Saturday, February 27, 2016

There's an OpEd to be Written in CT About Writing Instruction, And I Am Using This Space Here To Outline My Thoughts

For the fifth time, I spent two days working with fellow educators at Joel Barlow High School in Redding, Connecticut, scoring junior writing portfolios. Yes, I am biased. For all my years in Kentucky, portfolios were my life and I experienced their value, usefulness and fairness in support of K-12 youth who were being prepared for college and career readiness.

The CCSS, in theory, requires more writing, but the truth is, the assessments have put writing to the side of reading and, as a result, is not on the radar of technocrats policing schools. The result, there is a limited amount of writing instruction occurring in U.S. schools. I read about this while in Kentucky, but I was there during the portfolio years. It wasn't until I returned to NY that I realized how the books were right...the research was correct...the rumors were true - kids rarely write in school. Moving to Connecticut, I learned more of the same (even if they felt, like NY, that their state tests were superior). Of course, this was pre-CCSS and SBAC. And yesterday, it was announced that Malloy's administration has shortened the test (definitely needed), but cut out the writing portion.

Okay, let's couple that with the removal of the SAT essay. Smart moves.


What will happen is inevitable. Writing will be further ignored and young people will be less prepared for college and career success. Writing is the key. Writing in ALL content areas is the key. Writing support for all teachers is the key. Writing in a wide variety of genres is the key. Writing everyday is the key, Writing with digital tools is the key.

You gotta write! A'ight?

This is why Joel Barlow students are fortunate. After spending another two days scoring junior portfolios one thing is clear: these kids are advantaged over their peer groups because their district has continued to invest in writing instruction, a writing center, and writing support. Comments from scorers from many districts stated things like, "This was irreplaceable professional development. Our kids aren't even close to writing at the level of these kids." They also stated, "These kids know themselves as writers. They know audiences and purpose. They are so prepared for life after high school." Then many lamented, "But our district will never go for it. They will continue to push test-only materials on us that don't work and are completely worthless for the needs of kids."

These comments are coming from urban, rural, and suburban schools.

Every year when I leave Redding, I think to myself, "I am rejuvenated for what is possible." Yesterday's drive home, however, was a little more frustrated, because they announced the removal of the only assessment of writing in the state. It is wrong. When I think about the sophisticated and mature conversations teachers had after reading a wide variety of writing in multiple portfolios over the last few days and contrast it with the dreary, mind-numbing, and purposeless mandates for teaching to the tests I feel the steam pouring out of my ears.

I have to collect my thoughts and pull in the literature. This OpEd needs to be written for kids, teachers, and parents. Forget the state. Futures depend on it.


  1. But (and you know how much I love you!), there is an awesome (as in "large, beyond us) residual effect to the kind of writing instruction which pretends to prepare students for the SBAC. I have spent the past two years watching students wilt under the heavy hand of SBAC "writing instruction," which is not writing at all; rather, it is the strategic placement of quotations or sophisticated interpretation from three different sources represented by three different genres. The sources generally hold little to no interest for the students. SBAC attempts to mold students into automatons who can produce academic treatises; the effect is analogous to force feeding some of the classics to students who are just beginning to love reading: self-expression is stilted, curiosity is curbed, and agency vanishes. Students--especially young students--need to read what will inspire them to write and they need to tell their own stories before they can evolve into proficient academic pre-college writers. We are doing more damage by teaching this type of writing than by not teaching writing at all. We are engaged in the systematic removal of Voice before they have a voice.
    That said, I was also assessing portfolios with you at Joel Barlow. I share the impressions you took away and I, like you, felt excited and rejuvenated to be a part of a professional community talking about student writing. But I take this away from reading so many (and such a variety of) student portfolios: it is clear that teachers "instructing" these students are empowering them to experiment with voice and perspective; to write from a place of self-knowledge and honesty; to move out of pedantic and prescribed writing; and to discover, through WRITING, the power of their own words.
    The only Professional Development needed for Connecticut teachers is the Connecticut Writing Project. Joel Barlow has benefited under the influence of CWP; that is clear. Two-ton textbooks at $10 million dollars a pop and the latest gimmick in teaching writing will push us further down the road to students' not-writing.
    Connecticut schools need the CWP: teachers trained in National Writing Project methods who will run workshops for teachers and administrators at very affordable prices. The only requirement: notebook and pen, any color you like.
    I love you, Bryan.

  2. I didn't mean to post as "Unknown."
    Julie Roneson
    Discovery Magnet, Bridgeport
    (Lucky to be with Bryan Crandall at) CT Writing Project-Fairfield