Something happened on twitter this week that motivated me to write this post. Generally, I’ve noticed a bit of a trend (granted, this is sampling bias) of Higher Ed folks tweeting, facebooking, reddit-ing, and otherwise publicly mentioning, kvetching, and snarking about students. Largely, this has been about students’ writing. Then, I noticed that someone else noticed, too. And then, there was a backlash. I am of the opinion that there is a fine line between being snarky and bullying. Satire loses its power in my eyes when it takes aim at the powerless. It is one thing to laugh with a person when they have a typo or an unfortunate word substitution (thong for thing, for example) (iPhone auto-correct gets me in trouble regularly. I once blew up an eye vessel laughing too hard at damnyouautocorrect.com). It is quite another to be laughed at.
Listen, we all get tired of feeling like we are repeating ourselves to our students. We get frustrated that nothing seems to change. But openly complaining on twitter is counterproductive at best, and hurtful at worst. The thing is that we can teach all we want; it is the learning that matters.
In my experience, a student not taking care with his or her paper is a result of not taking a risk in his or her writing. And really, why would a student take a risk when he or she risks being openly mocked when they fail? I have seen third grade classrooms, steeped in the writing workshop approach, produce essays that would put my eleventh graders to shame. The third graders’ supportive classroom environment allowed them to take risks and grow as writers. I also have worked with adults terrified to show me their writing, because all they have known are writing teachers who myopically and fanatically focus on grammatical and spelling errors, thereby sacrificing risk-taking (and along with it voice, argument, and all the other aspects of writing that makes it wonderful.
I have some suggestions for addressing this pressing problem of poor student writing. Some truths: writing is not easy, and teaching writing is even harder. Here is the beginning of a list of resources (not exhaustive by any means!) that I have personally found valuable as a teacher of writing and as a writer myself. Please feel free to add your own voice to this conversation in the hopes of being productive.
- As my friend Troy Hicks says, “Get thee to a Writing Project” Check out the piles of resources while you do. This is the very best professional development for teaching writing you can find.
- Digital Is: chock full of real-life situations of teachers teaching digital writing.
- To teach grammar so that it actually improves student writing rather than making it worse (skill-and-drill=much worse), check out Don Killgallon’s sentence composing work. This can be adapted K16.
- More for grammar instruction that works with the writing instead of against it: Constance Weaver’s Grammar Plan Book.
- Even if you are teaching in Higher Ed, familiarize yourself with Lucy Calkins’ Writing Workshop approach. What she does with little kids will inspire you and it can be adapted for any age.
- Social networks: on twitter #engchat is for anyone teaching English/writing; #FYCchat is great for first year composition folks. And, of course, the most amazing social network of all: The English Companion Ning.