This was the advice I wrote in the margin of a couple of dozen college papers I returned to students last night. I put the directions for their recent assignments back on the projector and showed them again that they both called for evaluating an author’s evident strategies, based on things like structure and style, for effectiveness. Nothing in their assignments asked for personal reflection about the topics of their texts, and yet, that’s the majority of what I got.
Coincidentally, I just read this excellent essay by Mark Bauerlein, which perfectly echoes my experience. In short, students need to be guided to write analytical work, not fluffy reactions. Amen.
At one point in the discussion, Coleman paused to note a problem in the teaching of writing in English classrooms: the dominance of “personal writing … the exposition of a personal opinion … the presentation of a personal matter.” Continue reading
The brilliant professor Mark Bauerlein scores yet another direct hit in a recent post about the value of those old-fashioned writing assignments:
In my classes I include both types of assignments, short, one-page writings and longer 7-page papers (I rarely go over 10 pages these days, but I try to make the class have 25-30 pages of finished writing overall.) I also make students bring in their rough drafts so that we may go over them sentence by sentence, word by word. (I’m lucky to have small classes.) It is a novel experience for many of them. To have a reader pause over the placement of a modifier, and to have to think about such things as a writer, is altogether new. The deliberation simply doesn’t go along with digital communication habits. Until we see students paying closer attention to diction and syntax, we should keep traditional writing assignments as a good portion of the work.
Actually, this quote is more of a defense of revision than word count, but it’s still the money quote in a great piece. By far the single biggest factor holding back anyone’s writing is lack of sustained effort–we naturally feel that a simple first draft gets the job done, and that’s that…and we teachers all too often reward such sloppy work by letting it slide by. Teaching students to care about and focus on every word is the best writing training we can give.