Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 6
Common Core Poses
In Writing Instruction
By Madeline Will
Writing instruction may have
fallen by the wayside during the No
Child Left Behind Act era, as teachers zeroed in on teaching math and
reading, as many literacy experts
have lamented. But now, with most
states using the Common Core
State Standards, students are expected to write a lot more-and to
write in different forms.
The standards include detailed
writing expectations that go well beyond states' previous requirements.
Specifically, they call for proficiency
in argumentative, explanatory, and
narrative writing and the ability to
draw connections from and between
A noticeable uptick of writing in schools has taken place as
most states have implemented
the standards, said Tanya Baker,
the director of national programs
at the National Writing Project, a
that generally supports the changes
ushered in by the common core.
Baker cited anecdotal evidence
since there isn't a way to track the
exact amount of writing occurring in
But for the most part, educators
say students aren't writing as much
as the standards require.
"Kids are writing single paragraphs. It's so far from where we
want for young people to be college- or career-ready," Baker said.
"The baseline has moved, but it's
still pretty far from what we want
A study published last fall by the
nonprofit Education Trust, which
advocates for policies that help low
income students, analyzed 1,500
student assignments from a twoweek period in the 2014-15 school
year at six urban middle schools
and found that fewer than 1 in
10 assignments required multiple
paragraphs of writing. Just 4 in 10
assignments were aligned with the
grade-appropriate standard, and
only 16 percent required students
to cite evidence from the text,
which is a key component of the
Joan Dabrowski, an education
consultant who was the lead literacy
adviser for the Education Trust's
analysis, said students across the
country still aren't doing enough
writing, and what they are doing
rarely entails the kind of multiparagraph, evidence-based writing that
is promoted in college- and careerready standards.
That may be a problem for
schools because new commoncore-aligned assessments place a
greater weight on student writing
than did past state exams. The new
English assessments are more sensitive to differences in writing instruction, especially in the middle
grades, found a study by the Center for Education Policy Research
at Harvard University that was
released earlier this year.
Since the past assessments focused more on reading comprehension, the new tests should theoretically lead teachers to put more
emphasis on writing in their classrooms, the study said. But more research needs to be done to identify
effective interventions to help teachers with writing instruction, the authors said.
In the meantime, giving students
more opportunities to do in-depth
writing and providing a framework
for their development might be
places to start.
"If students are writing often and
understanding where they are as
a writer, ... the test will take care
of itself," said Carol Jago, the associate director of the California
Reading and Literature Project at
the University of California, Los
Angeles, and a past president of
the National Council of Teachers
"Fluency does matter," Dabrowski
echoed. "It matters tremendously."
'Hungry for Guidance'
So why aren't students writing
more? Experts cite several reasons.
"Teachers want to teach more
writing," Jago said. "They know it's
important. They believe in it." But
they don't always have the support
or direction available to properly
teach the sort of in-depth writing
now expected of students, she said.
When implementation of the
common core first began in 2011,
said Baker of the National Writing
Project, it became clear that many
teachers had had no practice in
teaching the kind of writing that the
standards call for, particularly in
the case of argumentative writing.
The National Writing Project has
tried to respond to that need with
courses, resources for teachers, and
an online community of practice
where teachers can connect and discuss the new expectations of writing
"Teachers are hungry for guidance," said Dabrowski, who talked
to teachers about writing instruction during the Education Trust's
literary-assignment analysis. They
want examples of lessons that meet
the standards, she said.
In common-core states, several recent surveys have found that nearly
all language arts teachers are at
least somewhat reliant on materials they've developed or selected
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | July 20, 2016 | www.edweek.org
Alyssa Schukar for Education Week
Classroom time, guidance seen as lacking
Sargy Letuchy, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Bolingbrook High School in Illinois, says many
teachers feel ill-equipped to integrate the common-core standards for writing into their instruction.
While it's relatively easy to find
examples of assignments, however,
it's harder, especially in the upper
grades, to find materials that show
how to teach the English/language
arts standards, particularly the
substandards for each writing
style, said high school teacher
"It's like being asked to run a marathon without proper equipment
and training," he said.
Letuchy, who is an English-as-asecond-language teacher at Bolingbrook High School in Illinois, has
When are kids
actually being allowed
to practice [writing]?
Writers need a solid
block of time to get
into their writing."
developed a workshop for teachers
on writing instruction under the
common core that he has presented
in his school district and at conferences. Teachers have told him they
feel unequipped to meet the level of
rigor now expected of them as a result of the new standards, he said,
compelling him to write a book, The
Visual Edge, that includes visual
instructional tools for teaching the
grades 6-12 standards.
