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Eight Ways to Improve Writing Instruction


Q. As a professional writer, what are some things you'd like to see schools change so that students can become better writers?


1. Start children off right with traditional phonics, K-3, so they know how our language works and can think and write logically.


2. Go back to traditional classroom set-ups and dump "child-centered education" in the early grades; it is causing the epidemic of functional illiteracy, phony special ed, and poor handwriting.


3. Ask local writers to come in as volunteers, teach the teachers about effective writing, and copy-edit the teachers' own writing so that they'll see their own weaknesses and begin to deal with them.


4. Realize that schools have slipped into improper curriculum and instruction over the years in the area of reading. Most students read at grade level or below, while it used to be that most children read at grade level or above. Children who can't read complex text cannot write with ease and accuracy. Bad input creates bad output. The Whole Language philosophy with its "pre-engineered" word lists and politically correct, contrived story lines simply has to go.


5. The surest way to become a good writer is to be a good reader of good books. Most schools have weak or even poor reading lists. Students need to read good books to emulate good writing.


6. Children aren't being taught to spell correctly, and it shows. If you don't understand how letters come together into words, you can't understand how words come together into sentences. Schools need to go back to correcting misspelled words in all student writing.


7. Standardized writing assessments have to go. They force teachers to teach to the test, and so we are producing students with markedly smaller vocabularies, a shrunken knowledge base, very little analytical thinking power and not enough love for words.


8. Replace one or more educational psychology classes for an education major with a second or third English composition or literature class requirement. You can't teach what you don't know.


Homework: Give a teacher the excellent writing style manual, The Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, available in paperback for just a few dollars.


By Susan Darst Williams Writing 04 2008


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