I’m always terribly sad to see a child’s writing ruined by formula writing curriculums. Because let’s be honest, good writing IS NOT a formula.
Never in quality, published writing will you ever, ever, ever read formula writing. )Although, in this age of blogging and self-publishing, you might read it but it won’t be good writing.)
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me share.
On my birthday, I did three things. First, ________________. Next, ______________. Last, ______________. As you can see, I did three things on my birthday.
You might see cueing systems like green, yellow, red or step 1, 2, 3 to help kids know if it’s a topic sentence or detail sentence.
Most of us learned to write 5-paragraph essays using a similar formula. Same thing. (And I have yet to see a 5-paragraph essay in a magazine or book of essays. How about you?)
Doesn’t It Help Organization
The argument in favor of formula writing is that it helps kids organize their thinking.
Yes, it does. And organization is essential for clear communication.
Writing is so much more than good organization.
What worries me about formula writing is that the curriculum begins and ends with the formula — it doesn’t teaching going beyond. It doesn’t teach voice, tone, word choice, sentence length, or sensory imagery.
Beyond the Formula
Recently I attended an amazing conference on becoming a better speaker, SCORRE. The gist of the SCORRE method is that a well-organized speech follows a formula — very similar in concept to the formula I shared above. But here’s what I LOVED . . . Once you get the thesis statement written out, it’s called the “Ugly Sentence” and is only a starting point for the more beautiful, creatively designed sentence.
Ugly sentence: On my 13th birthday I did three things.
SCORRE sentence: I fondly remember three highlights from that crisp fall day of my 13th birthday, a day I’ll never forget.
I loved the concept for speaking — because our listeners need cues like “highlights” or “benefits” or “processes”.
In writing, it’s still bit to clunky so I might just remove the cueing word completely. But what I like about the idea of “Ugly Sentence” is that it’s a starting point. Not something for a polished piece. Not where you end.
Common Core Writing Standards
Look with me at the CC standards for writing. Guess what the CC emphasizes? Organization!
1st and 2nd grade standards want the kids to write opinion pieces supported by reasons with linking words, informative texts with facts and development, and narratives (story) sequenced and with details. Organization, organization, organization. What about description? What about voice? Any juicy words?
So writing curriculums will focus on organization because as you can see, the Common Core requires it.
By 3rd grade the standards are about the same but add text features such as dialogue. Finally in 4th and 5th grades, the standards require writing with description and sensory details in. So it’s not until kids are 9-years old that they’re expected to describe the taste, feel, and smell of an orange?
Of course, the tests will eventually match the Common Core so is there any hope that our kids will ever get a writing curriculum that goes beyond formulas for organization?
Only if YOU want it.
Do we want our kids to test well or to write well? I believe that these are two different things. (Unfortunately.)
If we want our kids to be good writers, then me, you, we need to do something about it. Ask to review the curriculum. Ask for changes. Write at home. Be proactive in getting curriculum change — and gather a group of supporters to help you. Advocating always works better with numbers.
AVOID: The Write Tools
USE: Writer’s Workshop -not a curriculum but an approach (the best approach) to learning to write
USE: Writing Alive
There are so many other writing curriculums. Which does your school use?
Which curriculums do you recommend to use or to avoid?