When Did You Learn How to Write?

I’m curious, when did you learn how to write? Suzanne Klein, pictured as a young teacher.

It wasn’t until my first year in English 101 at Hillsdale College that I began to realize that my teachers throughout my K-12 education failed teaching me the craft of writing. You wouldn’t believe the sea of red marks all over my English essays. It didn’t help that the semester before, my professor was teaching graduate English majors at Harvard. I never really knew the background story of why Dr. Adcock came from Harvard to teach at a small, private, and very conservative college in Michigan. Needless to say, having no formal writing education, I was not Dr. Adcock’s favorite student. In fact, I had to procure an English major tutor after receiving several D minuses on my essays. Yes, he probably had unrealistic expectations for his English 101 students, but how can we blame him for thinking that his college freshman students would come from K-12 having been taught at least what the 6 traits of quality writing are, how to use them, analyze and write for different text types, practice the art of editing and revising to make writing better, all while receiving specific and helpful feedback for writing improvement.

I recently was interviewed by John Rumery, Editor of Rapid Growth, who complained about the writing of his community college students, “…I can tell you those students still need help with writing!” I’m sure this is nothing you haven’t heard or experienced before; we are all concerned that students’ writing proficiency across America is at a dismal low.

This reminded me of an opinion article I read in the Washington Post titled, “If Students Can’t Write, How Can They Learn?” written by Natalie Wexler, the editor of Greater Greater Education blog. In her piece, Natalie mentions a startling discovery while she was tutoring writing at a high-poverty public high school in Washington D.C.

Natalie said, “I was shocked by what I found. Even though I’ve generally worked with the school’s higher-performing students, I’ve encountered students who aren’t familiar with terms such as “subject” and “verb.” A number don’t know why, “Although I read the book” isn’t a complete sentence.”

Natalie mentions helping students with writing by implementing programs at the high school level. I believe this is WAY too late in the process! I’m not saying that hope is lost at this point, but students need a strong writing foundation early in life in order to prepare them for success later in life. Why wait until secondary education to solve this problem? That’s like waiting to buy candles after you have no electricity. If we provide students with strong writing foundations in elementary school, there won’t be a need to implement remedial writing programs in high school.

I believe our children’s poor writing skills originate from a lack of confidence they develop at a young age. This can be attributed to our teachers’ lack of confidence due to their lack of knowledge on how to teach writing. If students don’t have the writing confidence after elementary school, it impacts their ability to do well in high school, and beyond. Elementary teachers are the essential key needed to prepare students for college and career readiness.

As educators, we have to speak up and increase our volume on this subject matter. We NEED better teacher education. There should be absolutely no reason why high school students shouldn’t be able to understand the difference between a subject and a verb, write well constructed sentences using correct grammar, and be able to express themselves in a clear and concise manner while using the 6 traits of quality writing.  

Did you have a history of writing education before high school? I have to ask myself, would I have gotten D minuses on my freshman essays if I’d had a strong writing foundation in my formative years: elementary school? There would be a lot of happier Dr. Adcocks in the world, if my elementary teachers would’ve had a better education on how to teach us the craft of writing.

I hope Dr. Adcock would be proud of me now as I continue my life’s work to provide teachers with WriteSteps.