Conflicting Reports on Student Writing Quality - Better or Worse?

One of the great fears of the ubiquitous use of the Internet and texting has been that the quality of student writing will decline.  Yesterday I heard a report that college admissions officers are lamenting the current state of student writing.

At the same time, I've heard a couple of teachers declare that the general level of student writing has actually improved, often dramatically.   The explanation given has been that students are doing much more writing in general, for authentic communication, and that has improved their willingness to write and their comfort with writing as a medium.

Does anyone have experience with this on either side?  I'd also be interested if you know of any articles that discuss the same issue.  Thanks!

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Today I had the pleasure of helping a 6th grade teacher in the South Bronx assess her students' writing for the year. The students sat at tables of three or four, with one or two adults with them, and asked about their writing. It was an exercise in authentic portfolio assessment. I asked, for instance, what is your favorite type of writing? A student would say, for example, fantasy, and then explain why, showing me his or her fantasy writing, explaining the elements of writing used,etc, fairly eloquently (for 6th graders) and with samples. Their teacher had set a high standard in terms of the amount of writing they would do, the types of writing, etc. Some was done by hand, much was word processed. I guess my point is that this experience reinforced to me that it is the expectations and standards the teacher sets, rather than the tool that is used, that will have the greatest influence on the quality of the writing.
I agree that the expectations and standards are most important, but I'm still curious--has the increased use of writing (albeit a different kind of writing) outside of schools made a difference?
Andrea Lunsford at Stanford University recently completed a five year study of what's happening with student writing. You'll find it here.
Thank you!
I'd be curious to find out if there's been any research on students writing blogs online? My guess is that freedom with creative writing online would really enhance writing skills. I know from my own personal blog that my writing has dramatically improved over time. Anyone using this approach with their students? Just curious...
Taunia I agree with you. I have been writing on various blogs and one definitely improves with practice.

This year I have used a wiki for a maths journal with my Year 7 class (UK - that's 11-12 year olds) and their reflective writing skills have certainly improved.

I like this post from Sacha Chua.

Just write!
Thanks for the link - I love this blog! I actually love the layout of it too - simple and efficient, and pleasing to look at. The content is great - thanks, Colleen!
Shouldn't the question be asking about student communication? Isn't that the purpose of writing?
This is a valid point! :)

Right now, I'm particularly interested in looking at writing in particular, as there are such conflicting reports.
I teach in a high school and, although I teach Spanish, I have worked with many students and seen their writing. IT IS HORRIBLE! Even the students that are strong academically have bad spelling, grammar, and cannot identify parts of speech. I hear from foreign language teachers all of the time that they have to remind their students of some grammar areas. I did not, however, expect that HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS would not be able to define a noun or a verb. They did not know.

Is it because of spell check and the amount of time students spend online and texting, but not writing on their own? I had heard that some counties stopped teaching grammar for awhile, which makes no sense to me...but shouldn't their SPELLING be better????
Hello Steve,

Personally, I think everything improves with practice. It can improve even better if the practice happens according to the children's interest: they want to communicate through computer, so they want to write and read as best as they can in order to be understood and to understand others.

To teach according to the childrens interest is the best way to teach better.

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