One of my good friends said she feels she's taught writing less effectively this year than any year before because so many of her lessons have been focused on the skills needed to successfully write prompt-based, on-demand essays for the new yearly writing tests.  One skill set to rule them all, I guess.  How sad.

Seems like a recipe for "Writicide."  (Tip of the hat to Kelly Gallagher...*)

Our high-stakes writing assessments just finished for the year.  Teachers have fretted and wrung their hands, but worked hard to prepare their students, in every grade, third and up (that's A LOT of students!!!) to do their best on these tests.  Now what?  What do our students think about writing after being fed formulaic strategies for responding to prompt after prompt with a focus on using text evidence above all else?  Do our students want to write?  Do our students know how to generate their own topics based on their own interests?  Do they know how to skillfully pursue these interests through reading and writing?  Do our students know how to use sources in a balanced way; noting with clarity what authors have to say then pushing beyond the text to stimulate and articulate their own innovative thoughts or ideas?  Given the test instructions and the rubrics, teachers were openly worried about allowing their students to include their own ideas in their writing on these tests.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)  To be fair, the rubric does encourage and reward elaboration, but only that which directly follows from information provided in the text sources (don't think too far outside the box or beyond the sources assigned).

I watch my son, at the age of 7, joyfully pursue writing for multiple purposes.  Yes, he completes writing assignments in his first grade class, some based on choice, but he writes at home based on his own motivations, often stimulated by what he is reading.  He has an eye and an ear for reading like a writer.  He fearlessly tries out the writing moves and writing forms of his idols.  He seeks response.  He gets it.  He asks for endless notebooks and pens.  He composes on his computer.  He wants to have his stories published.  He is a writer and he knows what writing is all about: stories, information, lists, letters, notes, labels, calendars, reminders, poems (he just wrote one this very minute), you name it, he is willing.  And, he smiles at his efforts.  (How did he get here?  Part of the story can be found here: http://janielwagstaff.blogspot.com/2013/11/why-does-he-write-so-much-photographic.html )  Will he keep his enthusiasm for writing if he, too, is subjected to year after year of this kind of 'writing test prep?'

Smiling matters.  Writing matters for much more than tests.  Our students' conceptions of what writing is, what writers do, how they write and why they write, matters.  Balance matters.  If we're going to avoid an epidemic of "writicide," we need to stand up for what matters in our writing classrooms every day.  There is no one skill set to rule them all, though essay writing certainly has its place.  Think carefully, act thoughtfully.  What else matters for our writers?


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