Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Writing: A Formula for Success

For the past year I have been teaching the skills of creative and academic writing to students. Many of these students come to me having been labelled a "reluctant writer" by their teachers and parents. Yet, when I meet these students, I find they aren't reluctant at all...they are merely confused and frustrated by a system that has cheated them out of a proper writing education. 

Reluctant: No. 
Misguided: Definitely. 

How many times do people say, “I’m more of a math person,” to explain away their lack of writing skills? Too often!  Parents and educators need to stop looking at the difference between the two disciplines and begin pointing out some of the similarities. First and foremost, both math and writing disciplines are just that: DISCIPLINES. They require structure and practice. There are no shortcuts. Secondly, both math and writing follow distinct formulas which lead to the correct answer, or in this case, a strong piece of writing.  In Math, A squared plus B squared equals C squared. In Writing, hook plus thesis equals introduction. There  are formulas to be followed. One problem is that few students are being taught these writing formulas. Consider a traditional math class. It begins by introducing a concept, learning a formula, and then practicing with real problems. Teachers practice problems with students in class and then assign more practice at home. The motto is practice, practice,practice! Now consider a writing class. Oh...hmmm, well…few students ever get a writing class! They take an English class where writing is supposed to be incorporated. Often what this looks like is a teacher reading a classic piece of literature with students and then assigning a paper — a paper to be done at homeWhen are students taught the formulas to write well? When are they practiced?  It will always be a challenge to produce students who write well if we don’t begin to value the subject enough to make it a class all on its own.  I wonder if we as a nation can continue to blame our students for writing failures, if we don’t provide them the tools to succeed in the first place.