Bridging The Writing Divide: Creating Economic Access for the Next Generation

(Lee la traducción en Español de este articulo.)

In the 21st century, we live in a world inundated with instant communication and massive amounts of information. From shopping for a new car to reading great works of literature, nearly anything is available with a simple Google search. With programs like edX and Coursera, anyone can even access college courses online–completely free of charge.

Although it seems to some that the Internet has made learning free to the world, the availability of information alone has not equipped us with the skills to decipher, question, and evaluate the information available to us. Additionally, technology alone has not enabled us with the tools to express our ideas thoughtfully and effectively in this new online economy.

Never before in history has the importance of critical thinking been so stark. In today’s Information Age, basic memorization and fact-finding are no longer sufficient or perhaps even necessary to prepare young minds for a work-world dominated by technology and automation. Medium-skilled jobs are disappearing, while high- and low-skilled employment opportunities are growing. And given the abundance of misleading or incorrect information out there, it’s apparent that an engaged and informed citizenry is critical to any democracy. Voters must think critically and communicate effectively. We have seen what happens when our language fails us.

With the adoption of more rigorous standards and assessments all across the nation, many schools and districts are now acknowledging critical thinking as a must-have for 21st-century success, but these skills still remain out of reach for so many students. Why?

For starters, as a former classroom teacher and district administrator, I know firsthand how difficult these skills are to teach and learn. In addition, the widening achievement gap between rich and poor students adds another level of complexity to an already complex challenge.

However, these skills do not belong only to the most fortunate among us. They should be accessible to all, and I believe they can be–through writing.

How Writing Supports Critical Thinking

When students write, they engage in the process of critical thinking. And it is through this process that students don’t just prove their learning, they improve it.

As author William Zinsser points out in Writing to Learn: How to Write — And Think — Clearly about Any Subject at All, “Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. Writing is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own. Writing enables us to find out what we know — and what we don’t know — about whatever we’re trying to learn.”

Writing is our critical thinking made visible.

Unfortunately, “Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete successfully a college-level English composition class, according to the company’s data.” (The New York Times)

But when students write, the results can be powerful. In fact, a 2008 study from the University of Chicago revealed the positive impact regular writing can have on a student’s ACT scores. Writing across subjects, including in science and math, five or more times per month compared to less than five times per month had the single greatest impact on student achievement.

By focusing on the rhetoric and writing skills that Socrates, Aristotle, Plato, and other great thinkers have encouraged for centuries, we can help today’s students — regardless of socio-economic background, race, or gender — learn how to think critically and express their point of view effectively.

Bridging The Writing Divide

Empowering the next generation starts by equipping educators with the necessary resources, training, and support to adequately teach writing with confidence and at scale.

How many of you remember a single teacher being responsible for teaching you how to write? This intensive, very personalized instruction is not something that every student receives because traditional classrooms — especially in under-resourced schools — weren’t set up for this level of individualized attention. Technology can help scale sophisticated writing instruction to the masses, but thinking human teachers and peers are still a critical part of this process.

The CERCA Framework for literacy and argumentation.

I founded ThinkCERCA five years ago with this very idea in mind. The patent-pending CERCA Framework makes it easy for any teacher to guide students through the writing process, and our technology helps free up valuable prep and classroom time, so teachers spend time where it matters most: engaging with students.

Our results are what sets us apart from current educational solutions. Controlled studies show ThinkCERCA helps students students achieve two years of academic growth on average per year, which can close the achievement gap for low-income and minority students.

This week, ThinkCERCA announced a $10 million Series B raise to expand our impact beyond the 220 districts we already serve. There are 55 million students across the United States counting on the education system to equip them for work, society, and the future. Helping students develop critical thinking skills, through the process of writing, is our only chance at creating economic access for generations to come.