Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

View From the Fifth Grade Trenches: March 2013 - Put the Creative Back in Writing

Have you heard of the Common Core Standards? If you haven't, they are basically a new set of academic expectations that will hit public education across the country in the next year or so. 

The good news is CCS are rigorous and give our kids the chance to take their critical thinking out for a spin. The new standards will dignify and challenge intelligence while promoting the spirit of cooperative learning.

With the growing emphasis on research skills and expository writing, I fear for the future of creative writing. Even the current standards here in California lean heavily toward non-fiction reading and writing at a young age. 

Here's my issue. Shouldn't kids be immersed in wonder in equal proportion to the world of information? I agree both are important, but I worry about sending a message that creative writing is a lesser form than its non-fiction cousin.

We've all watched funding for the arts being pushed into the corners of public education. I hate to see creative writing joining it in the shadows.

What kind of balance or imbalance do you see between creativity and information in your schools?


  1. Oh wow, that's quite a question! I honestly don't remember a single non-fiction book I read in elementary (though I know there were plenty). I could easily list the fiction ones however, and how much of an influence they all had is immeasurable. I fully believe in the power of critical thinking, but there is tons of imagination in even the most hard sciences!

  2. Interesting point. Yes, I think creativity is just as important. I just wish fiction was as easy to grade as non-fiction.

  3. I've heard about this only because my son is in elementary school and they discussed it during parent-teacher conference. It's sad to think that creative writing might be slowly fading from curriculum across the country.

  4. I'm happy to report that my daughter loves writing "narratives" and that they practice those as often as other forms of writing. It could be because the teacher's brother is a writer though!! LOL

  5. There's a pretty significant influence at my kids' elementary school with fiction. It's great. I volunteer creative writing sessions whenever they let me and love it!
    But I feel like so much is geared toward FCAT testing that kids do miss out on a lot of other learning. It's really all about math and reading/writing--which is important, but like you say, there's so little push toward art and creativity that it is worrisome.

  6. We have to spend a lot more time on non-fiction writing here in Canada too - but I couldn't let go of the magic of writing fiction! We're working on it in class now and the kids are loving it! :)

  7. As far as I know, we do both where I live in Canada (the opposite end to Jemi). But I'm not positive. I don't get to see my kids' work often enough to know.

  8. My 13 year olds just did the 7th grade essay test (a part of star testing, I hear?) They're nervous about how they did, even though it doesn't go toward their grades. I wish there was more time for creative writing. I'm noticing a lot of "teaching to the test," and I know that's a direct response to less time and more tasks for teachers.

  9. I would say the same is true at my school. Also- I noticed all the comments about schools teaching to "the tests". That is another added difficulty. We just found out our teacher evaluations will be partially based on our students test scores on standardized tests. Scary and I think it will lead to even more "teaching to the test".

    Non-fictionis important, but so is fiction and imagination. :)

  10. When I was growing up, in the 6th grade specifically (1977) my English teacher, Ms. Berry who looked like Cat Woman or Cleopatra though that has nothing to do with what I'm going to write, would give us a creative title and we would have to write four pages or so. We didn't do it every day, but it was a great prompt and a great way to get our creative juices flowing. Here is one title- Lucky Leprechuan Stew with Frog Legs. As you can imagine after we listed all of our disgusting and disturbing ingredients and amounts of them, we got to come up with all the weird ways to combine them. I usually had smashed brains and hearts. We all tried to outdo each other on the gross factor. But it was creative as hell and fun too! And then we read them aloud and laughed hysterically. Is there still time for laughing in school or have they scheduled that out of the day?

    Anyway, my point is, creative writing, and I believe there are studies that could back me on this, creativity in general, makes for a smarter student, individual, person. Balance. It should be about balance, not all work, work, work. I think the whole rest of the day is nonfiction basically. Give them back their fiction and their creativity!


  11. Creative writing is a regular in my third graders class, but come to think of it, I'm not sure if I've seen anything this year from my fifth grader! I will certainly check now! I think its an important balance. Kid or adult, you learn more if you can make a personal connection with the material.

  12. As a long time teacher, I found that state reading tests in North Carolina had around 60% nonfiction passages. What I always found most disturbing was that the level of interest was no doubt hugely influential in one's test score. You read something you're interested in, you'll do better. If you "hate" science, you won't do as well on the science questions. As we get older, different people might read at the same level, but they choose different genres. Or they major in different fields. I also noticed some passages were written far better than others. I could tell what the test makers were trying to get the kids to answer, but I didn't know if the kids could figure that out. It all becomes a game of "Guess what I'm thinking?"

    On a related topic, I agree with Emily King's comment about nonfiction writing being easier to grade. You ask a kid to describe a state fair. That is easier to grade than having the child make up a story about going on a field trip. The writer can also accomplish the task in a much shorter essay, I would think. Graders of these tests get 50 minutes to grade 50 essays. (I used to work for a company that generated tests and graded them.) Then they get a ten minute break. Usually, the hours would be, say, 6:00 - 10:00 at night. That means 200 essays graded in those four hours. Let's just say in-depth grading is not the norm.

    Daniel Berenson