1. When I was in high school I called the college I work at "Tri-High." There was a view that it was an easy school that was basically a repeat of high school.
2. When I taught high school the longest writing assignment I required was one 5 paragraph essay. All in all my students probably wrote 5 pages total all year. (I will say, to my defense, I wasn't allowed to assign take home work, had 125 students, and worked at a drop out prevention school.)
3. When teaching high school I had no real idea as to what the expectation is at community colleges, or even 4 year schools. It'd been so long since my own freshman comp course that I couldn't remember what I had to write.
I've found that most of my students, whether straight from high school, students in their mid 20s, students still in high school, or students who are old enough to be my parent are not prepared for the volume of writing required for college. This realization got me to thinking... how much are high school students asked to write?
I decided to take this question to actual high school English teachers and prepared a bit of a survey. Here are the results:
What struck me the most about the responses for grade 9 and 9 advanced was the gap between the expectations. In regular 9th grade English the majority of respondents assigned 5-10 pages for the year. However, in advanced, they assign 15-20.
In English 10 it was evenly split between people who assign 5-10 pages and 15-20 pages (skipping 10-15 altogether). Then, in 10 advanced 5-10 and 10-15 were tied with less people choosing 15-20. I'm not sure what to conclude from this.
11th grade found similar patterns to 10th grade while 11th grade advanced stayed firmly at 10 pages or more. I was surprised that in 11th grade English someone assigned less than 5 pages of writing for the year.
I was most interested in 12th grade as that is the final year of high school and is where many of my students are coming from. I was interested to see that in both the regular and advanced classes 15-20 pages was the norm. I was concerned that only 5-10 pages for the year were assigned in 12 regular.
I was not surprised by the AP results. I was very interested in the responses to the question about required pages in a community college writing course.
Are you ready for the real numbers for college classes? (At least in Ohio?)
When I started as an adjunct I was surprised to find out that the state of Ohio requires 20 pages of writing per semester for its freshman comp courses. That's 40 pages per year for most students in state funded institutions. And, 70% of their final grade must be based on those pages. This doesn't take into account any papers they are writing for their psychology, sociology, philosophy, or history classes. Nor does it account for any lab reports for their science courses.
At my school most of our comp courses are 14 weeks each. So 20 pages in 14 weeks, well 13 weeks as most of us have the final paper due before finals week. However, we also have 8 week courses that still require the 20 pages.
Though I realize I should have had a 20+ option in there, or a fill in the blank option in there the fact remains- I don't know if, based on this (admittedly small) sample size, we are having our students write enough. Now, I get it. When you have 125 students the prospect of having them write even 15 pages a semester each is daunting- if not flat out impossible. However, our high schools as a team can do better.
I truly believe that a student should have one 5-10 page research paper (length dependent on year in school) due each year. However, I'm not sure it should always be the English teacher's responsibility. Why not have 9th grade be English, 10th be History, 11th be Science, and 12th go back to English?
In the future I'd like to explore which types of writing are focused on as well. We require no literature courses nor literary analysis in our college courses yet, I suspect, that is still a major focus in the high schools. I'd also like to think about why advanced courses often have more writing. I'm teaching English Comp I Honors in the fall and they will write exactly the same amount as their peers. However, they will be given more freedom, have a higher expectation of rigor, and will engage with more complex topics because- to me- a former honors kid- honors should not mean more work.
Thanks for reading!