Why don't adults write better?

Writing is a weak area in the Student Outcome Overview 2001-2005: Research findings on student achievement in reading, writing and mathematics in New Zealand schools. This report aggregates and analyses results from a number of ongoing studies. The picture is quite complex, but one subject gets this stern comment:

'Writing is an area where New Zealand students could do better.'

Yet in reading and mathematics, our students achieve at a high level compared to other countries.

The United States National Commission on Writing has noted that US businesses spend more than US$3 billion on remedial writing training for staff. And their May 2006 report on Writing and School Reform states:

'Writing, education's second "R", has become the neglected element of American school

Is writing so hard to teach, compared with reading and mathematics? I don't know, but I did a bit of snooping and found a few clues on the excellent English Online web site. The Ministry of Education holds copyright to all the material so the content has authority.

English Online has a bunch of units for teachers to use. Now, whatever the requirements of NCEA (National Certificate in Educational Achievement), the NCEA writing units are biased towards literary essays, creative writing and formal academic writing.

Yet most people will never be strong in creative writing or earn their living writing formal academic-literary essays. Instead they are expected to write readable, correct emails, reports, memos and intranet content in their daily work. That's what writing means to the majority of people.

I have no solution. As a poet, I'm hardly going to knock the joys of literature. But my post-graduate students express relief and amazement when for the first time they learn about such things as the writing process and plain language. After years of schooling and years in the workplace, many had never been taught how to write: they had only been told what to write.

Student Outcome Overview 2001-2005
National Commission on Writing
English Online



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