The Common Core State Standard, W.6.2, requires students in grade 6 to write “to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.”
Teachers probably need to read that requirement multiple times to fully grasp the level of skill that is needed for a twelve-year-old child to show mastery of this standard!
Writing requires multiple functions to be performed at one time. The writer is dealing first with content knowledge. Without a strong understanding of content, writers cannot determine which ideas to address in their text. While struggling with content, writers are also dealing with the skill of writing on two levels — mechanical and philosophical.
The mechanical level is just that – the mechanics of spelling, word use, punctuation, and text attributes, as well as grammar that conveys accurate meaning. The mechanical side of writing can also include the physical aspects of writing or keyboarding. Using technology and understanding how to properly format a page and parts of the text can, for some, be a challenge.
Add to those elements the philosophical side of writing – how should a topic be approached and why? The writer needs to understand audience, purpose, and modes of writing. Each of these elements that relate to how readers receive text requires writers to think philosophically about how to present their exposition. No two writers will take the same approach, but there are some generally accepted rhetorical styles that students should be able to access.
How do we as educators help young students with this very heady task? The first step should be to make the standard learner friendly. Unless learners know the goal, they can’t reach the goal. By asking questions and looking very intentionally at the language used in each standard, teachers can translate the goal so that young writers know the target.
We have a good deal of work to do before we can fully adopt the Common Core in writing classes. It might not be enough to read the new standards with the purpose of matching what we already do to what the Common Core requires. We could find ourselves walking down a path of superficial implementation, a redressing of what has always been, in the guise of new language.
We have a perfect opportunity to help our students stretch their thinking and writing skills, but we must be purposeful and careful during the transition period. Our students deserve our very best effort in this endeavor.