Teaching Bad Writing Habits = Bad Writing

It has been almost a month since I have written for my blog. Something had to give with grading papers, writing a book, and trying to spend time with my kids.  So, my blog took a back seat while I tried to keep my nose above water enough to breathe.  I have a lot on my mind to write for my blog, so the next week or two should bring plenty of posts!

I want to begin by addressing a situation I am encountering in the district where I am teaching.  I have been teaching for twelve years and have been with the same district for the past eleven.  I by no means feel I am a know it all when it comes to writing, writing methods, or anything else associated with writing.  However, I did minor in English and have a lot of experience with writing. So, let me get to my point.

Since I have been teaching 7th grade ( two years now), I have been encountering a major problem with my students and their writing.  I spent the better part of three class periods correcting students who started topic sentences with:

  • “I am going to tell you about…”

They followed it with:

  • “Then I will tell you…”

As the students would progress through their writing and bring their paragraphs to a close, they would write a wrap-up sentence that started with:

  • “I just told you about…”

or

  • “Now I have just told you…”

Believe me when I say, I get absolutely livid when I see students writing with the above sentences I have listed. In past years I have learned that the students are being taught this at the elementary level. Before one teacher retired, I approached a teacher who was teaching this to our students and asked them to please try to find a different approach.  The teacher felt it was an attack and basically told me they were not changing how they taught it.

Within the past two years I have seen it more and more and I am at a boiling point.  Our students are not being taught quality writing skills.  At the beginning of the year, I discussed this with the one of the co-chairs of the language arts department to try to find a resolution to the problem. This individual is a writing project consultant and we had a great conversation. The conclusion was made that when the students start their writing careers in the middle school with me, I simply tell the students they are in middle school now and as middle schoolers they do not write that way anymore.  This would eliminate “attacking” any teacher or teachers in the elementary building. Well, I will admit, I was fine with that until this past Friday when I saw an outline given to an elementary student for what appeared to be a position paper about animals.  Within the outline, the students were blatantly told to use those sentences in their paragraphs and told to conclude their writing with the “Now I have just told you” sentence. To top it all off their was a spelling error.  I was beyond furious. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about helping students with structure and giving them guidelines, but that was ridiculous.

I reached this point of frustration because I am spending more time at the beginning of the year with my students trying to fix these  horrible writing habits, instead of moving my students forward with better writing methods. Now, I am trying to turn poor writers into mediocre writers, when I could be going from mediocre to quality writers.  In addition,  I watched my students complete the writing portion of our state assessment and the 7th graders were not that great. Our district has some things to fix.  We have low writing scores and I think I have found part of the problem.

I am not here to bash my colleagues or discredit them, but it is becoming more and more important that we teach our students quality writing habits. Right now I feel I am at a dead end on how to handle this problem other than spending numerous class periods trying to break my middle schoolers of poor writing habits.  I am not sure if I should have a conversation with my principal and see what he has to say about it or do I bring it up at our next K-12 department meeting.    If anyone has any suggestions, it would greatly be appreciated. Hopefully I can make some head way with the situation.

Cheers!

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3 Comments on “Teaching Bad Writing Habits = Bad Writing”

  1. Is there any way that the writing teachers in your system could get together and discuss teaching writing. Teachers at various levels often don’t understand the developmental stages students are in at particular levels or the content/learning goals. Also, teachers at various levels often don’t have the endpoint in mind which I imagine is writing every genre well.

    I’d love to read som other posts by you on the following topics:
    The ideal progression for teaching writing.
    What would a system-wide writing summit look like, how would it work?
    What does a seventh grade teacher hope for at the end of the seventh grade writing year?
    What are the qualities of a wonderful 21st century writer.

    Tech or no tech, writing remains an integral essential skill, on that even most educators can improve upon. Thanks for posing such an important topic.

  2. wish I could edit my response, I meant “one” not “on”–always in a hurry 😦

  3. These are such great points. What we elementary teachers really need are exemplary models to follow. I huff and sigh every time one of my students starts a journal entry with “I’d like to tell you about”… but the truth is that students at this age need some structure. It seems like you see that the scaffolding may be needed, but that the scaffolding we (I say “we” in general because I’m not a writing teacher – I swear I’ve never told students to write either of those things!) are giving them is often horrifically bad. If we could

    1) do more actual workshop writing.
    2) have a well reasoned out scope and sequence of writing development from K-12

    we’d be more likely to develop solid writing. Kids in elementary need to develop decent writing structure so that their voice can begin to shine through – and then the polishing could happen!


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