Is this any way to teach writing teachers?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why American educators do such a poor job teaching people to teach students to do the kind of writing everybody must do, which is what the Common Core State Standards call informative and explanatory texts and arguments.

An article that I clipped from from Teaching/Writing: The Journal of Writing Teacher Education last year gave me some insights.

The article¹ discusses a research project undertaken by two University of Alabama education faculty, Latrise P. Johnson and Elizabeth P. Eubanks.

Basically what they did was teach a summer class for seven students seeking their secondary education certification in English Language Arts and took notes.  They used nearby Eastern High School as a place for students to try out their skills.

The high school offered a summer bridge program for rising ninth graders. The high school was willing to participate because its principal wanted to see his faculty improve as writing teachers and his incoming ninth graders learn to write better.

Two English teachers, who wanted to improve their writing instruction and were working in the bridge program, partnered with the researchers to teach the pre-service teachers. Prior to the program, the two experienced teachers taught writing by assigning  prompts and giving feedback on grammar and mechanics, the article says.

The UA students, their professor, and the two high school teachers constituted a “community of practice.”

To begin the course, the UA professor modeled a lesson on the “anthem essay” (a sample essay posted at about.com) for the pre-service teachers.

Then the seven students delivered the same lesson to their fellow class members.

The students worked among themselves, with their professor, and the collaborating teachers to improve their lesson presentation before they presented it to students.

After students taught their lesson, they evaluated their teaching and discussed with their  community of practice  ways to improve the lesson.

According to the article, at the conclusion of the course, the preservice students were able to take the downloaded content and

  • “revise handouts, create new ones”
  • decide “which parts of the anthem essay lesson were most important to teach and learn”
  • select “the delivery method and curriculum presentation that they were most comfortable with”
  • “negotiate their identities as teachers and as teachers of writing.”

What I didn’t see in the article was anything about whether the two high school teachers learned how to teach writing better, or whether the students in the bridge program learned to write better, or what the education professors expected students to do in the classroom the 179 days they weren’t teaching the anthem essay.

All I saw was a handful of green teachers being taught to pull a lesson off the Internet and make it fit the way they like to present.

If that’s a way to achieve better teaching of writing, I’ll re-negotiate my identity as a teacher of writing.


¹Johnson, Latrise P. and Eubanks, Elizabeth P. (2015) “One Good Lesson, Community of Practice Model for Preparing Teachers of
Writing,” Teaching/Writing: The Journal of Writing Teacher Education: Vol. 4: Iss. 2, Article 8.
Available at: http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/wte/vol4/iss2/8

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2 Comments

Filed under Teacher preparation, Teaching writing

2 responses to “Is this any way to teach writing teachers?

  1. Susan Bedingfield

    As always, excellent observation. High school teachers don’t know how to teach because college professors don’t know how to teach. To learn to write, students must read and write a lot. Not patchwork lessons pulled together, but students must write everyday. Students must have vocabulary to write well, and they get that from reading.

    Like

    • Linda Aragoni

      Thanks for the comment, Susan. I totally agree that daily writing is essential. I’m not quite willing to say college profs can’t teach, but I will say I don’t see many who do what I consider teaching writing. That is, teaching so every student—regardless of talent or motivation—comes out able to write competently.

      Besides learning vocabulary from reading, I find students become better readers as they learn to write. Have you noticed that?

      Like

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