I just ran across this in my Facebook feed: The End of the College Essay.
It makes the argument that because college students hate writing papers and college teachers hate grading them, professors should simply stop assigning them (except for in classes specifically about writing) and use exams–written and oral–instead.
This suggestion totally skirts the issue.
If the writing was meaningful and relevant and authentic and mirrored writing that people actually do in the world beyond the walls of a classroom, students would care to do it. Fake writing in college AND high school classes happens when students are playing the game of school and just doing whatever they need to do to get the grade, to get the credit, to get the degree, to move on to whatever is next.
I am doing everything I can to step outside of that old and tired game.
Writing is important, people. It’s practice in thinking. In communication. In putting words to the thoughts rolling around in our heads. We understand when we write, when we struggle to put the words down, when we endeavor to make sense of things. And students, college and high school, WILL do this work when it matters to them.
The answer to the problem identified in this article is to dramatically change the way we handle writing in school. Not grading it is a start. Giving students lots of choice about what they write about is important too. Seeking out models of real writing in the world beyond the classroom as mentor texts helps to prove to students that writing matters in authentic ways.
Substituting exams for writing would certainly mean less time spent on grading and it would probably make teaching simpler. But it won’t make the classes more meaningful for students. Teaching writing well is difficult, including all the work a teacher must do to convince students that it matters to them.
But we must do this work.