October 12, 2013
New Teaching Strategies Needed To Improve Poor Writing Skills Of US Students
redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports – Your Universe Online
Only one in four US students are performing at a proficient level in writing, and one Michigan State University (MSU) professor believes the quality of instruction those pupils are receiving is at least partially to blame.
In new research appearing in the journal School Psychology Review, Gary Troia from MSU’s College of Education explained the writing instruction in US classrooms is “abysmal” and the Common Core State Standards are failing to properly address the issue.
Troia and co-author Natalie Olinghouse from the University of Connecticut report in order to improve both the quality of K-12 students’ writing and the quality of the education they receive, schools much change their approach. Specifically, they call for new methods of professional development for the educators whose job it is to help students achieve current writing standards.
“We need to re-orient the way we think about teacher professional development,” Troia, whose work was funded by the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, said in a statement. “We need to be smarter about professional development and make sure it’s comprehensive, sustained and focused on the needs in the classroom.”
The Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and are currently in the initial stages of implementation, were designed in order to help improve student performance in both mathematics and English language arts (ELA). The ELA requirements are described as research and evidence based, rigorous, internationally benchmarked and in line with typical college and work expectations.
According to the study authors, the standards are strong in some writing-related areas but come up short in others –especially spelling and handwriting, which are not comprehensively covered during the first few years of schooling. In addition, the increasingly essential skill of keyboarding is emphasized only during the third through sixth grade years, and the Common Core fails to address areas of writing useful to community or personal affairs.
“Federal efforts and research dollars tend to focus on reading, math and science, while writing is often left out in the cold. We’re trying to point out that writing is really important and that we should focus more on writing so it’s no longer the neglected ‘R’,” Troia said, referencing a 2003 study from the National Commission on Writing claiming the discipline has not received the attention it deserves at any level of education, from grade school through college.
“When you look at writing instruction in the K-12 classroom, it’s still pretty abysmal. Teachers are generally not adapting instruction for struggling writers and most students struggle with writing if you look at national test scores,” he added, noting the Common Core does not tell educators how to help students meet the writing standards it requires them to achieve.
Since writing-related standards will be new for most of the states adopting the Common Core, Troia and Olinghouse suggest teachers should consult their colleagues and review additional material outside of the classroom in order to learn how best to help improve the quality of their students’ writing.
Specifically, the MSU professor recommended reaching out to school personnel familiar with research-based writing instruction and assessment practices for assistance. Those individuals could include special education teachers, speech-language pathologists or school psychologists, whom Troia refers to as “a valuable resource for teachers and schools in their efforts to deploy evidence-based practices, especially for students who struggle with writing.”