Photo by calmenda on Flickr.

When I started tutoring students in writing at a high-poverty D.C. public high school this year, I was prepared to run into some problems. I knew it was hard for an overworked teacher with a class of 25 or 30 students to engage in the kind of one-on-one work that teaching writing often requires. That’s why I volunteered to help.

Still, I was shocked by what I found. Even though I’ve generally worked with the school’s higher-performing students, I’ve encountered some who aren’t familiar with terms such as “subject” and “verb.” A number don’t know why “Although I read the book” isn’t a complete sentence.

But the problems go deeper than ignorance of the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Many students have no idea how to write a paragraph that hangs together, let alone a coherent five-paragraph essay. They don’t understand how to draw a connection between a claim and a piece of evidence, a basic necessity in constructing a logical argument.

These aren’t just writing skills. These are thinking skills of the type the students will need to succeed in college, on the job or even just to dispute a charge on a credit card bill — and to knowledgeably exercise their right to vote.

Continue reading my first op-ed in the Washington Post.

Natalie Wexler is a DC education journalist and blogger. She chairs the board of The Writing Revolution and serves on the Urban Teachers DC Regional Leadership Council, and she has been a volunteer reading and writing tutor in high-poverty DC Public Schools.