Secret to teaching writing
Time-honored strategies you can copy
When I began teaching writing, I wasn't a certified English teacher.
Forty years later, I'm still not a certified English teacher, but
a long line of students learned to write in my classes.
You don't need credentials from a government agency to help teenage
and adult students learn to write. Whether you teach in a public
school, a private school, or home school, you can teach writing.
I'm living proof.
After getting a degree in psychology, I went to graduate school.
(Going to school was the only thing I knew I could do well.)
Desperate for freshman composition teachers, the English department
offered me a teaching assistantship. I grabbed it.
Within a few days, I learned what doesn't work in teaching writing.
Learning what does work took a while longer.
What Doesn't Work
Students won't learn to write because you:
- give brilliant lectures about writing
- have them read high quality literature
- make them revise each paper at least twice
- devote a month to remedial grammar study
- provide rubrics that detail what quality writing
The Secret to Teaching Writing
There is, however, a simple way to assure teens and adults students
have writing skills they need for working
and learning beyond high school:
You must teach nonfiction writing.
After I learned that secret by experience, I discovered it is printed
in thousands of research articles and books.
So how come its still a secret?
Because many teachers are still looking for a way of turning out
good writers that is easy, fast, and fun. (They also want thin thighs
in 30 days without diet or exercise.)
There is no easy, fast, fun way to turn out high
school graduates with the writing skill required
by colleges and employers.
Few English Teachers Teach Writing
With all due respect to the English teachers I've had over the
years, many of whom I respect and admire, not one of those folks
ever spent an hour teaching writing.
They taught me about writing.
They gave me writing assignments.
They encouraged me to write on topics that I enjoyed.
But they never taught how to write.
I learned to write by having to write on demand
and on deadline about topics that had no interest for me beyond
the paycheck I got for the writing.
You Can Teach Writing
No matter how well you're prepared for teaching writing, it always
takes a frustratingly long time to bring students to competence
level at which they can write with minimal help from you.
I'll crack a few jokes along the way to keep up our spirits as
we do the heavy lifting.
This Site Will Help You
I've organized this website into sections that correspond very
roughly to what teachers do in teaching writing.
The list below details the heavy lifting needed in teaching writing.
huge amount of what's typically taught in English language arts
is material students don't need to know unless
they do graduate study in English.
This section of the website will help you sort
that English stuff you could teach from what you
must teach to prepare students for life beyond
high school. Main topics in this section are
Teachers should prepare students to write expository nonfiction
effectively and efficiently when they are compelled to do so. By
focusing on writing strategies, which are easy
to teach and learn, you reduce writing to short tasks students can
master. Main topics in this section are
Guide Novice Writers
about the writing process or grammar rules before plunging students
into writing is a waste of time. Most composition and editing skills
need to be just-in-time tutorials for small groups or individual
students who have just tripped over a problem in their writing.
Topics for guiding novice writers are
As a writing teacher you need to assess progress (yours and your
students') on a daily basis. Most writing assessment
should be informal and formative; a smaller portion
should be formal and summative.
Teach Booster Skills
Many skills that writers need are not confined to use in writing.
The trick for ELA teachers is to teach cross-disciplinary skills
so they support ELA teaching instead of replacing it.
Teach All Students
This section is your resource when one or a few students in a class
need different kinds of help than others in order to learn well.
A particular student may need techniques to compensate for a learning
deficit or to make better use of her writing time, for example.
Teaching Writing Blog
The site's blog
looks at wider issues in education which impact the writing teacher.
You can subscribe to the blog feeds using RSS and your feed reader
or get updates delivered by email.
Get More Help
This section is the place to find information that doesn't fit
anywhere else on the website.
- Professional Development
forums, books, and workshops to help you teach writing
- Teacher Resources
guides you off site to free and inexpensive teaching aids
- Writing Points ezine signup,
archives, and subscribers-only resources
- About includes sitemap, publisher
bio, contact information, FAQs, policies
Just for Students
Just so I don't forget how frustrating teaching writing is, I offer
two services to students. One is a free forum in
which students can ask questions that I typically answer with some
variation on "read the directions." The second is online
writing courses, live or via email, for a fee.