Good writing: The missing link to good grades


After enduring several frustrating decades of wildly ineffective nuevo-education, those who aren’t so embedded in a faltering system that they’ve lost the ability to see the situation accurately are turning back the clock to traditional methods of teaching one subject—writing—and seeing stunning results across all disciplines.

Inspired by a method called the Common Core State Standards, teachers from New Dorp High School in Staten Island, N.Y., who have watched students falter under “new and improved” approaches to writing (emphasizing creative, memoir-type writing over traditional analytic essay writing, which may be why only 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors can write a decent paper), are now being trained to teach students the old-fashioned way teachers used before being scoffed into extinction—by formula.

To take an abstract subject like writing and teach it this way, educators worked diligently to tease out where students were missing the writing boat. Teachers and poverty levels were soon eliminated as the problem. The skills poor writers were consistently missing? They used short, disconnected sentences instead of longer ones involving coordinating conjunctions like “for,” “and,” “nor,” “but,” or “yet” to link their ideas together. Further, it was discovered that the best essay writers used a variety of complex sentences based on dependent clauses beginning with “although” and “despite,” something the struggling writers didn’t do.

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Providentially for New Dorp’s teachers, someone had already developed a writing pedagogy incorporating these principles. In the Hochman Program, based on the words of former head of the elite Windward School, Judith Hochman:

“Children are explicitly taught how to turn ideas into simple sentences, and how to construct complex sentences from simple ones by supplying the answer to three prompts—but, because, and so. They are instructed on how to use appositive clauses to vary the way their sentences begin. Later on, they are taught how to recognize sentence fragments, how to pull the main idea from a paragraph, and how to form a main idea on their own.”

It is, by Hochman’s own admission, a formula. But one that is working incredibly well not only in English class proper, but in others, like science and history, where, far from the maddeningly no-brainer multiple-choice test, students are now having to craft their insights into thoughtful sentences and organized paragraphs, demanding mental exercises that are boosting not only standardized test scores (at New Dorp, pass rates for the English Regents exams were boosted 22 percent in two years and 11 percent for history), but also speaking ability and personal confidence. To hear such things gives a body hope amidst a literary landscape where LOL and TTYL placed next to each other are considered a complete sentence.

In a country that rates 21st in science, 14th in reading, and 30th in math (China is number one in all three categories), such results are promising.

And even more so for those of us attempting to raise our children to be Bereans, how to defend their faith, and how to articulate their beliefs, all of which require the ability to think—and write—analytically.

Amy Henry
Amy Henry

Amy is a married mother of six and a WORLD correspondent from Kansas. Follow her other "scribbles" at Whole Mama or by reading her book Story Mama: What Children's Stories Teach Us About Life, Love and Mothering. Follow Amy on Twitter @wholemama.


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