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TURN OFF TV, LEARN HOW TO WRITE

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The ability to write clearly and effectively is one of life's most useful skills - one that most American students appear to be lacking. The reasons aren't hard to find. They include not enough reading and too much television.

A "report card" released this past week by the U.S. Education Department notes that 30,000 fourth, eighth and 12th graders have "serious difficulty" in producing effective, persuasive writing.While schools are paying more attention to writing skills since the previous Education Department study done in 1988, the performance of students still is often discouraging.

An unrelated report on the news wires about a high school in Colorado is illustrative of the problem. At Standley Lake High, sophomore students had to complete a satisfactory written essay in order to get a passing English grade.

The test included reading novels, short stories and poems from a list of American classics and then comparing the authors' ideas about relationships with the students own ideas.

Several days after school was out, 140 students were still trying to complete the assignment with teacher help in order to get a grade. Sadly, most other students around the country probably would have the same trouble.

The Department of Education survey notes that writing skills need expert instruction, frequent practice and constructive feedback. More of that needs to be provided in schools, although it becomes very difficult with large class loads.

But study habits, or the lack of them, are a major factor as well. The survey notes that eighth graders spend an average of two hours a week on writing, including time in class, while spending five hours a week on math. Those same students spend 14 hours a week in front of the TV set. There is a direct relationship between the amount of time watching television and doing well in school: The more TV, the lower the school performance.

Students who spend more time doing homework tend to have better writing skills. And those who read five pages or less a day - including reading done in class - do not write nearly as well as those who read 11 or more pages a day.

Reading and being able to write are closely connected. Good writers always read a lot. Just reading for pleasure imparts an unconscious feel for words and sentences that cannot be gained in any other way.

So turn off the TV, spend more time doing homework and pick up a book for entertainment. The results will be fuller lives plus improved skills that will pay dividends for a lifetime.