Why Kids Can’t Write: A Hot Topic That Is More Complex Than It Appears

By Natalie Wexler
Education Journalist and Trustee, Omega Foundation

A recent story in the New York Times — titled “Why Kids Can’t Write”— sparked almost 1500 comments and much discussion on social media. Clearly, it struck a nerve.

Unfortunately, the article failed to explain why kids can’t write — especially kids who are low-income, learning-disabled, or still learning English. The story highlighted an organization called The Writing Revolution, which trains teachers in a method of writing instruction, but it presented that method — inaccurately — as focusing solely on grammar rules.

As board chair of The Writing Revolution and co-author of a recently published book of the same name, I know the method is as much a way of teaching content and fostering analytical thinking as it is a method of teaching basic writing skills.

Writing is the most difficult thing we ask students to do, and for too long we’ve assumed they’ll simply “pick it up.” Most don’t. As The Writing Revolution method recognizes, teachers need to break the writing process down into manageable chunks. And students need to write about what they’re learning–not about the amusement park they visited on Saturday.

The failure of education reformers to pay attention to writing is part of a larger failure to focus on the crucial question of what schools are actually teaching. That failure may be one reason reform efforts have made so little progress. But with new research emerging on the positive impact of a strong curriculum, things are beginning to change.

To learn more about these promising developments, please join me and two distinguished panelists, Barbara Davidson and Matthew Chingos, at the third session of WRAG’s 2017 Public Education Learning Series, “Curriculum: The Missing Ingredient in Education Reform,” on September 28th.