Writing Tests

I like to write. But lately, I can’t. I have two blogs–one personal, one professional–and even though I’ve had plenty of down time this past week, I haven’t written a single sentence. 

Today I went to my personal blog to write something, anything, and I couldn’t. Nothing came to me, even though I’m in the middle of a series of posts about the students who’ve affected my life the most. And as I sat there, staring at a blank screen, I suddenly became terrified for my students.

In three weeks, they will be given a bland prompt and 90 minutes. They must brainstorm ideas and craft a five-paragraph essay and revise it and hit submit so it can be graded and the results of their writing can be printed in the paper.

I’m not terrified that their scores will be poor–I’m terrified that they won’t be able to write, just like I’ve been unable to write this week. 

I read part of Anne LaMott’s Bird by Bird to a class this week–the chapter about writer’s block. She says to just write, even if it’s bad. And I could do that in a random document. Just write garbage until I find something valuable. But my kids don’t have that luxury. In three weeks, regardless of how they are feeling, they will have to write. And Vegas odds say they’ll have to write on a topic that isn’t remotely engaging.

Here’s what I realized, as a product of my own writer’s block this morning: state writing tests don’t really test writing the writing process. When I write, I wrestle, I ponder, I stop, I revisit, I polish, and if I’m feeling inspired and confident that at least one person might enjoy what I’ve written, I eventually hit that “publish” button and make my writing available for tens of people to read. 

I’m not sure what the state writing test measures. But this morning, I’m less convinced that it accurately measures a true writing process. In my world, we’d start in September and invite students to write about something that inspires them. We’d look at the writing again in October, and maybe by Thanksgiving break we’d have a true sample of each student’s writing ability.

90 minutes simply isn’t enough time for them if sometimes, a week isn’t enough time for me.

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