Hockaday faculty and staff members stress the importance of writing skills in school and for the future.
Sounds of students stressing about college applications and junior research papers fill the hallways at this time of year. However, juniors and seniors often forget how well Hockaday has prepared them in terms of writing.
According to The Atlantic Magazine, the Nation’s Report Card, which records results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 1 percent of twelfth grade students in the U.S. in 2007 could write a “sophisticated, well-organized essay.”
According to Independent Educational Consultant and certified College Counselor Marilyn Kaufman, there is a reason for this low percentage.
“I can certainly believe the statistics by The Nation’s Report Card on only 1% of all seniors being able to write a cohesive essay. In some schools, curriculum goals do not always include personal essay writing and the emphasis has been on bringing up mathematical and science skills, as well as technology, rather than on developing personal essay writing skills,” she said.
According to The Program for International Student Assessment, in 2012, the United States ranked behind 29 nations and jurisdictions for math and behind 22 other education systems in science. Thus, the United States introduced many STEM programs into high schools, despite the importance of writing.
However, Hockaday English teacher and Visiting Scholars Liason Janet Bilhartz shares a different view. She questions the validity of this statistic and said that there is another factor to consider when you look at these statistics and test scores.
“When you compare our schools to those of the rest of the world, if you screen out poverty—if you screen out the kids who are really poor, our schools are doing as well as schools anywhere in the world. America’s problem is poverty,” Bilhartz said.
Regardless, “writing is one of the most important ways we communicate,“ Bilhartz said. “I think that Hockaday prepares you for writing because your teacher has time to grade papers.”
It takes Bilhartz, on the average, at least 30 minutes to grade a normal-length essay. She has about 75 students, which totals to almost 40 hours of grading per assignment.
Senior Jane Gu attended public school before coming to Hockaday in ninth grade. “I think teachers at Hockaday really want to look at every aspect of your paper,” she said. “In public school, they always have a lot of students, so they can’t put in that kind of time [to grade papers],” Gu said.
Even before writing an essay for English class, Hockaday teachers offer a variety of preparation help. “We always have writing sessions. Class periods before, we talk about what the teacher is looking for in the paper and what makes good writing and what doesn’t,” Gu said. Teachers even offer documents, tips and examples to help students with their essays.
Kaufman recognizes how important writing is to students beyond the classroom. “The emphasis has not been on helping students to become better writers, however, there are many exceptional English teachers who recognize the importance of knowing how to teach the art of writing, and these students have a definite advantage over everyone else when applying to colleges,” Kaufman said.
Director of College Counseling Carol Wasden believes that Hockaday students are prepared when it comes to writing college applications. “You’re expected to write at a very high level of analysis and thought and that comes through in [the college admission] process,” Wasden said.
Most colleges require a long essay consisting of 650 words. However, a personal essay differs from the typical analytical or argumentative essays written in English classes.
“It is oftentimes challenging to write about one’s self, as few of us are used to revealing our innermost thoughts and exposing our vulnerability,” Kaufman said. “Writing personal essays requires maturity and self-awareness as well as experience
ence in knowing how to write in a way that is engaging and memorable, so personal essay writing is significantly more demanding on the majority of young adults than analytical writing in my opinion.”
Although college admissions typically ask for personal essays and experiences and Hockaday students write more argumentative and analytical essays, “those skills in general creative writing can make your other writing livelier,” Bilhartz said.
However, a person’s ability to write extends farther from English class in high school or in college. Writing is an important life skill.
“In virtually any job, you have to present yourself to others and that might be in writing and that might be in speaking, but the skills will come through there,” Bilhartz said. “[Writing] is the way we convey our thoughts to the outside world, so it is really important that we do it well.”
– Sonya Xu