For those of you who live outside of the world of composition studies, I'd like to explain what all the fuss is about.
I kid you not, the advice piece opens with this:
"My students can’t write a clear sentence to save their lives, and I’ve had it."
Please understand, this teacher's job is difficult.
Teaching students to write in a college setting is a profoundly difficult task...
But that is not the students' fault.
Students arrive at colleges and universities each semester with some writing skills, and then something frustrating (but important) happens.
The rules change.
Institutions ask students to repurpose those skills and apply them to a set of activities most students have never engaged in before.
Writing is no longer a way to show a teacher that "I did the reading."
Suddenly students are expected to use writing to critique a reading, analyze lab results, generate new understandings of a complex topic, and the list goes on.
Our most fortunate students may have started doing some of that in 11th or 12th grade, but it is an ability that requires years to develop. And while that ability is developing, general writing performance almost always dips a bit.
So, this advice piece starts in a bad place, a place that demonstrates a failure to understand what it is we are asking our students to work towards.
And that's just the opening sentence.
The author goes on to argue there's something else making his job difficult: The discipline of Composition Studies itself.
I'm not going to get into the weeds on this, but here's a breakdown of what happens.
The author lists three core principles associated with quality writing instruction.
The author states he has tried to teach using those principles.
The author claims the principles "rarely work."
The author goes back to blaming students.
The author tells us that...
- "Students do not revise."
- Students do not know how to give good feedback to their peers
- Students don't use good advice when they get it
- Students don't know how to use basic argument structures
To which, I imagine many of my colleagues responded with (and please feel free to insert the profanity of your choice), "Do your job!"
We are teaching people how to write for academic purposes. Revision is necessary. The ability to recognize good writing is necessary. Understanding feedback from peers and mentors is necessary. The ability to make complex arguments is necessary.
The ability to "write a clear sentence" is not enough, and if we ask students to do all the necessary work, the students' sentences are going to get messy.
Stop complaining about how hard their work is.
Get in there and help them do the hard work.