Growing up with teachers for parents, my siblings and I were taught that writing is an indispensable skill. We attended rigorous schools and enrichment programs that provided us with many opportunities to write.
Outside of school, my parents had us writing essays about our vacations, museum trips and extracurricular activities. My dad once even organized an essay competition for me and my siblings—the prize, a juicy mango. The issue we had to address: Why we deserved the mango. My little sister won.
As a middle-schooler, I knew that I wrote more than most kids. My friends made it clear that writing essays for your parents was far from normal. Still, I moved through my school years assuming everyone wrote regularly for school.
This assumption went largely unquestioned until I started volunteering with low-income youth in Philadelphia, and I was shocked when one student admitted she had never written an essay.
This is not unusual; writing in this country is in serious trouble. I recently examined the most recent survey data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) writing assessment and found that students are not asked to write very much. Only about a quarter of middle school students and one-third of high school students write about 30 minutes a day, according to the NEAP survey. Many students write less, with a third of students in grades 6 through 12 writing 15 minutes a day.
Many students struggle to produce writing that meets college and career expectations. For example, in 2018 a study showed that employers find less than half of college graduates to be proficient writers. Or consider, in 2019, 41 percent of students who took the American College Testing were not ready for college-level English.
And it’s not just in-school writing that is lacking. While writing assignments could provide students with additional writing opportunities, over a third of middle and high school students are only writing a page a week for homework.
Students Need to Spend More Time Writing
My research suggests that schools need to increase the amount of time students spend writing. Schools could achieve this is by increasing access to technology and software for students and teachers.
Additionally, students need access to writing feedback software. In recent years, there has been a rise in tools that can help students as they learn to write and support teachers in their instruction. These tools, like MI Write or Revision Assistant, can help cut down on the amount of time it takes for teachers to provide feedback, thus giving students more opportunities to practice their writing.
Investment in the advancement of these tools would prove fruitful for overburdened teachers and underperforming students. No software or app will never be able to replace true instruction, but smart, intuitive tools that support teachers could be the key to building stronger writers.
Aigner Picou is a Program Director at
The Learning Agency Lab, where she oversees the development of multiple projects. She has a background in research, education, and operations, and wants to create programs and tools that help decrease inequities in education.