45 Secondary-School English Teachers Need to Teach Both Writing and Literature

Stephanie Giusto

Writing is always specific to different students. It comes easier to some as compared to others. While an Insider Higher Education article from 2015 states first year college students have difficulties writing, for each subject and content area there will always be those who struggle and those who don’t. But if first year college students are struggling so much in their English courses, the English curriculum in secondary schools should probably be looked at in a new light.

Obviously this is easier said than done, as students come to college with the knowledge that has been previously taught in their high school English classes. Most of these English classes in the United States focus on teaching students how to write, and not the instruction of literature. The curriculum is more focused on developing student skills in writing, listening, speaking and reading. While it is fantastic students are being taught how to write in high school, if they are writing poorly in college there is clearly a flaw in the curriculum that needs to be fixed; that answer begins with literature.

High school educators may argue this claim, as they teach students the basics and structure of writing. This is true, and while they are not the ones at fault since they are not always in charge of curriculum, there is a need to delve into this issue. While these basics and structure are incredibly important, students also need to be taught more literature in order to become the best writers they can be. This is where student focus is lost; they do not know how to make the proper connections between literature and writing, just one or the other. They do not think about the two together, to them it is completely separate areas of the subject.

A lot of colleges and universities in the United States offer classes in literature. However, if these students are not taught this in high school, they may struggle in it. High schools should also offer more courses in literature that also emphasize the importance of writing and grammar as well.  Combining all three of these can help students in a new way, and teach them the aspects of English that get lost.

There are lots of benefits to the study of literature in English courses. Students analyze, evaluate and can connect pieces of literature to real world situations. An example of this would be reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and connecting it to prejudice. Unfortunately, a ton of districts have gotten rid of novels like this because the matter is “uncomfortable.” Taking these books out of the curriculum is costing children their writing skills. If the goal of English in secondary schools is to develop the skills stated above (writing, reading, speaking, listening) how can this be successful if the curriculum does not focus on all aspects of it? Reading novels that show society isn’t perfect and highlight real problems help students to write, read, speak and listen on these issues. However, more importantly, students think and write rhetorically when they study literature.

Rhetoric is “the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing.” Students often look at rhetoric as confusing and undefinable because it is not taught in high school; there are few students who truly understand what it means. Writing rhetorically can be made simpler if the curriculum used it as a concept of literature. Rhetoric also helps us to write in a more eloquent manner, which is crucial to the development of college students taking writing classes, especially in college composition when educators are looking for how well students write.

Educators have written and looked into the study of rhetoric. One of these writers is Elizabethada A. Wright, a Professor in the College of Arts at the University of Minnesota. She maintains her focus on rhetoric and the connection it has to good writing.

Wright however seems to focus on AP writing instead of overall writing classes as a whole. Not all high school students take AP literature in high school, they take regular English. Instead of just focusing on one class, we need to focus on every class. This way, more students will be able to think critically through literature. While it may be hard for secondary teachers to change their teaching methods, the simple solution to getting more students interested or better at writing is by putting more of an emphasis on literature.

The educators in charge of secondary education English curriculums need to be ready to make these changes, and realize that straying away from the uncomfortable may be costing these students in college. The point of high school English is to prepare–this cannot be done the best that it can if classes don’t teach it all. Educators need to teach both writing and literature.

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Good Ideas About Writing by Stephanie Giusto is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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