I think I thought I knew what rigor meant when I taught exclusively in urban schools. It meant holding kids to high expectations, of writing a lot, of reading a lot, of showing kids how to mine the text, to analyze, to synthesize.
Then, I went to the suburbs and I realized how much I didn’t know. My writing instruction, which was strong, got stronger because I am now much clearer about what is required to help kids become powerful writers. I’ve always believed that to become a good writer, you have to write.
But, only this week, while teaching in my summer program, did I understand the difference between what the city does and what the suburbs do, and the difference is, conceivably, why urban kids are perpetually behind.
I asked one of my sophomores how many papers she writes in a year. She goes to an exam school in the city: highly competitive, motivated, does her work, all of that. She told me five, usually following after reading a whole-class text.
In the ‘burbs, kids are required to write four papers PER TERM. Add that up and you get a total of 16 papers per year. That’s 11 more papers than kids in the city write–and let’s be clear, this is one of the exam schools, so no telling what kids are writing at schools that are non-exam.
That’s the problem right there.
If kids aren’t writing enough, then they’re not improving, not revising…and they’re always behind. You become a better writer through practice. Not rocket science to know that if you don’t get enough practice, you’re not going to become proficient.
Sure, there are all kinds of distinctions between city and suburbs, but facts are facts, I’d argue. There is a disparity in what we are asking kids to write.
I like data. I like knowing what I’m up against. Over the next school year, we’re going to be writing like our lives depend on it.
They actually DO depend on it.