National Writing Project

The National Commission on Writing and College Board Series of Reports

Date: November 15, 2009

Summary: In an effort to focus national attention on the teaching and learning of writing, the College Board established the National Commission on Writing for America's Families, Schools, and Colleges. The Commission and the College Board have published a series of reports on the importance of high-quality writing instruction.


Teachers Are the Center of Education: Profiles of Eight Teachers

Seth Mitchell, Maine Writing Project teacher-consultant, is one of eight teachers profiled in Teachers Are the Center of Education. The publication highlights "the importance of teachers and the quality of their work."

According to Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, "If in reading the stories of these eight teachers, you are touched by their professionalism, humanity, and work effort, this report will have partly done its job . . . . We must now all band together to give teachers the support they need to build on their already great work."


"Asking them to analyze text, [to] provide textual evidence and to consider subtext — there is nothing new about this," Mitchell says. "But giving them an authentic audience of their peers beyond this room ... and providing them [with an] opportunity to create content — I think they are more engaged."

Mitchell's use of technology in his classroom is a result of work with the National Writing Project (NWP), a professional development network, whose mission is "to improve student achievement by improving the teaching of writing." Mitchell has always loved writing and believes it is critical to learning in all subjects.

His work as a technology liaison in the National Writing Project focuses on integrating new technologies to teach writing. "What we are trying to do is find meaningful, purposeful ways to include technology in instruction and assessment because like it or not, that is the world we live in," he says.

Full Report

For more, read the full report (PDF).

Immigration, Language and Culture

Teacher Voices: Immigration, Language and Culture

The latest report from The College Board's Teachers Are the Center of Education/Teacher Voices series features several NWP teachers' expertise and viewpoints on teaching English language learners.

Excerpt from Report

Ultimately, the students succeed because of their own strengths and how we view their assets. As Matsui says, "Bilingual students and English language learners in general have many assets to bring to the table because they are bicultural. They navigate through so many different worlds. We need to acknowledge their talents in order to teach them better.

Full Report

For more, read the full report (PDF).

What Makes A Great Teacher

Student Voices: What Makes a Great Teacher?

The latest report from The College Board's Student Voices series gives students the opportunity to be a part of the national dialogue on education and to provide input on what it takes for teachers to be effective in the classroom.

Excerpt from Report

What methods have your teachers used that you would imitate if you were a teacher?

Ebony: I would use visual things. But not boring videos that were produced when TV had just come out. Say it's global studies and we're learning about Third World countries — give us videos that will touch our hearts. My global history teacher used a lot of videos that almost brought us there. For example, she showed us a video about the Holodomor [a genocide Stalin committed in Ukraine]. You relate more when it's visual.

Brittany: My English teachers have open discussions on topics that are interesting, and you get into it; you want to have your opinion out there. For example, I remember we got into a big discussion after we'd read Romeo and Juliet. The teacher asked whether anyone could relate to the story personally. There was a lot of back and forth.

Full Report

For more, read the full report (PDF).

Words Have No Borders

Words Have No Borders: Student Voices on Immigration, Language and Culture

The College Board's National Commission on Writing collaborated with the National Writing Project to publish this series of essays from high school students around the country. The essays express the pain and joy of moving from one culture to another, and focus on how learning to write in English opens up new worlds for non-native speakers.

Excerpt from Report

Like nothing else, reading and writing was the bridge to our new world. When reading we gained friends and allies in others who had traveled this sometimes cold path ahead of us. When writing, as these wonderful students have done here, we spoke for ourselves and we echoed those who had been brave enough to speak ahead of us, for us, to us. When, as a new arrival in the United States, my heavy Haitian Creole accent made me too shy to speak, I could always pour my soul out in my notebooks and journals, and even in class assigned essays. To have anyone ask me to express myself, on paper, in my new language, was as thrilling as watching snow fall for the first time.

Words have no borders. Every experience deserves a hearing. Everyone has a story to tell and we are all the better for the telling. Like so much in our world, the immigrant experience is being redefined every day, one singular individual at a time. Currently, one out of four children in the United States is born to foreign-born parents. The beauty of this country, unlike many others, is that each of these children has as much right to be an American as someone whose parents and grandparents and great-grandparents were also born here.

Full Report

For more, read the full report (PDF).

Letters to the President

Letters to the President: Students' Voices

This report from the National Commission on Writing features writing that was selected from the online publishing project, Letters to the Next President, co-sponsored by NWP and Google.

The Letters to the Next President website featured 6,466 letters from 212 schools across the country on topics such as global warming, the economy, health care, education, and immigration.

Excerpt from Letters

For more, read the full report (PDF).

We Cannot Do It Without You
by Sarah W., Cupertino, Calif.

Mr. President,
I honestly do not believe you are in any way uneducated about the problems facing our country. In fact, I am sure you are aware of the issues in far more depth than I. I cannot provide you with any more statistical information, nor can I provide insight on ways to create the economic stability our country so needs, but I do believe that I can provide you with the voice of one who is directly experiencing the effects of our economy in respect to the skyrocketing values of health insurance.

