Today I was lucky enough to attend a Key Note Session for my district’s conference. I was aware that it was about writing and that James Cunningham was the speaker, but that was all that I was aware of. Dr. James Cunningham is a professor at the University of North Carolina and this man knew his stuff! The focus was what current research says and what works with the Common Core State Standards-and, in his words, “The Best Standards Ever Written” for writing instruction. I’d have to say, after hearing him, he is right! So, let’s dive right in!
He quickly pointed to the “Bad News”. The “Bad News” was to point out the reasons why writing doesn’t work in most classrooms. Rigor demands that we focus on it, but we don’t-research says so, scores point to it being so! Why is this? First, and foremost, it mainly points to being the most unimportant in people’s eyes, not just teachers. Research (I’m going to say this A LOT!) points to the fact that we, the adults, don’t take it serious. Why? It is “undervalued by those who remember when it wasn’t important.” That’s us folks! Right there, in our classrooms. Our memories of writing keep us from making it important! Parent’s memories of writing keep them from seeing it as important! Yet, the demands in our jobs, and in our students’ future jobs, all point to it being a key element in success! One of the surprising things Mr. Cunningham shared was that when the Great Recession hit, secretaries decreased while laptop use increase! More low paying jobs were eliminated, those that didn’t involve writing, while jobs involving writing increased. Plus, more and more college classes are involving both formal writing and writing online responses. Writing truly is KEY to our future! Yet, our assigned writing times in our classrooms lag behind both reading and math! Not good! But, there is some good news!
The “GOOD news “ is something that may be VERY surprising to many of us. I know it was to me! Writing is EASIER to teach than either math or reading! Not only that, but it doesn’t depend on a student’s home background like it does in reading! That means that it is an equal opportunity in my book! I can totally see this as fact in my experiences in teaching. This year one of my struggling students was one of my BEST writers! It was amazing to me, but this research backs it up! Plus, as we have always known, it improves reading. BUT, it also improves content area learning! Think about all the applications in the content area that writing is applied too! We just don’t always see that the writing is a KEY element!
What makes these the BEST Standards Ever Written? Dr. Cunningham pointed to three key standards-Writing Standard 4, 10, and 5-and in that order! Check this out! Standard 4 is the WHOLE GOAL of writing in life! Stop looking for goals, because it is RIGHT THERE! Wow! That was kinda eye opening! It has been glaring at us all along, right there! This man has it going on! Next, Standard 10 points to a key to get kids writing-ROUTINE! Writing has to become ROUTINE! And it is, again, RIGHT THERE! How about 5?? It is the Writing Process! But wait-not like we use it, not like we want the kids to use it-but to STRENGTHEN writing in a different way!
This is it for right now! Digest that, because some of his ideas and thoughts and research are kinda MIND BLOWING, yet they are things that we know, have developed an understanding for, but are used differently! So, stay tuned-more to come tomorrow about these great new ideas coming from the most current research!