"The real challenge is teaching
writing with more quantity and
rigor in the same amount of school
days," Letuchy said.
With all the competing demands
on teachers' time, Dabrowski said,
there is a limited amount of writing
time afforded to students, particu-
larly blocks of uninterrupted time,
which can be the most effective for
Dabrowski said she's heard
from many teachers who say they
want guidance on how to best use
their time, which is often highly
scripts or directives often include
warm-up and wrap-up activities
that "chisel away 10 to 12 minutes
at each end" of class, she said.
"When are kids actually being allowed to practice [writing]? Writers
need a solid block of time to get into
their writing," Dabrowski said.
"I think the work of writing ... it
ebbs and flows," she added. "If [students are] only given short little
snippets of time, we have some
structures in place that are misaligned with the common core."
This story was originally published
as part of "Next Draft: Changing
Practices in Writing Instruction,"
an online special report on
Education Week Teacher. The
report explores how writing
instruction has changed in recent
years, particularly with the
adoption of college- and
career-ready standards, and how
educators are adjusting their
practices in light of those
As UCLA's Jago put it: "Many
of the best practices [in writing
instruction] come crashing down
around what's possible."
Large class sizes present another
obstacle, Jago said, noting that
teachers who have 40 students in
each of their five classes can't possibly grade 200 papers every day.
"Students need to write much
more than any teacher could possibly read," she said. "There are some
responsible ways of dealing with
that-the irresponsible way is not
Instead, Jago said, students
could assess their own writing and
give the teacher their best work to
read, along with a written explanation of why they thought that piece
of writing was worthy. Or students
could share their work in small
groups and have the group select
the best piece of writing and explain why.
"Teachers need to figure out how
to multiply themselves," Jago said.
"The only audience for a piece of
writing shouldn't be the teacher."
Other pieces in the report include:
"Teachers Struggle With Changing
Place of Personal Narratives in
Writing Instruction," "Is the
Five-Paragraph Essay History?,"
"English Teacher's Hip-Hop
Curriculum Gets Students
Writing," and "Remodeling the
Workshop: Lucy Calkins on Writing
Instruction Today." Three
perspective pieces by current
teachers are also featured.
View the full report.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - July 20, 2016
Education Week - July 20, 2016
First-Generation College-Goers Try Campus Life
Dose of Empathy Found To Cut Suspension Rates
Vouchers Put Some Parents in Squeeze on Spec. Ed. Rights
Data Loom Large in Quest for New School-Quality Indicator
Detroit District Splits To Shore Up Schools
News in Brief
Common Core Poses Logistical Challenges In Writing Instruction
Longtime Leader in Education Journalism Passes the Baton
Schools Prepare to Confront Questions on Race, Policing
Blogs of the Week
Landmark Equity Study Turns 50
A Persistent Divide
Digital Device Choice Has Noticeable Impact On Test Performance
Will FAFSA Changes Speed Up Aid Awards?
U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015-16 Term
States, Districts Eyeing Chance to Craft Innovative Tests
K-12 Issues: Where the Candidates Stand
Setting the Education Department’s Direction
Blogs of the Week
ALICE JOHNSON CAIN: ESSA Could Leave Vulnerable Students in Limbo
ERICA FRANKENBERG & LILIANA M. GARCES: What Fisher v. University of Texas Means for K-12 Districts
SAUL DREVITCH: The Wisdom of an 8th Grader
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
ADAM KIRK EDGERTON: K-12 Schools: We Have Our Own ‘Brexit’ Problem
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Detroit District Splits To Shore Up Schools
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 2
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 3
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - News in Brief
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Report Roundup
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Common Core Poses Logistical Challenges In Writing Instruction
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Longtime Leader in Education Journalism Passes the Baton
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Schools Prepare to Confront Questions on Race, Policing
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 9
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Landmark Equity Study Turns 50
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 11
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - A Persistent Divide
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Digital Device Choice Has Noticeable Impact On Test Performance
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Will FAFSA Changes Speed Up Aid Awards?
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 15
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 16
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 17
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 18
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 19
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 20
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - States, Districts Eyeing Chance to Craft Innovative Tests
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - K-12 Issues: Where the Candidates Stand
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 23
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Setting the Education Department’s Direction
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Blogs of the Week
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 26
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 27
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - ERICA FRANKENBERG & LILIANA M. GARCES: What Fisher v. University of Texas Means for K-12 Districts
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - SAUL DREVITCH: The Wisdom of an 8th Grader
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - Letters
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 31
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 32
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 34
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - 35
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - ADAM KIRK EDGERTON: K-12 Schools: We Have Our Own ‘Brexit’ Problem
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - CT1
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - CT2
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - CT3
Education Week - July 20, 2016 - CT4