Saturday, April 16, 2016

Let’s have required writing classes taught by actual writers

Three of my recent claims:

1. Students with autism need writing classes that don’t involve reading and writing about literary fiction;

2. English professors and literary theorists, some of them “Bad Writing Context” laureates, aren’t necessarily particularly good writers;

3. an under-used tool for appreciating literary fiction is to reverse-engineer the mechanics of plot and plotting

…all point towards a fourth:

4. both writing and literature classes should be taught by professional writers, and not necessarily by professional professors.

Creative writers would teach creative writing; essayists would teach essay writing; students would get to choose which genre best suits them. And creative writers would also teach the literature courses.

Where does this leave literature professors? Let them continue offering their courses, and let the market decide. Perhaps I’d choose “Coincidence and timing in comedies of manners” over “Engendering the body and destructive spectatorship,” but I don’t want to speak for everyone else.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

I agree that studying literature is a very poor basis for teaching writing, but professional writers are not necessarily good teachers, even if they are able to articulate what they do.

You left out some important forms of writing—it's not all creative writing and essays. What is desperately needed at most colleges is instruction in technical writing—the sort that scientists and engineers need to do, where clarity, correctness, completeness, and conciseness are all important.

What is needed at lower education levels is detailed instruction on sentence and paragraph construction. Way too many kids are getting to (and through) college with no idea what a topic sentence is nor why a paragraph should have one.

Adelaide Dupont said...


Topic sentences are indeed important to navigating a piece of non-fictional writing or highlighting a fictional piece.

In Australia there is a lot of instruction in technical/instructional writing as part of the Certificates of Education, Achievement and Vocational Education and Training. It is part of the 50 hours of coursework in English as well as the relevant subjects like Industry and Enterprise and many of the science, technology and social science/environment.

Articulating how and why you do it is important too as well as opening up to different ways.

We were taught about "accurate"; "relevant" and "complete" in information technology at the very least.

I think a lot of technical writing has been taken over by private providers in the business world.

The many forms of journalism can be taught and instructed.

"Lower education levels" like the first and second grade onward? As soon as people begin to think and formulate topics? Three and four year olds make topic sentences all the time. A paragraph may well take another ten years. Even now paragraphing is not my strength, especially in formal writing.

Creative writing - the idea.

And isn't philosophical writing = technical writing as well?

Katharine Beals said...

Since clarity, correctness, completeness, and concision are also important in essays, my sense is that technical writing skills can be taught in essay writing classes.

Of course, not all writers are good teachers. The same can be said of mathematicians, chemists, historians, etc. It would be nice to see colleges and universities place more emphasis on good teaching skills, but this is a broad issue that isn't specifically about writing instruction.

momof4 said...

Like most problems in education, this goes right back to k-5, which has apparently abandoned explicit instruction in spelling, grammar and composition. My small-town school started with grade 1 (no k or preschool, even private) and we were explicitly taught all three; first by copywork from the board, then by teacher dictation (words we already knew how to spell) and only when we could do that, did we compose on our own. We were explicitly taught the rules for capitalization, punctuation and sentence composition (subject/noun/pronoun, predicate, verb, adjectives and adverbs). Every year, through HS, we had more spelling, grammar and composition. By the end of 8th grade, most were competent writers - letters, reports, notices etc. - in proper style. We were also taught outlining/notetaking, so that we entered HS ready to handle lectures and work on style and literary/historical analysis (less for non-college-prep). We were rarely asked to write any sort of personal narrative or fictional story, although those were occasional options. Without that kind of instruction, most kids aren't ready for HS work, let alone college.

treehousekeeper said...

What is needed is for students to take an initial course in academic writing that focuses on argumentation. This course should be designed to teach students what they need to know to produce the writing required for their general ed requirements--so writing in the humanities and social sciences mostly, as most lower division science courses probably don't require papers (though my experience was back in the day, things could be different now). Then, after students declare their major, they should be required to take a genre specific writing course, possibly team taught by a writing instructor and a discipline specific instructor. Here students would focus on producing one or more professional quality pieces that conform to the conventions of the particular genre. This paper details an example of what I'm talking about:

Auntie Ann said...

The Economist has an article on how schools around the world fail autistic students:

>>A second aim should be to provide autistic children with schooling that suits them. A debate rages about when and how to include autistic children in mainstream classes. The evidence argues against blanket rules. Some do better when mixed in with other children and given additional support. Some need to be taught separately, either for their own sake or because they are disruptive. Others need a bit of both. Whatever the degree of integration, teaching autistic children effectively will require more funding, to train both specialist and mainstream teachers. In one study 60% of British teachers said they felt unprepared to teach autistic children.<<

Adelaide Dupont said...

@Auntie Ann:

Read that ECONOMIST editorial and "How not to squander the potential". [two separate articles].

"Either for their own sake or because they are disruptive". [Um, disruption is cool in business now!]

And "training the teachers" - when 60% of the teaching body say they feel unprepared...


Great point. With argumentation, the student takes on a role and starts as they mean to continue. I think this is done in developmental and formative writing.

Lower division science courses: their papers seem to be desirable, rather than expected. There's this 5-field database: method; hypothesis; results; conclusions; discussion.

A genre-specific writing course with team teaching: this is good. I can see C. S. Wyatt doing that.

Thank you for the Colorado State example.

One way for students to do their professional-quality papers is through THE UNDERGRADUATE TIMES which I have been reading for the past 18 months. Also many disciplines have in- and out-group journals.

Momof4: I appreciated the developmental clarifications you offered regarding the problems in education, in particular the lack or significant diminution of explicit instruction in areas that have had it traditionally.

Copywork: Homeschool and Etc has some good copywork for her current students who are both working with second grade materials in writing.

From the board is very exposing and the new technologies can be taken advantage of.

Teacher dictation may work well. The pace! The conditions!

And composing on your own: the next sentence or two. Great to have these three units separately and weaved/spiralled together.

Outlining/notetaking: I can see how that leads to/encourages/facilitates style. If you have a base in your notes you can improve your writing and sharpen the points and deepen them. We worked a heap on summarising.

I think it does work for historical analysis provided they are unified by time, place or situation. Like the theatre of neoclassicism.

"Ready to handle lectures" - talking and listening and reading and writing - this is a process!

Ah! So fictional writing/personal narrative - that was a sometimes food/rare treat for you and your contemporaries. We were encouraged to write nonfiction, poetry and drama by the time I was 14 or 15.

Yes - a lot of European countries start with grade 1. One state in Australia has only put in Foundation to the main schools in the 2016 school year to be embedded by 2018. So you can see the Queenslanders of 2026.