Every month I have to have an MRI to watch for the return of a malignant brain tumor I successfully had removed twice before. I drive up to Lucille Packard Children's Hospital at Stanford University in California and the moment we step inside the door the feelings of desperation and anxiety are almost tangible. I hear the low voices of parents discussing, arguing, and praying for some way to pay for their child's health care. The horrifying reality is, if they cannot afford it, which is too often the case, they are turned away and forced to watch their children suffer and sometimes slowly die before their eyes. How can we ask these parents to do this? . . .

Full Report

For more, read the full report (PDF).

Writing, Technology, and Teens

Writing, Technology, and Teens

Teens write a lot, but they do not think of their emails, instant and text messages as writing. This disconnect matters because teens believe good writing is an essential skill for success and that more writing instruction at school would help them.

Excerpt from Report

Teens who communicate frequently with friends, and teens who own more technology tools such as computers or cell phones do not write more for school or for themselves than less communicative and less gadget-rich teens. Teen bloggers, however, are prolific writers online and offline.

  • 47% of teen bloggers write outside of school for personal reasons several times a week or more compared to 33% of teens without blogs.
  • 65% of teen bloggers believe that writing is essential to later success in life; 53% of non-bloggers say the same.

Full Report

For more, read Writing, Technology, and Teens (PDF).


Writing and School Reform

The fourth report from the National Commission on Writing, Writing and School Reform, summarizes the learning from five hearings held across the country in 2004. These hearings brought together diverse educators and administrators to discuss how to take the most effective writing instruction that is available to some students and make it widely available to all. Discussions focused on how to

  • make writing central to the school reform agenda
  • ensure that curricula in schools provide the necessary time for students to use writing to learn and to learn to write
  • advance writing assessment that is fair and authentic
  • guarantee that students have access to, and opportunities to compose with, current technologies, including digital technologies
  • provide comprehensive professional development for all teachers to improve classroom practice.

The hearings provided an active next step to the commission's first report, The Neglected "R," and gave those in the field an opportunity to respond to that report's recommendations and to speak from firsthand experience about the challenges of teaching writing. Advice came from across the educational spectrum—everyone from parents to teachers to university presidents.

Perhaps the most dramatic testimony centered on the issue of standardization. Teachers, in particular, were emphatic in their views that off-the-shelf programs do not create a nation of thoughtful writers and thinkers. "Reform should value what teachers know," said Valerie Taylor at the Austin hearing, "not impose scripted solutions on them. Reform should reflect the complexity of the challenge, instead of pretending the answers are simple."


Writing: A Powerful Message from State Government

"Clear communication is an essential government function in democratic society. Because writing is how agencies communicate with each other and their constituencies, all of us have a stake in the clarity and accuracy of government writing."
-Bob Kerrey, chair of the National Commission on Writing, July 2005

In its latest report, the National Commission on Writing finds state governments place a high value on the writing skills of their employees, often providing training for professional employees deficient in writing skills.

Based on a National Governors Association survey of 49 of 50 state human resource directors, Writing: A Powerful Message from State Government finds at least two-thirds of professional employees at the state level have some writing responsibility. The report concludes that writing is an even more important job requirement for state employees than for the private-sector employees studied in the commission's previous survey of major U.S. corporations.

Related Articles

When Every Word Counts

The Washington Post, July 24, 2005

Poor Writing Costs Taxpayers Millions

Associated Press, July 4, 2005

Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . Or a Ticket Out

Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . Or a Ticket Out

"In today's workplace writing is a 'threshold skill' for hiring and promotion among salaried (i.e., professional) employees. Survey results indicate that writing is a ticket to professional opportunity, while poorly written job applications are a figurative kiss of death."
- Writing: A Ticket to Work . . . Or a Ticket Out, September 2004

As advanced technology in the workplace plays a more significant role, good writing skills are increasingly valued by big business, according to the second report from the National Commission on Writing.

As one executive noted, "[T]he need to write clearly and quickly has never been more important than in today's highly competitive, technology-driven global economy."

The numbers back up that statement. According to survey responses from 120 major corporations affiliated with Business Roundtable in the commission's report, employers spend billions annually correcting writing deficiencies.

To prepare students for rewarding work in the future, the National Commission on Writing calls on schools and colleges to focus on writing across the curriculum and at all grade levels.

Full Report

For more, read the full report (PDF).

Related Article

No Hemingways Here: Employers Say Workers Need Help to Improve Writing Ability

Associated Press, September 14, 2004

The Neglected

The Neglected "R": The Need for a Writing Revolution

"American education will never realize its potential as an engine of opportunity and economic growth until a writing revolution puts language and communication in their proper place in the classroom...Of the three 'Rs,' writing is clearly the most neglected."
-The Neglected "R": The Need for a Writing Revolution, April 2003

This groundbreaking report, released in April 2003, argues that writing has been shortchanged in the school reform movement of the past twenty years and must now receive the attention it deserves. Among the recommendations outlined in the report:

  • The amount of time and resources devoted to student writing should be at least doubled
  • Writing should be taught in all subjects and at all grade levels
  • All prospective teachers should be required to take courses in how to teach writing
  • New technologies should be developed to improve the teaching and assessment of writing.

Full Report

For more, read the full report (PDF).

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