Teaching and Learning Writing: Trouble at Every Level

This week’s readings illuminate and explore several issues about writing in the classroom and in academia.  Many of these have been readily apparent to me as a student in the system.  Certainly any person coming to the college classroom without an understanding of what professors expect is going to be in for a rude shock.  Students fresh out of high school who have been taught one style of writing there and who then encounter very different demands in their university classes may find the transition understandably difficult.  When I began my college career, I had not been in a classroom for nearly thirty years.  I barely remembered writing anything as a high school student, but a few old classroom adages from my school days did keep ringing in my memory as I tried to write my initial college papers.  Unfortunately, those axioms for essays that I recalled were not the ones my very first instructor seemed to think important.  One of the first essays I got back from him had been marked down for what he thought was my excessive delay in stating the main idea of my essay.  Then and now, I have more than adequate control over sentence structure and mechanical issues, but I had never heard of a thesis sentence.  My bad.  I wish someone had told me before I needed this knowledge instead of after.  My experience and the many that echo it in this week’s readings make me wonder again and again why the high schools do not teach writing in a way that better prepares students for the transition between high school and college.

A second set of issues that strike me as swirling around a core of denial are the concerns about devising models for writing instruction that will make every student feel successful and accepted.  In an ideal world, that sounds wonderful.  Everyone should have a chance at success, and no one’s style of speech or language community should keep anyone from a full and productive life.  The problem that I see, especially in the series of approaches outlined by Tom Fox, is that there are two conflicting agendas at work.  On the one hand, teachers want everyone to succeed if possible, and on the other hand, the (ultimately market-driven) system is set up to sort and select people for excellence and talent.  Russell and Foster explicitly point out that function of the testing barriers that stretch across each level of academic advancement.  That schools are set up to sort “students ‘destined’ for higher education” and beyond makes it inevitable that some will be sorted out (11).  On what basis will they be sorted out?  It seems that their ability to write well is a primary factor.  While I can easily see how a student with non-standard English skills will benefit from greater acceptance of his or her voice in the classroom as part of language diversity programs, I have a harder time understanding how this will be reconciled with the systemic and systematic sorting that goes on all around such a student.

1 comment for “Teaching and Learning Writing: Trouble at Every Level

  1. Alex Janney
    April 15, 2010 at 9:15 am

    How ironic that your initial college writing experience resulted in the professor marking you down for not stating your point quickly enough; I guess I never would have thought that because everything you write for this class is so eloquent and articulate! You seem to have no problem stating your point. I think you make a strong point though, whether a student has been out of high school for thirty years or three months, that adequate preparation is still lacking. I felt as though I was failed by my high school when I started college for similar reasons to yours. It was discouraging to go from doing so well to having no idea what was going on. It would be beneficial to students and instructors if the secondary and higher education could somehow establish some sort of agreement on what they require and what they expect students to be capable of. Without this general consensus, students like you and I will continue to be thrown into a system that we are insufficiently prepared for.

Leave a Reply