Some Possible Reasons People May Have Trouble in Writing Classes

If you’ve read my Welcome page (please do), you know that this blog is about how, and whether, people can “be taught” to write better. It’s about what I think I DON’T know about teaching writing after twenty-two years. I’m not fishing for “tips” on how to teach better. I’ve got lots of those in years’ worth of files. Instead, I want to know more about the experiences of people who’ve found learning to write a challenge.

Of course, I know that there may be many reasons why I feel as if there’s something missing in my pedagogy.

First and foremost, I may be expecting too much of the process of learning to write itself. I’ve pointed out to colleagues in other fields that learning to write is incremental; it consists of many varied experiences and ongoing feedback in multiple venues, and each step adds a tiny cognitive gain to a growing edifice that simply cannot be piled up very high in a single college term. In other words, if you are not a strong writer already, fifteen weeks is not enough time to become one. I know this.

Second, it may be that what I’m seeing is not any particular difficulty that students encounter with the process of learning to write itself. It may, instead, be the result of a conscious decision many students make: I know she wants me to revise this again, and I know I could make it better if I did, but if I do, I’ll never be able to take the car in for an oil change and get my daughter to the doctor and cook dinner and study for my sociology final and make it to my job on time in the morning. So I’ll just have to let it go. When writing is hard (and it is, for everyone), it may just be that that little bit of extra effort that visible cognitive growth demands is just too much.

And third, of course, I may not be a very good teacher. I know I am not a brilliant one. I have many years of experience, much training, a clear idea of what makes good writing in each of the kinds of writing I teach, zillions of techniques for making that good writing happen, some good, some useless—and I constantly rethink and revise my assignments, my teaching tools, my methods of response and assessment. But the average student doesn’t find my classes particularly magical or exciting. In my defense, that’s partly because I’m not a romantic writer. I’m a working writer. I know just how hard writing is, and I see most of the writing that people are called on to do as a way of getting things done in the world. It may just be that students will never flourish without a more inspiring narrative to pull them along.

But again, that’s one of the things I may learn more about through this project. So here’s a starting point for questions: Think back to a time you weren’t satisfied with something you wrote. What do you think kept you from making it better? Time? Lack of feedback? Lack of knowledge? Something else?

In my pages sidebar, I’ve posted a set of ground rules for contributors to this blog and for me as a researcher who hopes to put any knowledge I gain to use. Other posts will be about the kinds of questions I would love for readers to respond to. Some of them will be about simple definitions, such as what exactly does it mean to write well?

Until then. . . .

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