Posts tagged: Writing

On Teaching Writing

By , February 4, 2011 10:50 am

Among other things, Roger Rosenblatt teaches writing at Stony Brook University. He talks about teaching in a recent interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

Two key paragraphs hit home, the first, because it has already caused me to raise the bar for myself:

Who taught you to write?
I went to the the Friends Seminary in New York, which was a dreadful school largely, except for one fellow named Jon Beck Shank. He was a Mormon who had come out of the army, went to Yale, and was very interested in theater. He gave us Canada Mints to taste and said, “Taste this and write down what it tastes like,” so we would learn to write metaphor and simile. He had us read poetry, a great deal of poetry so as to appreciate original language. When we studied Shakespeare he had us build a model of the Globe Theater. He just did things that no other teacher would have thought of doing to get into our minds so that we would begin to understand that writing was something that was important to our lives. I was very very lucky to have had him. He meant the world to me.

The second, because it reminds me that I matter as a writing teacher:

What have your students taught you?
That they need me. They need me and my ilk. They need teachers who value them and their lives. Because writing is a validation of their lives and they know it. Whether they’re writing poetry, essays, or stories, it doesn’t matter. Every writing teacher gives the subliminal message, every time they teach: “Your life counts for something.” In no other subject that I know of is that message given.

I learned nothing new in either of these paragraphs, but I needed reminding.

By the way, I have never heard of Jon Beck Shank until today. A Mormon myself, I’m interested in knowing more.

I Grade; Therefore, I Waste A Lot of Time

By , January 1, 2011 9:27 pm

My son gave me The 4-Hours Workweek to read, and it’s got me thinking. The take away so far is that we need to think outside the 9 – 5 box that employers put us in. The author, Tim Ferris, claims that by planning, implementing deadlines, and eliminating the unnecessary, you can cut your work week back to 4 hours.

Well, among other things, I teach writing. And I grade writing. Ferris’s book has me thinking about how I can serve my students, make my employer happy, and still cut back on the time I spend grading my students’ writing. A few ideas come to mind.

Since I’m an obsessive copy editor, my first order of business is to cut back on the amount of copy editing I do. I’ve tried this before by stopping after a page or two of pointing out comma errors and grammar problems and drawing two lines across the paper to indicate where I stopped. The idea is that since students can only work on so much, they should concentrate on the types of errors I’ve checked above the line. Once they’ve mastered those, the next time around the errors above the lines should be different.

Another idea is to give my students a list of say five or six problems that show up in most writing, and have them work only on them. That way, all I have to look for are those problems.

Finally, and probably the best idea of all, I need to stress peer review in class and out of class more. That way, the burden is on the student. Again, I could give them lists of five or six things to look for in the writing of others. Such repetitive learning should result in mastery of those five or six things.

Imagine how much better everybody’s writing would be if they simply eliminated the passive voice and mastered the comma. Add a more precise word choice and fewer words, and their writing should be singing in short order.

Is a 4-hour workweek in my future? Probably not, but I may be able to cut it to less than 40 hours.

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