One other note: there is very, very, very little “well written academic writing” that is not so technical as to be opaque for an 8th grader, or, honestly, many high school students. It just doesn’t exist. Expository writing, yes. Plenty of examples. But “real” academic-style research is just impossible. I mean, an 11th grader can read and discuss Huck Finn perfectly well. And they can read an popular essay about Huck Finn–like Toni Morrison’s piece–fairly well. But when you pull out something like “Juxtapositions of Competing Paradigms of Masculinity in Huck Finn”, they fall apart, and it’s not just the vocabulary. Academic writing–good academic writing–is posts on a really slow moving message board. It assumes an academic audience who is familiar with huge swathes of the debate already, and entire schools of thought, avenues of discussion, etc., are brought up, rebutted, and dismissed in a paragraph. For a person with no context, it’s impossible to figure out–even roughly–what that paragraph is even about. And 90% of the paper is like that.
Kids can “read” academic articles by skimming them, ignoring huge chunks that they don’t understand, and pulling out nuggets of insight and observations that they can use. This is what kids do when they write research papers. They are reading for the content. What they can’t begin to do, by and large, is read for structure and function–read to understand how the article works, how it is constructed, what choices did the writer make, what choices did they reject? And because they cannot really comprehend the paper on a structural level, they can’t learn how to structure their own academic paper from reading “real” academic writing.
It’s like trying to teach people to design one-room school houses by walking them through cathedrals. Yes, there are parallels, and yes, many of the same principles apply, but they tend to be so overwhelmed by the experience that they can’t see them.