proofreading, Teaching

Can You Write Like a Sixth Grader?

In the world of adulthood (parenting, careers, finance, etc.) we don’t often think about the skills we learned and practiced as children, and how they apply to our lives now. Most of us went to school and someone at least tried to teach us how to write formally, but how often do we look back to these lessons on a day to day basis? Depending on your career, your writing skills may take a back seat to the skills you acquired from work and life experience.

However, eventually you may find yourself in a situation where you have to start writing again. Perhaps you want to start a blog, apply to graduate school, or write a paper for a graduate class. Maybe you’ve decided to go back to school to finish college, and you never cared about writing skills when you were younger. You could even be creating a novel, and your writing skills are rusty.

As a middle school English teacher, my students often ask me when they will ever use the writing skills we use in class. Of course, I have to try to convince them that all these skills are important to learn in middle school whether or not they will need them in their adult careers. However, I doubt that the average American adult can feel confident in the writing requirements for middle school, even for sixth graders.

Part of my job involves looking at Common Core Standards and considering how I can get students to put them into practice. Today, while perusing the list, I wondered how many of my friends and colleagues can say that they have retained these writing skills (if they ever developed them to begin with). Some adults think of middle school students as vapid computer-game playing pre-teens, but we actually ask a lot of them as on-demand writers in the classroom. Below I have listed several writing “standards” that we demand of American students, and I’d like you to consider whether or not you, as an adult, can say that your writing lives up to these standards today.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.1

Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

This is when my students have the opportunity to become mini lawyers. If you haven’t noticed already, most adolescents can’t help but argue over everything. Whether it’s bedtimes, screen time, music choices, movie choices, or anything else that needs to be decided as a family, it seems that preteens love to argue.

Writing in sixth grade gives students an opportunity to argue for school credit! However, there is an art to it. When is the last time you had to write something to convince someone of something?  As adults, we don’t get a chance to do this very often. After college, when does the opportunity arise? Most of us lose those writing skills that we built up as young students, and wouldn’t know where to begin if we actually had to write a persuasive essay. For example, do you know how to organize your claims and evidence? Do you know how to formulate a conclusion?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.2

Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.

When is the last time you had to explain something to someone through writing?  Unless you are a professional writer (especially a technical writer), you probably don’t do it very often. By sixth grade most of our students have already become experienced at writing informative and/or explanatory texts.

Do you often do academic research for your job? Do you know how to correctly cite evidence? If your boss asked you to write an essay that compared the keto diet to the paleo diet, how prepared do you think you would feel? In the sixth grade our students are expected to learn how to organize their ideas, include correct formatting and graphics as well as multimedia (such as videos or illustrations). If you were going to include a quote from a celebrity about the benefits of the paleo diet, do you remember how to correctly include the quote in the text? Most adults have long forgotten how to do this basic writing skill without looking it up.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.9

Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Most of us don’t worry about our literary writing skills at their jobs. For work, we usually focus on writing emails and not much more. However, we ask much more from our adolescents. In sixth grade, students are reading fiction texts and then making comparisons. They reflect upon what they’ve read, and then compare the literature to other stories, movies, or real world situations. The same goes for non-fiction texts, in which students have to use the information they can get from a text to further solidify the arguments in writing. For example, if your child is writing an essay on why recycling plastic might be a waste of time and energy, he or she will have to know how to look up evidence that supports this claim, and then integrate the evidence into his or her essay.

So what is the point of all this?  What do Common Core Writing Standards have to do with you if you don’t have a child? If you care about how your writing looks and sounds, you should look to a professional for help. Have you suddenly found yourself writing lengthy texts again, for something like college, graduate school, or a cover letter? Consider asking a writing expert for advice; especially an English teacher.

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