“We have a nation of basic writers,” Angela Peery and Lisa Cebelak concluded from seeing years of flat scores on the NAEP assessment for writing. Their ASCD Annual Conference presentation (The “Core” Gets Us Back to Our Roots: Academic Writing) gave attendees hope, however, that Common Core State Standards will catalyze instruction that reverses this trend.
For starters, the new standards provide clarity on the type of writing that students most need to learn, to be successful in college and career: argument. In fact, argumentative writing is the first writing standard, and that’s a big shift away from the narrative and persuasive writing that has dominated students’ assignments.
“Persuasion does not have to be based on logic; argument does. It’s about backing claims with evidence,” said Peery. “We’re good at persuasion, but not very good at teaching argumentation.” The Common Core prioritizes argumentative writing because it “is at the heart of critical thinking and academic discourse,” added Cebelak.
The other high hope for writing is that the new standards insist that teaching reading, writing, listening, speaking, and language instruction be a shared responsibility within the school. Standard 10 gets to this agenda, calling for students to do a range of writing—not just more writing, but different types, and over different time periods.
A simple way for all teachers to provide more writing opportunities for students, said Peery and Cebelak, is to assign more “writing on demand” exercises. These are short responses to what students have read, viewed, or discussed as part of their coursework. To help students fine-tune these assignments, and clarify the writing skills to be demonstrated, teachers at Capitol Hill Junior High School in St. Paul, Minnesota, created this basic rubric, that teachers in any content area can use to assess “paragraph on demand” writing exercises.
Will “argument” and “range” be big shifts for writing instruction in your school?
Writing, writing everywhere but not a thought to think.