Earlier this spring there was an article in the Chicago Tribune about the fact that young students are not doing well when it comes to writing skills, "Report hits students' writing skills; Schools neglecting 2nd `R,' panel says." This sad truth came to light after the release of a study by the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges.
The report found that the majority of elementary-school students spend three hours per week or less on writing assignments-that amounts to just 15% of the time they spend watching television. Forty-nine percent of high school seniors state that they rarely if ever are assigned to write a paper with a length of three or more pages. The senior-year research paper a lot of us were required to do has become a distant memory. The report, "The Neglected `R': The Need for a Writing Revolution," claims such writing-intensive projects have fallen by the wayside because "teachers do not have time to deal with (them)."
To right this wrong, the commission recommends students double the amount of time they spend writing. Furthermore, it suggests that writing should be taught at all grade levels and across all subjects. The panel says schools must make writing a central part of their educational agendas. Furthermore, it says that writing should be taught at all grade levels and across all subjects. The commission suggests that universities make writing a central part of their teacher-preparation programs, requiring all prospective teachers to take courses on how to teach writing. The group also suggests state and local education officials provide workshops and teacher-training programs to improve the writing instruction students receive in the classroom. The recommendations sound plausible, but I think the commission has the cart before the horse.
I think the problem stems from the fact that so many people are unable to read proficiently. How can anyone be expected to write well if they don't read? It's only a guess, but I bet that most children aren't given many reading assignments. In my opinion, if you can't read, you probably can't write. Children need to be taught good reading skills and habits.
Time seems to be at a premium here as well. Reading skills are essential before a person can write well, yet people don't take the time to develop effective reading habits. Any English teacher will tell you that being able to read and comprehend is essential to the writing process. There's no way around it-without reading and writing skills, students cannot be expected to advance very far.
Over the years I've interviewed many young people for editorial and advertising sales positions. Too often, they are unable to write a single declarative sentence. Most of these applicants have college degrees, which makes me wonder what they have been taught all this time. How can anyone be expected to go through life unable to read and write properly? Too many people have been deprived of one of the privileges in life: the ability to read and write. Think of what these young men and women already have missed and how bleak their futures could be.
When I was in high school, one of my teachers told me that if I wanted to write well I should read everything I could get my hands on. Writing skills are essential to effective communication, but like any skill they require practice; it doesn't come easily.
Those who perfect their writing skills have an edge when it comes to selling ideas and communicating with colleagues, but I wonder how many individuals take the time to really learn to read and write properly.
Reading comes before writing and both are tied to speaking skills. All require practice, focus and persistence. How many times have I had people tell me they would love to write a book, but they just can't put their thoughts on paper? How frustrating that must be? Whether a student or a business executive, being able to communicate thoughts, needs or wishes can help anybody live a better life. People who know how to speak and write well have a leg up on others in the business community. That goes for personal relationships as well.
I believe the commission's recommendations are right on target, but getting teachers and students motivated may be difficult. It's going to take time and money and a major commitment from educators to work harder and longer hours, even though most of them already are overworked and underpaid. The result will be a better quality of life for many young people who risk missing so much in life if they can't read and write properly. These people could be destined for mediocrity in their professional lives if they don't develop these special and essential skills at an early age.
Back to the basics,
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Lauer is the author of two books, Reach for the Stars and Soar with the Eagles, and is an experienced guest lecturer available for public speaking engagements. For more information, visit www.chucklauer.com