Sunday, September 04, 2005

Teaching of Writing: Reflection Paper 1

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While I was doing homework the other day, a friend of mine looked over at my books and noticed one of them was about the teaching of writing.  “How can you teach people to write?” she asked.  “You just give them a few guidelines and tell them to get to work.”  The idea sounded good to me, but I asked for clarification anyway.  “If you really want to teach someone how to write, you give them (sic) a book and say ‘here, read’” she continued.  “Reading helped my writing improve much more than anything else.”
In an attempt to justify why I was spending time in this class, I brought up the point about the difference between academic and creative writing, but she was still unimpressed.  “Even academic writing I learned more from reading than I ever did from the classroom”.
I have a constant habit of being in a conversation, and only much later realizing what it was I should have said.  This was exactly what happened to me here.
Her ideas are definitely appealing because writing is an individual act.  However, now that I am going on four years of college, and have had plenty of papers returned to me that were covered in red, I have discovered that there are more than a few guidelines to writing a paper.  There seem to be more and more rules, and I still have not mastered them all.
Of course, as the book “Inside Out” points out, to teach writing is more than to just catch all the grammar and syntax mistakes.  There is a qualitative element to writing.
Of course, quality is so subjective that here might be where she has a point.  I think I would be intimidated trying to grade student’s papers.  Questions like “who am I to decide weather this is poor writing or not”.  Even if I were in the teacher’s seat, I wonder if they would go away.  Certainly that has been my experience peer editing here at college.
I remember often times in High School getting papers marked up and disagreeing with the calls the teacher made.  Although I was too timid too actually argue with the teacher, in my mind I would disagree with what they had marked.  “I had a reason for doing that.  How could you count off for that?  It wasn’t a mistake, I did it on purpose.”
But of course, as a teacher of writing, it would seem that in order to help improve the quality of students writing you would have to mark up papers like that.
Another interesting idea she had was the idea about learning to write from reading.  It is true that some of the best writers I knew in High School were avid readers.  Certainly I couldn’t argue that reading does improve writing, but can writing be taught purely by have students read?
I know how my High School writing teachers would respond to this argument.  Writing is like a sport.  You can watch basketball on TV, and that will help you some, but you don’t truly get better at it until you start practicing it for yourself.  And to a certain extent, that does make sense.  And with my own writing, that’s more or less true I think.  I always approach a paper knowing exactly what I want to say in my mind, and in my mind it sounds so elegant, but when I start putting it down on paper it becomes awkward and lifeless.  I think I have learned how to better transfer my thoughts from my mind to my paper because of practice.  Of course I can already see how my friend would respond to this: “Practicing writing helps, yes of course.  I wasn’t saying people shouldn’t practice writing.  I was just saying you can’t teach writing.”

I don’t know.  Maybe she does have a point.

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