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The Write Stuff: Preparing the Next Generation of Writers

by James Scott Miller, M.Ed., Zaner-Bloser Senior Instructional Consultant and Consulting Author, Strategies for Writers

Introduction: The Writing Revolution

New Standards, New Expectations
Are the students we teach ready for writing in the 21st century? The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have placed renewed emphasis on writing skills at all grade levels and across the curriculum. Next generation technology-based assessments deploying in 2014 will certainly put those skills to the test. Are students ready for these new and rigorous expectations? Are educators equipped to instruct accordingly?

The CCSS have renamed and qualitatively redefined the composition text types. Students must now write both to inform and to explain. They must also progress over time from opinion-writing to argument-writing. Most importantly, students must develop the capacity to recognize, analyze, and utilize the various forms resident within these text types to address specific purposes and audiences. Preparing students for the more rigorous expectations of the CCSS will be instructionally demanding. It will require teachers to move beyond remedial structures such as the “five-paragraph essay.” Furthermore, writing instruction will require primacy within the literacy block. The limited writing instruction included in reading programs and literature anthologies will no longer suffice.

Ready or Not
The results of the preliminary “next generation” assessments are in, and, suffice it to say, there is cause for concern. Only 26% of students passed a recent pilot test in New York (2013, grades 3–8), down significantly from a 47% passing rate on the previous assessment. Pilots in other states have yielded very similar results. Why? Next generation assessments require students to read closely and then demonstrate their understanding of stimuli in writing, citing textual evidence to support both narrative and analytic writing. The requirement to address multiple sources in writing—and a technology platform that will be new for many students—further amplify the rigor of the testing experience. As a result, many states are bracing themselves for a significant drop in scores when the new assessments are deployed in 2014.

Especially troubling is the fact that the new standards being assessed have been deemed critical to success in college and career. The CCSS were developed by a consortium of teachers, researchers, and leading experts, under guidance from the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, in order to prepare students for the demands of learning and working in the 21st century. Unfortunately, the new assessments reveal that a majority of our students are not on track for success after high school.

The good news? We can prepare our students for the new assessments—and for the demands of college and the workforce. But it is going to require a change in our approach to writing instruction beginning in the earliest grades. To begin preparing students for the literacy demands of the 21st century, we need to give them the “write” stuff, right now.

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