Why teach writing? Why make kids learn it?

Writing is humankind’s most difficult form of communication. Simply by interpreting lines on a page, we learn

Why learn writing?
Why learn writing?

facts, imagine experiences, and transmit messages. We can learn the thoughts of people thousands of years gone, from other cultures, and express thoughts that millions of people can read.

But writing is hard.

And writing well is very hard.

First, content. Students need to have something to say. Many do not, or cannot put it into words, so they may need help researching and sorting their thoughts.

Second, organization. This is probably the hardest. From the phrase level, we must organize our thoughts so others can comprehend them.  We have connect and relate them.

Third, style. The way you write something is almost as important as how you organize it, sometimes more so.

So it is hard, but why?

These days, kids need to write well to communicate their thoughts in college, in the workplace, and with their peers. This is a given.

But teaching writing is also teaching logic.  We cannot have a discussion of any length without organizing our thoughts.  Look at a newspaper message board on the internet. Most of the best comments on stories are organized and brief. (Brevity requires excellent organization and good style.)  Putting thoughts into building blocks (paragraphs) and stacking them up to a peak (essay thesis) requires superb analytical thinking.

It is important to learn. With the illogical arguments spouting from media, the ability to make a logical argument is essential our kids. If they can write logically, they can recognize logic (or the lack of it) in others, which is also a vital skill.

Internationally, with English being the worldwide standard, the ability to write well, and logically, in English is essential. A well-written web page or message is the difference between making a sale or losing one. It is the difference between a smooth negotiation or a discussion riddled with misunderstanding and anger.

So how do we teach writing?

I have seen many teachers using many different ways to “teach” writing, but writing, like most useful skills, is one that can only be learned by doing. Students should write, get feedback, rewrite, get more feedback, and rewrite.

Feedback is absolutely vital.  It should be immediate, constructive, positive, and comprehensive. It should happen as soon as possible after the writing is finished, so the student does not forget their thoughts at the time. It should be positive and motivate the student to improve (though some criticism is of course necessary in a positive way). It has to talk about the content (logically), the organization, and the style (for students learning English, the grammar and usage).

Finally, the most important and enjoyable aspect of writing is that students express themselves and learn to think independently. By writing their opinion on the death penalty, for example, students have to research, consider, and learn.

In this way, they learn to think independently and logically, which is one of the most important skills that we teachers can show them.