A RhetNet SnapShot Reply:
THE GRADING VORTEX
I'd agree with Tim Mayers that the major difference between us and our students is probably in the amount of reading we've done by 20 or so. It's not necessary to know explicit rules of grammar -- or composition -- to be a good writer. It is necessary to have at your command a good sense of how words, clauses and sentences fit together into larger units; a repertoire of different voices, strategies, rhetorical modes; a wide vocabulary. These you can acquire from extensive and close reading of many different kinds of text.
My students are -- many of them, not all of them -- unsophisticated and practised in reading and writing. They are sophisticated in viewing media, using computers, assembling documents and presentations with effective visuals, etc. So I would argue that the "text-specific" kind of literacy we grew up with is being supplanted by a media-generic kind of literacy. Many of them can't spell well, consistenly create varied and correct sentences, or distinguish between "its" and its'" or "effect" and "affect," but they can channel-surf, and net-surf, and tell you if an instructional video is any good or not. In terms of their development as writers, I think that's the main difference -- they haven't had the same kind of cognitive ping-pong going on between their reading and their writing throughout their education. They read -- and often write -- grudgingly, because other media are more seductive.