The Writing Standards Deserve a Chance

By Carolyn Lieberg and Christine Mason.

A young Latino studying.

We are hearing more and more about state level concerns regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  States are beginning to suggest that they want to maintain their own state identity (and expectations for schools), that what is relevant in one state may not be of the utmost importance in their own state.  States are concerned about whether the new tests that are being designed are valid, about whether schools are prepared for the speed with which the CCSS are to be implemented, and about whether it makes sense for students to be taught using the new standards and to be tested using old tests as we wait for the new tests to become available. Some of these appear to be valid concerns and CEI has advocated for a revised timeline and revisions in how resources are allocated to support implementation of the standards. For example, we have been concerned that building principals have not been adequately involved in CCSS decision making.

However, in the midst of all of this, we would like to pause and examine some of what we view as the meaningful intent and potential positive impact of the standards. Today we focus on student writing.

We look to the standards themselves to see what is being asked:

  1. Fourth graders will write opinion pieces that include research. Such an assignment gives students the opportunity to practice connecting ideas’”someone else’s and their own. This activity is the type of learning we want to see adults use at a sophisticated level. Beginning the challenge in the fourth grade is an excellent way to urge students to practice thinking, to hunt for information that helps them express their opinions, and to exercise their minds as they mesh the two.

  2. By eighth grade, the students have moved on from creating an opinion to staking a claim. It is one thing to write about why, for instance, the physical education classes should include more chances for everyone to have a ball, and on other hand, a more complex idea to claim that physical education classes should be longer and more frequent. In staking a claim, students must develop a logical argument for a position.

Requirements to think. By meeting the standards, students will be learning about punctuation, word choice, and sentence structures along the way. The overall effect, however, will be that students will gain practice thinking and translating their thoughts into logical written statements that convey meaning, persuade, and are convincing. Writing demands it. It is interesting to consider how ideas easily float in our minds until they need to be put into language. Then the work begins: Which words will best present the thought and what would be the most appealing order for presentation? Anyone who has composed an email that demands finesse knows the drafting and revising process well.

The CCSS writing requirements will help develop youngsters’ minds’”giving them practice with important mental exercises. Humans have a strong desire to think, figure things out, and solve problems. Thinking is part of our human experience. However, over time, those who have devoted more time to exercising their minds are able to manage problems and information more skillfully.  In other words, with practice, and perhaps even instruction and feedback, it becomes easier to compare, contrast, evaluate, draw conclusions, and present logical arguments.

In considering the situations facing the world today and those likely to impact the future of civilizations, whether it be related to getting along with others, sharing finite resources, or managing existing ones, the future needs citizens who can think. The writing standards seem well designed to help students practice this fine and necessary art.