Monday, March 19, 2012

Middle School Writing

I speak at middle schools about creative writing. That means I know a few sixth graders and recently I learned not all writing programs are created equal. Why was I surprised?

One of my sixth grade friends asked for help with a paper. The writing was pretty good, but there was a problem. The thoughts were not cohesive. My friend was more concerned with making sure his paragraphs started with First, then, then, etc and a rhetorical question following the first sentence than he was worried about anything else. His teacher would take points off if he didn't follow the rules.

What? Who's teaching this stuff? These kids aren't learning how to string a thought together if they're worried about where the rhetorical goes over making a point clearly. Ideas have to flow like a river running down hill.

What do we do? First, you can have me come in and talk to your students. (I started my sentence with "first!" Maybe my sixth grade teacher is still at work. Just kidding. No one panic.)

Seriously, tell me your ideas on fixing the problems with the way young people write. I have a few of my own.


  1. Our problem with this, Stacey, is a simple monster: NJASK. That's the driving force behind the format kids are expected to follow. Until that goes away, I'm not really sure how a curriculum will be adjusted to allow for creativity and flow.

  2. And you know what happens? Those kids grow into adults who don't know how to write. Sad.

    1. As my son's 5-paragraph essay last night on his most recent chapter book proved. :(

  3. Stacey, First of all, great new look to your blog. I really like it! During my tenure at northern Jersey high school I regret to say that the disjointed written word extends to those in the upper grades, as well. I'd get notes written by students requesting an increase in their number of graduation tickets and the content would be awful. What to do?
    (Author, M. Kate Quinn - contemporary women's fiction)

  4. Think our state needs to look at the WHY behind its writing curriculum--no matter what the age of the students.

    From what I can tell, most of the time it's to show what they've learned about a given topic, not to tell a story (which, of course, is our perspective and maybe bias, too). Until that changes, think we're going to continue to see the formulaic essays we keep seeing.

    (Not that it was his best effort, but I hated my son's essay. And this coming from a student whose teachers have praised his writing abilities in the past. I was blessed enough to have a junior high English teacher who liked my style of writing as if I were talking. He praised that, and it stuck. )

    Great topic, BTW.

  5. I love the dialogue. If more people get involved in the school curriculm things could change for the better. And let me add, there are a lot of techniques in creative writing that can and should be used in other forms of writing as well.

  6. Amen, Stacey. Who comes up with the teaching plans anyway? And how did we learn anything w/o all this govt intervention?

  7. I was out shopping today. (needed something to wear for my next speaking engagement.) The woman who helped me told me how much her eighth grader struggles with writing. I gave her a strategy he could use. It felt good to help. We solve the problem one student at a time.

  8. Guess we'll be busy for a very long time that way, Stacey. :) Take care!