Sunday, August 8, 2010

Skills for life??

In the past week I have had the pleasure of attending my two sons parent teacher interviews, overall the comments were positive and productive as much as 5 minute slots will allow but there were a couple of things that got me thinking.

A number of the teachers said things like ...
"He knows the content, he just has to be able to write a good essay to show it in his writing"
"We are really trying to get the content finished - then we will get onto the skills of how to write an effective essay and short responses so he will do well in the external exams"
"Hopefully we will have enough time at the end of the content before the exams to go over the skills required to write the essay in the style required"

My thinking was - should skills come before content, content before skills or, should they be taught in tandem? My feeling is that they should be taught in tandem - there should not be separation if the requirement is to write an effective essay to include sufficient content. Both areas are as important as the other.

I brought this up with my husband and he mentioned from a non educators point of view "Why do they need to know how to write essays? How many occupations require essays to be written as part of the job description or role?" And, thinking about it - why do we need to know how to write an effective essay? Is it for university courses? Then the universities have determined what skills should be taught in school ...

Essay writing does allow you to organise your thoughts, arguments and clarify opinion, however, is it really necessary to learn how to write a good essay to do this? How many occupations do you know that require essay writing? Off the top of my head journalists, lawyers maybe, people who are publishing research and other commentaries, bloggers? Is essay writing really a life skill that should have as much emphasis on assessment as it does in exams and assignments? If a student knows the reasons behind why, where and how, why should they penalised if they cannot write it in an effective essay especially in the current climate of differentiation in education.

The current external examination process my sons are sitting certainly benefit those who can write a good essay but discriminates against those who can't. Why should this be the case? Thoughts???


Greig said...

Writing is a skill for life. Kids should write through out their school years. Yes, writing does help to organize your thoughts, but it also constituent with language itself. The ability to write well over time gives one mastery over language -- which in our information rich world, is a high priced commodity. Writing is in tandem with reading; we write and read throughout life in numerous capacities. What the essay does is focus students on the process of writing. Yes, you are right, many professions do not require a five paragraph essay on the pros and cons of some topic, but I think you miss the point. Writing well requires good research skills (a valuable skills); integration of what you have learned (sources) into a synthetic whole (integrating sources) and evaluating what you read in your writing (evaluation of sources). Writing forces you to think through an issue adequately. Also, writing also allows students to find a proper voice. To understand audience and tone. To differentiate between fact and opinion. Writing increases reading comprehension. Writing helps people articulate their thoughts and emotions. A good English teacher incorporates many kinds of writing assignments. If your son "knows the content" he should also be able to practice incorporating what he knows into what he can write. Even if he grows up to be a stay at home dad who raises his kids while his wife makes the money, he may still want to organize his thoughts one day into a cohesive, well-thought out essay that he publishes on his blog. With the proliferation of writing on the Internet, it is a GOOD thing to find decent prose that is not crap. I BET anyone's DECENT prose can be attributed, somewhere along the way, to a good teacher. Now, can you get by in life without writing well? I guess you can. But, it is about enrichment of thought. It is about the Liberal Arts, man. You can say the thing about reading. Can a person get by in life without ever having read a novel or a non-fiction book? I guess he can, but the same argument holds: what life (at the end of the day) has he created for himself? I think both reading and writing, therefore, should be incorporated into Language Arts Curricula. To understand the content one must be able to articulate (at their appropriate age level) what they have learned in their own words. I think if we don't encourage massive amounts of writing in the classroom, we may produce students who "know" their content, but we would be at loss to produce students who have the skill to produce content.

Dianne said...

Thanks for your comments and insight Greig, you have articulated what I was 'sort of' thinking but couldn't do myself when trying to explain to my husband why I thought an essay is a real skill, and why I posted what I did - hoping that someone would help me out. Thanks.

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