The "Beginning" Writer

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

This is an essay I wrote about being a beginning writer in school systems and how that negatively affects college education. I strongly disagree with the term remedial when it comes to writing and feel that we are on the road to change as far as how we teach writing, and I encourage such change and hope it moves briskly.

 

Writing is unlike other academic practices.  It is something that people have been doing for thousands of years, and something that people do for themselves just as often as they do for school.  The problem is, writing like all things takes practice.  In a school setting, more often than not it is hard to get that idea across.  In a school setting everything you do revolves around grades, progress, and moving on to the next level.  This pressure can lead to things getting thrown by the way side just to get by.  Writing is not something that fits well into these boxes, and often gets short changed by teachers and students alike.

Being a beginning writer is simply that.  The words "remedial" or "basic" are in my opinion archaic and quite frankly offensive.  Being a beginning writer does not imply how long you have been doing it, but what stage you are at.  Being at a beginning stage for a longer period of time should have no negative connotations to it.  Especially when you consider how many different teachers with different approaches to writing a student comes across in their lifetime.  Often, it becomes a mini restart every time they step into a new classroom.  This becomes especially true when the student is not comfortable with writing. 

The most concrete method of writing, or at least the most widely used is the five-paragraph format.  Everyone has seen it, and everyone has done it at least once in their lives.  While I do believe that it has good intentions, I do not believe it works.  The five-paragraph format is counterintuitive, and suffocating.  It flusters people who know how to write, so how can we expect beginning writers to flourish from it.  They become stuck in a rut and change their ideas, and arguments just to fit into the format.  That leaves them with a choppy, less than cohesive argument that fits perfectly into a cookie cutter model and they get an A.  Or, if you are like myself, then it leaves you with an essay that makes no sense, has no actual depth to it and gets a C.  Either way the five paragraph method strips away the gray area of writing and leaves us with methodical garbage.

The issue with writing is unlike math and science, there is not always one answer.  Considering all of the differing viewpoints of the material we have read in class is overwhelming when you decide what to teach someone, let alone the rest of what’s out there.  In other, more concrete subjects certain theories and rules will always apply, no matter what happens.  Of course, writing does have certain rules that will always apply.  Formatting, grammar, and citing rules will never be put to the wayside in an academic situation and that is necessary.  However, the gray area of writing is what makes it hard to teach, but it is also the reason so many people gravitate toward it when they may struggle with other subjects like math or science.

The stage we as an education system are at right now is one of change.  It has become increasingly obvious that standardized tests do not properly analyze the progress a student has made.  In the school system we have teachers who agree with this notion and have began to teach the principles of writing, rather than the five-paragraph format to get the grade.  However, there are also many teachers who still teach to the five-paragraph format and to the standardized test.  A student can go from two years of five paragraph essays to one year of something new, and then right back into the five-paragraph rut the next year.  This will most likely leave the student thinking that the five-paragraph format is the correct one and maybe even that they are terrible writers because they are bad at such a format.

After these students have been tossed about and around being bashed for using their opinions, and extending their arguments they walk into the college setting most likely wanting bang their heads into a wall before writing another essay.  If they end up at Lake Erie they walk into EN 100 and hopefully, with coaxing and encouragement finally flourish as a writer.  Of course, this is not how it works in all colleges, and unfortunately I’m sure many graduates of college, or dropouts, never want to pick up a pen again.  This is unfortunate, because the freedom of a college setting is the perfect place to rehabilitate a student’s relationship with their writing.

Unlike the high school setting, professors have a little bit more freedom in what they teach, and how they teach it.  Of course, it is more the department head than the professors themselves.  Either way though, the decisions are being made by actual human beings teaching other human beings, not test scores dictating what is taught and how.  People who often write for themselves in their free time, or as a primary career are the driving force here, which allows for change and evolution at a much faster pace than in high school settings.  When a student arrives here they are encouraged to write more than taught how too.  They are given prompts to spark their interest and then allowed to create from them.  Students are given chances to revise papers based off of what they have learned, and are not given grades.  Both of these I believe are incredibly crucial.

To teach someone to write is a misnomer.  As a teacher the responsibility you have is to give them the tools.  The first thing that must be done is to teach them how to analyze their thoughts.  They need to learn how to articulate themselves, and pry open their own opinions.  A student needs to know their opinion is a justified thing to write about, but its imperative to have a strong argument to back it up.  Then they need to be taught how to express those opinions and arguments to others in a logical manner.  Lastly, they need to be taught the basic rules of grammar so they can cohesively write down their well thought out arguments and opinions on paper.  There should be no this is how you must write or else connotation.  When a writer has these three basic guidelines, they have the freedom to write however they feel suites them best.  However, they still create a cohesive, well thought out, and well executed piece of writing.

I recognize that nothing in the high school setting will change in too big of a way until we are allowed to stop teaching to the tests.  However, I do believe that if these ideas are employed in the lower education settings people will be able to appreciate writing in a different light.  Writing will become personal, and will become a tool to more people across the country, as opposed to writing being a huge hurdle to avoid in the professional world.  Teaching to standardized tests and to strict rules obviously does not work.  No one can make a better argument for that than the people sitting in EN 100 who have been writing their whole lives.  It is just the way they have been forced to write that leaves them still at the beginning stage of writing.  Eventually, this will evolve and college can become a higher education in writing for these students as opposed to rehabilitating their abilities to write in college.

R Jasey Roathe


Submitted: April 19, 2012

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