Are we failing students in the way we teach writing?
We have the new Common Core with a stronger emphasis on writing. We have more options than I can count on how to teach the Five Paragraph Essay. We assign creative essays, literary responses, and research papers, but are the students really learning how to write and what the writing process requires?
Let me show you how I approached writing assignments in school:
- Essay assigned – due in two weeks
- Ugh! I have to write a paper. At least I have two weeks
- 1 week later a fellow student asks if I have started my paper…I haven’t
- 5 days before due date…I better start thinking about that paper
- 4 days before due date…if research is required, make trip to library and gather required sources
- 3 days before due date…pull out assignment and look it over
- 2 days before due date….read/skim whatever material is required in order to write paper.
- night before due date…commence writing paper, pull all-nighter if necessary.
- Due date…read/edit paper and fix obvious mistakes
- Turn in paper
- Receive grade
- never look at essay again
This worked fairly well for me and got me through high school and college with respectable GPA’s but it didn’t teach me how to write. It taught me how to compile sources and arrange thoughts in paragraphs in order to earn a grade.
The more I study eloquent writers and their writing processes and the more time I spend writing, I realize there are many things I never learned about writing. My procrastination driven college writing process only ever produced a first draft that was turned in and graded.
Here is the sad truth: I don’t know how to go about the tedious work of revision. The act of taking a machete to what I have written and chopping it up until only the best bits remain. Of then taking those best bits and reaching into the depths of my creativity to add to the manuscript using those as my foundation. This is possibly the most important part of the writing process that I entirely skipped over under the false pretense that my first finished draft was good enough.
Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your perspective) it was good enough to earn a respectable grade and move on, but it didn’t teach me how to write. Now granted, there are certain types of academic writing that once you learn the formula, you plug in the information and voila! Instant essay! But as far as publishable creative essays or fiction writing? Not even close.
How do I not fail my students in this area? I have them write frequently because we all know that to be a better writer you need to write all the time. But, as is common with curriculum, we complete a writing assignment for a unit of study and move on. Should I assign fewer writing assignments and spend more time on them going through the whole writing and revising process with my students?
I would love to hear from other writers and teachers regarding how you approach this in your classrooms.