Friday, March 29, 2013

I Hate Writing

Education

About twenty years ago I developed a writing course for students who were reluctant and diffident writers and who possessed limited writing skills. The two basic objectives of the course were to strengthen and solidify their skills in writing and to help them to develop confidence in themselves as writers. Critical to the achievement of those objectives was making sure that the classroom environment was one in which they would take risks as they experimented with language, be free from ridicule and censorship, and be allowed the latitude to write about things they cared about the most. Further, instruction in grammar, mechanics, style, usage, etc. was always provided within the context of the writings that they produced. 

One of the first questions I would ask each group of new students to the class was how many of them loved to write and how many of them disliked writing. Those who loved to write were always in the minority.  I would raise my hand with the majority. "Yes," I would say to them, "I, too, hate writing." The look of perplexity on their faces would always amuse me.  And then I would add, "But I am very good at it." It is indeed true; I do hate writing. I find it satisfying, but I also find it extremely enervating, almost like a burden. One of the reasons I have been successful over the years in working with these students is that I could empathize with their struggles as writers. Among the many strategies and techniques I have used in working with them, here are a few that I would like to highlight:
  • I never give a writing assignment without first providing them with a full model of my own (freshly written) and with encouragement that they feel free to copy my style until they could confidently develop their own. 
  • When I "correct" their "mistakes" I offer complete suggestions on how the sentence or phrase should be written or how a word should be spelled. These suggestions for improving their work are written in green ink - no red ink. No "Awkward sentence construction," no "SP", no "?" and other such notations that are usually put by some teachers in the margins of students' papers.
  • Most students hate having to rewrite. Who doesn't? Upon returning a student's writing, I might say, "Your grade on this piece is a C. If you make the improvements and changes that I am suggesting, you will receive an A." I have never  had a student settle for the initial grade. 
  • If in a student's writing it is obvious that he or she is struggling with a particular grammar, mechanics, style, or usage element, then that element becomes the subject of instruction for the entire class. Depending on how pervasive the error is, the instruction could be one-on-one or collective.
[Photographic Art by Ric Couchman]