Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Writers' workshop doesn't work

I've had this one as an open tab for, literally, years. How "writers' workshop" style classrooms, writing reflections on how you feel, and students' personal reaction, instead of giving kids tools of spelling, grammar, style and structure hamstrings them and prevents them from becoming writers:

How Self-Expression Damaged My Students

Teach grammar, sentence structure, and mechanics? I barely even taught. I "modeled" the habits of good readers and "coached" my students. What I called "teaching," my staff developer from Teacher's College dismissed as merely "giving directions." My job was to demonstrate what good readers and writers do and encourage my students to imitate and adopt those behaviors.

In short, I presided over the reading and writing equivalent of a Cargo Cult.


Far from imposing a cultural norm or orthodoxy--silencing their stories and compromising their authentic voice--teaching disadvantaged children the mechanics of writing, and emphasizing evidence over anecdote, is liberating not constraining. Teaching grammar, vocabulary. and mechanics to low-income black and Hispanic students is giving them access to what Lisa Delpit, an African-American educator and a critic of progressive education methods, famously called the "culture of power." 

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