Why is it so important that kids learn to write?
Two words: John Grisham. But even those not destined to churn out best-sellers will need to write in almost any occupation they choose.
As the information age whisks us into the next century, an increasing number of jobs, no matter whether you're delivering pizza or the keynote address, will require good communication skills.
And, as computers get smarter, more and more standardized tests will increase the number of questions requiring a written response. The SAT now includes a writing segment and promises to add more as technology improves, according to Nancy Cole, president of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the organization that administers the SAT and other tests.
But writing isn't just for taking tests and doing a job.
"It's a thinking mode," says Claudia Gentile, writing assessment coordinator of the NAEP. "Writing helps you learn how to think clearly and thoroughly."
Many schools have been working to improve students' writing. In fact, the one bright spot in the NAEP report was the indication that eighth graders, who have benefited from a few years of renewed commitment to writing in schools, are improving slightly. But it's hard to wedge writing instruction between everything else teachers are required to do. "Teachers don't have enough time to teach writing. Writing is not a subject," says Cole. "It's time-consuming to correct papers. Giving good feedback on writing is a lot different than correcting math problems," she says.
In other words, it may be up to parents to help kids become better writers.
Here are some tips from experts including Cole, Gentile, and Richard Sterling, director of the National Writing Project, a grassroots writing teachers' movement.