It’s like trying to put a roof and siding on a house while the frame is still going up.
In a normal world, children and teachers progress gradually through the writing process, adding variables as they go. Elementary-age children should first learn to read to read information and retell it in their own words. They can then learn how to take notes from a source and write descriptive papers from those notes.
Common Core does not do this. It mandates that students in the fourth and fifth grades (9 and 10-year-olds) be able to:
- Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.
- Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are logically grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
- Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.
Elementary education instantly jumped from developmentally-appropriate descriptive writing to higher-level opinion writing. Unfortunately, children simply do not have enough experience in the world to form opinions about academic topics and back them up reasonably. They have not yet come to the age where their reasoning faculties are developed for this kind of thought.
The world is a complex place, especially for fifth graders who are still taking spelling tests and struggling to navigate outside of a self-contained classroom. They need to be presented with order before we ask them to create their own.
They need also need to be presented with great thoughts as well.
Good writers start out as good readers.
Frederick Douglas was once an illiterate slave, but he became one of the greatest writers and orators in our nation’s history. He wrote about his reading-to-writing transition in “My Bondage and My Freedom” and said: “The reading of these speeches added much to my limited stock of language, and enabled me to give tongue to many interesting thoughts, which had frequently flashed through my soul, and died away for want of utterance.”
Douglas needed to be filled with the great thoughts and words of others before he could generate his own. He needed a beginning place before he could reach the end.
Common Core is putting the end at the beginning for our kids.
Let’s let our kids get the basics of writing down first.
Special thanks to guest writer Chris, a public school teacher from Arkansas*. He has been previously featured on Roadkill Goldfish with his article, “Teacher says lowered standards and lack of personal responsibility hurt education.”
*I have printed only his first name because, like many public school teachers, he fears reprisal if he publicly speaks out about the current education system.