate or postgraduate levels. However, there are few published, experiential accounts of how future EFL teachers are taught to do academic writing. In this article, I will attempt to fill that gap by sharing an account of an integrated, genre-based/process-writing experience in the Chilean context.
Click on the link below to get Teaching Academic Writing:
The global search for high-quality education, embedded in high-performing education systems, has taken on mythical proportions, almost resembling the alchemists’ quest to turn common metals into gold.
It is my hope that the present day search for global education, equitable and providing equality of opportunity for all, shall not cease until the “gold” we seek, has been found.
I therefore dedicate this book to all the educators, researchers, parents and students the world over, who strive to achieve this elusive goal,high-quality education for all the citizens of the world.
In this endeavour, it is my belief that the International Baccalaureate merits a closer look, based on their more than 40 year history of delivering consistently excellent results.
I add that all of the reflections and views in this book are mine alone, unless otherwise noted, and can not be attributed to my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with, past or present. For any errors or oversights, I bear the complete responsibility.
Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He is the Head of the English Department at Colegio Internacional SEK in Santiago, Chile.
He is the Co-Founder and Co-Organiser of EdCamp Santiago, free, participant-driven, democratic, conversation based professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdCamp Santiago 2012 was held at Universidad Mayor in Santiago.
Thomas is also a member of the Advisory Board for the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL), where he also serves as a reviewer and as the HETL Ambassador for Chile.
Thomas enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. Thus far, he has written the following genres: romance, historical fiction, autobiographical, sports history/biography, and English Language Teaching. He has published a total of forty six (46) books overall.
The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family, his wife Gabriela, and his son, Thomas Jerome Baker, Jr.