Research: Students Need to Spend More Time Writing

A new research brief has suggested just a quarter of students in middle school and high school write for at least 30 minutes a day, a minimum standard set by learning experts for the development of writing skills. According to the Learning Agency Lab, a nonprofit that works to improve the effectiveness of K-12 education, persuasive writing, specifically, is being neglected "to an alarming degree." Only 15 percent of eighth-graders and 13 percent of twelfth-graders said they do argumentative writing every week, even though this is a skill that educators have found critical for success in college and career.

The study used survey data collected from the 2011 National Assessment of Educational progress (NAEP) writing assessment, the first large-scale computer writing assessment done by NAEP and the most recent one available. In that assessment, students in grades 8 and 12 were assigned two writing tasks, done in a word processing program. Afterwards, they and their teachers took surveys to provide context about the instructional experience.

In eighth grade, 38 percent of teachers weekly ask students to "write to explain" and 39 percent ask them to "write to convey information."

It may be that persuasive writing is "complex and time-intensive," wrote Program Director Aigner Picou in the report. "Ineffective school schedules could inhibit a teachers' ability to allocate time for students to do more persuasive writing."

The research also has suggested that schools aren't "making writing a priority," she added. "Schools need to give more time and attention to student writing, and they can start by increasing the amount of time students spend writing, both at home and in school."

The project also offered found that students don't write "across the curriculum." They spend little time outside of English language arts classes on the activity. In math, for example, 84 percent of eighth-graders and 89 percent of twelfth-graders spend less than 30 minutes writing per week. The statistics are similar for science and social studies.

Black and Hispanic students are more likely to be graded on "mechanics and conventions" (25 percent) compared to 18 percent of White students. A potential explanation for this, Picou wrote, is that Black and Hispanic students were "more likely to have accents, dialectic differences or speak another language at home, which educators may classify as deficient."

Picou urged schools to "give writing more time and attention." As she noted, "Increasing the amount of time students spend writing, both at home and school, has significant implications for improving writing outcomes. Providing students with many and different opportunities to write builds familiarity with the writing process. If students are comfortable with writing, they are likely to become stronger, better writers."

The full report is openly available on the Learning Agency Lab website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.