When educators think of literacy -- the ability to read and write -- they often place more importance on students’ abilities to read and fully understand a piece of writing.
But experts say critical and creative writing skills are equally important. And, they say, they are too often overlooked in the classroom.
Compared to reading, writing is more active. It helps students be independent thinkers, take ownership of their stories and ideas and communicate them clearly to others, says Elyse Eidman-Aadahl. She heads the National Writing Project, which offers help for teachers who want to push students to write more.
Eidman-Aadahl said, “Unless we want an education system just focused on making people consumers and not focused on helping them be producers, this emphasis on reading only -- which does happen in so many places -- is very short-sighted.”
She said students’ writing work now usually centers on examining a text, instead of presenting a new idea. Writing, she said, should be “the central thing you’re learning. Not writing on a test, not writing to demonstrate you’re learning what someone has taught you....”
Writing improves reading skill
Teaching reading together with writing improves both skills, says Rebecca Wallace-Segall, who heads a New York City writing center, Writopia Lab.
She said writing affects a person’s ability to read. More than 90 percent of young people in the Writopia program do not trust their writing abilities when they start, Wallace-Segall said.
But she said they learn to enjoy the writing process and become more effective readers, too.
Eidman-Aadahl said employers today seek workers “all the time” who can write well. Digital tools increasingly mean that people are “interacting with the internet through writing,” she said.
Young people are already writing all the time -- through text messages, emails and on social media.
Eidman-Aadahl said every young person today is a writer if they are connected to the internet. So, she added, “we have to help them do it in the best, most responsible, critical, prosocial way.”
Working through problems by writing
Supporters of writing-centered teaching add that writing empowers young people.
“When students own their voices and tell their stories, they become not only stronger and more confident writers, but also stronger and more confident individuals,” says Ali Haider. He is director of the Austin Bat Cave, a creative writing center in Austin, Texas.
Wallace-Segall said that writing also helps students work through difficulties they face in life. Writing lets them work through their problems “subconsciously,” she said.
“They’re not writing a story about a difficult father or directly about a bully in class, but they are creating a fictional scenario that might feel distant enough for them to go deep into it.”
Teaching students to write well can have an effect on the larger world, notes Dara Dukes. She leads Deep Center, an organization in Savannah, Georgia that works with young writers to share their stories with policymakers, judges, politicians and police officers.
Dukes said, “...Those adults can see that the stories they’re telling themselves about those young people are often wrong and doing a lot of harm in the world.”
I’m Ashley Thompson.
Words in This Story
focused – adj. giving attention and effort to a specific task or goal
emphasis – n. special importance or attention given to something
short-sighted – adj. made or done without thinking about what will happen in the future
confident – adj. having a feeling or belief that you can do something well or succeed at something: having confidence
subconsciously – adv. operating from the part of the mind that a person is not aware of
bully – n. someone who frightens, hurts, or threatens smaller or weaker people
fictional scenario – n. a story of the imagination