Teaching Students How To Write Essay

2628 words - 11 pages

Experience shapes us, randomness shapes us, the stars and weather, our own accommodations and rebellions, above all, the social order around us.

Adrienne Rich, "Of a Women Born"

My four-year old daughter now has the yearning to learn how to write. She scribbles illegible swirls, which she says is her story about a princess. She prints her name "Olivia" on books, magazines, and on her drawings. When she has a pen or crayon in hand she has an immediate urgency to write her name and where ever there is a flat surface she prints her name incorrectly. When I tell her there are not two "I"s in her name and attempt to show her the correct spelling, she throws her crayon in the air. What is essential and what I must remind myself is that at the moment, in her world, the spelling of her name is Oliia. When I hover over her shoulder as she scribbles, she stops writing. She feels inhibited, so now I resist teaching her writing. This is how I imagine many teachers feel when faced with a pile of essays written by high school students, which are streamed with grammatical errors and incoherent sentences. They feel apathy, as do many students, about writing. After reading texts required for our composition theory class, I sympathize with students', teachers' and my daughter's frustration. Time is spent on error identification and what constitutes a finished piece, rather than on the potential of a piece of writing and the process of completing that piece. Time is not spent on how to create a "good" piece, or as Donald Murray describes, "rehearsal, drafting, revision and connecting." In a sense I could say Olivia is rehearsing the spelling of her name. It is no wonder she is throwing her crayon in the air, because I am correcting her versus applauding her rehearsal. I am afraid if I continue to merely correct her she will, over time, feel ambivalent about writing.

In Lucy McCormick Calkins' book titled "The Art of Teaching Writing", she speaks about students' disinterest in writing.

We forget that we, too, would yawn and roll our eyes if we were asked to write about our summer vacation or our favorite food. We do not consider how we would feel if the only response to our hard-earned stories were red-penned "Awks" and "Run-ons." We forget how vulnerable we are as learners and people, and how easy it is to protect ourselves with layers of bored resignation. Instead of thinking honestly and deeply about why students have learned to dislike writing, we rush about, pushing, luring encouraging, motivating, stimulating, bribing requiring…" (4)

Throughout high school, I remember receiving back papers covered with teacher's corrections. Typically, the papers were on subjects, which were pointless to me, so I chose not to feel accountable for the errors.

How can we make writing meaningful so students take pride in what they create? Peter Elbow suggests teachers need to step down from their authoritative position and have nurturing student-centered...

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