Blogger’s Note: Few would deny that written communications is an essential skill. It is also a skill that is rarely practiced. While literacy (reading, writing, thinking, speaking) skills are the "spine that holds everything together in all subject areas," in most classrooms, little reading and almost no writing is practiced on a regular basis.
The author of a New York Times op-ed piece is a veteran English teacher who teaches college freshmen to write essays and research papers, which he contends "invite font-size manipulation, plagiarism and clichés."
He believes that "We need to set our sights not lower, but shorter." Instead of insisting on long research papers, this English teacher takes a different, perhaps more relevant approach.
The author believes that "learning how to write concisely, to express one key detail succinctly and eloquently, is an incredibly useful skill, and more in tune with most students’ daily chatter, as well as the world’s conversation. The photo caption has never been more vital."
He is able to enhance the writing skills of his students, make learning more relevant, and differentiate his teaching by using a number of practical writing strategies that any secondary teacher can adopt.
- “Come up with two lines of copy to sell something you’re wearing now on eBay.”
- "Describe the essence of the chalkboard in one or two sentences."
- “Write coherent and original comments for five YouTube videos, quickly telling us why surprised kittens or unconventional wedding dances resonate with millions.”
- Write Amazon reviews for the works we read this semester.
- Write a cover letter or a networking e-mail.
The author emphasizes that "short isn’t necessarily a shortcut. When you have only a sentence or two, there’s nowhere to hide." "I’m not suggesting that colleges eliminate long writing projects from English courses, but maybe we should save them for the second semester."
"Rewarding concision first will encourage students to be economical and innovative with language."
Thoughts for learning leaders
- Reading gets students to college. Writing keeps them there.
- Writing improves reading skills.
- How can we improve our students’ writing skills if they never write?
- Concise writing requires deep thinking.
- Synthesizing a complete thought into a few words requires students to engage in higher-order thinking.
- There are numerous examples of teachers using Twitter-like writing to enhance the writing skills of their students.
Strategy: Ask students to take an article or a passage from a book and condense it into PowerPoint bullets of no more than 8 words.
All of the above strategies would make excellent "bell-work" activities.
Writing to Read: How Writing Can Improve Reading (2010) www.carnegie.org/literacy
Writing Next (2007) http://www.all4ed.org/files/WritingNext.pdf