It's true, students can't write -

It’s true, students can’t write

Students need to be taught writing skills before they get to university


As the former editor-in-chief of a student newspaper, I’ve seen some pretty poor writing. So I was pretty interested in Maggie Gilmour’s piece from last week about the poor quality of student writing in universities.

I think the problem is that primary and secondary schools just aren’t doing a good job of teaching writing and  they’re doing an exceptionally bad job when it comes to teaching grammar.

I definitely learned more about proper grammar from the Canadian Press Stylebook, while working at the Concordian, than I ever did in a classroom and that’s a real problem. If there’s anything that shouldn’t be an extracurricular it’s the study of grammar.

When it comes to writing and grammar, the best way to learn is by doing. Reading plays an important role in the development of writing skills but students should also be editing each others’ work from an early age.

I hate to say it, but there’s also a role here for plain old memorization. I remember my entire grade seven English class repeating “I will not spell a lot as one word” over and over again. Crude? Yes. Effective? Absolutely.

Most importantly, students need to be taught the importance of grammar and how it relates to meaning.

If we want to fix this problem, we may have to look at universities. Just like students in every other program, education students are coming to university with poor writing skills and if elementary and high school teachers don’t have strong grammar, what hope do their students have?


It’s true, students can’t write

  1. I agree that we should be focusing on teaching people how to properly write. It is embarrassing to read posts by students and adults with many spelling and grammar mistakes; we consider ourselves to be highly educated, and yet aren’t able to properly express thoughts.

    One thing I was wondering: shouldn’t you have said, “I will not spell ‘a lot’ as one word”? You forgot the pair of quotation marks on “a lot.”

  2. My brother is in highschool and I have just finished an degree at Laurier. I am amazed by how little he knows about writing. Teachers need to step up and actually TEACH! He is constantly telling us that he gets work time in class because the teachers do NOTHING. I recognize that this is a generalization and effective instructors exist (I was fortunate to have one for grades 5 and 6) but the percentage is disturbingly low.

  3. A 2009 study found that teachers at all levels feel unprepared to teach writing (Journal of Educational Psychology, v101 n1 p136-160 Feb 2009 available as ERIC document # EJ829242).

    Most English teachers learn writing and grammar through reading. They may know enough to write grammatically themselves or to score well on grammar tests, but they don’t have the depth to teach someone else.

    Many errors students make are the result of misunderstanding some standard grammar terminology. For example, the grammar terms “complete thought” and “subject of a sentence” are regularly misunderstood by students. (I’ve never found an English teacher who could define complete thought correctly.)

    I wrote an e-book “Grammar Abusers Anonymous: 12 Steps to Kick Bad Grammar Habits Through Study Skills, Not Worksheet Drills” to help my college students learn how to study grammar so they could repair their own writing errors.

  4. SLD –

    I believe absolutely in pointing out deficiencies that exist within posted articles, however if you intend to do that ensure your condemnation does not itself contain glaring errors, such as a split infinitive in the first sentence.