The bones are important!

I have been teaching English grammar, writing, and literature from middle school through college level for several decades. In a previous article, I shared my reaction to the dismal scores of the first computer-based writing test from NAEP.  Consequently, I appreciated the article in the most recent edition of The Atlantic that provides evidence supporting the direct relationship between clear thinking and good writing. A pilot program in a high school in Staten Island, New York put writing skills as its top priority after other attempts to improve school performance failed.  The Writing Revolution, which emphasizes writing in every subject, has provided a dramatic turn-around for its entire academic program.


The author of the article, Peg Tyre, states, “ New Drop’s Writing Revolution, which placed an intense focus, across nearly every academic subject, on teaching the skills that underlie good analytical writing, was a dramatic departure from what most American students—especially low performers—are taught in high school.”  As a result of this emphasis, “Pass rates for the English Regents (the NY State exam) bounced from 67% in June 2009 to 89% in 2011; for the global history exam, pass rates rose from 64% to 75%.”


The program reverses the “feel-good” aspect of creative writing instruction (with its holistic scoring that does little or nothing to assist students in improving their skills) in favor of formal writing instruction.  “Over the next two years, 46 states will align themselves with the Common Core State Standards. For the first time, elementary-school students . . . will be required to write informative and persuasive essays. By high school, students will be expected to produce mature and thoughtful essays not just in English class but in history and science classes as well.”


David Coleman, one of Common Core’s designers, maintains that the new standards will “Reverse a pedagogical pendulum that has swung too far, favoring self-expression and emotion over lucid communication.” Mr. Coleman maintains that as an individual matures, he realizes that others don’t really care about what he thinks, but rather about what he can produce. 


In a subsequent article, I will provide information on specific topics in writing instruction that allow students to practice thinking techniques.  I recall a line from a pre-school tape about dinosaurs that my children used to sing: “The bones are important.” The same is true of writing, for parts of speech are the bones of the language. Understanding and mastering their usage enhances spoken and written communication.

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