[NCTE-TALK:2294] A writing teacher who DOES write...

Sat, 13 Jan 1996 06:25:27 -0600

As a remedial comp instructor (Roosevelt University, Chicago suburban
campus) who got there by way of 8 books in print and over 2000 published
articles, let me kick in some specifics in which ways writing yourself
can be an asset in a comp classroom.

I don't know that my suggestions would work for a classroom teacher because of the discipline factor. I was a washout at
junior high and switched to adults over 20 years ago. I know I'd be
a failure in the standard high school classroom.

However, as a comp instructor who deals with below-average-skills
writers and those whose first language is not English, let me toss in
a writer's viewpoint.

1) There's more to writing than standard academic prose. Bring in
examples of many different kinds: instructions off a Jell-O box or
car repair manual...hand-out flyers from the video rental store...
movie synopses from the cable guide...even (God forbid)

he income
tax forms...and get some discussions going about how all of these
are targeted to specific audiences. Let them--and you--try patterning
examples. How must writing change (and what techniques can writers
use to change it) for various purposes, language and c
levels, audience demographics, target marketing, etc.?

Look at sentence patterns, paragraph development, word choices--and
have them start analyzing and bringing in examples. Let them, and you,
struggle with doing in-the-world writing that says something to
somebody. Then point out that academic writing, as you're asking them
to master, is another useful form--a tool that works in courses and
has its own rules and conventions.

2) What attitude do you as the teacher project about writing?

If you take it as "Geez, guys, I don't like doing this either, but
I can make you do it, and don't have to waste my time trying," that's
how the kids are going to feel. If you let them know that writing
isn't easy, that you too struggle when you try it, that writers try
several ways before locking in on patterns, that revise and edit and
proofread are just as essential steps as letting the ideas all hang
out and getting them down, that presenting a polished piece to the
reader is good manners as well as practical--if your reader doesn't
understand you because of having to concentrate on what you mean
due to mechanical errors, your message isn't getting across--

then you have a fighting chance of conveying that writing is an
important tool. If you value writing, they may.

3) Connect up the act of writing with rewards. Get some community
writers into your classroom. Go call up an ad agency or pr firm
and ask them to send over someone who writes for a living and likes
it. Bring in a newspaper or tv reporter. Grab the local movie critic.

Now I come at this from an absolutely unconventional English-teacher's
background. But I can show up in class with an assignment letter from an editor,
and the students track my progress (gathering info, putting it together,
drafting, revising, editing, proofing, seeing what the publication's
editor did to what I thought was a "perfect manuscript") in short,
2-minute "here's what's happening" bursts throughout the semester, and
see the check at the end of this--and they know there is, or can be,
a real payoff if they get competent at what we are asking them to do.

NCTE-talk members, sorry if these digressions show up in my
communication. I'm not that fluent on the Internet. I will sign off
from ncte, and then be available for online chat. Or responses...
janetbone@delphi.com 1/13