Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Adventures in Comp: Part One, Untraining

Since Katherine's going to New York to lobby for SCWP, she's asked me to fill in for her during her composition class Thursday. I went with her today as a warm up, i.e. so the students know just who the heck I am when I'm there Thursday. During class today, the students handed in "brainstorms." They're exactly what they sound like. Katherine told the class to just do some jotting down of what topic they want to explore, some possibilities for argument, where they could get started, etc. Her only specification was that they should be about a page long.

When everyone had them in and had split off to do some computer research, I looked through them. You know what I saw? Almost every person wrote their brainstorm in paragraph(s) format.

These students are, with one exception, all traditional, fresh out of high school, students. Fresh out of the public K-12 education system which indoctrinates all students in The Writing Process (Yup, it's capitalized, and singular) in which there is a right and wrong way to do everything from come up with an idea to presenting the final, five-paragraph, product.

There's only one small problem with this indoctrination: it doesn't work. Quick show of hands, how many of you write according to the precise formula you were taught in school? Exactly.

When I was in school I had teachers who wanted me to outline before I wrote my rough draft. This was an important step, they said, and I absolutely couldn't start writing until I had outlined. If I did the steps out of order, I was doing it wrong. Right? Whatever. I did what worked for me, despite their admonitions, and wrote my rough draft first. Then, since the teacher demanded it, I wrote up an outline which followed my rough draft (but I turned it in first, even though I wrote it second, because it came first).

Now, skip forward in time to a time when I'm sitting around with creative writers, talking about the writing process. Everyone's is different, and I'm far from the only one where The Writing Process doesn't work. In fact, now that I think of it, I can only think of one (two?) writers I know who, for instance, outline.

Back in class: During the discussion time when Katherine asked each student about their idea for their paper, a lot of the students' answers showed how uncertain that student was about whether or not they were doing it "right." Their emphasis was not on writing a good paper, but pleasing the instructor.

So let's roll this all up together. In all my talks with other students/writers, reading the theory, talking with professors, etc. it keeps coming back to this question of ownership. Good writing is writing that comes from the writer owning it. If we don't have power over what we write, how we write it, how can we write anything worthwhile? That said, a lot of standardized K-12 education is counter-productive to writing. The one-size-fits-all model (CSAP, anyone?) displaces ownership and sets students behind once they hit higher ed. As Katherine said, we've got to "untrain" them.

Here's my question for you: How much did K-12 writing instruction help you? Hinder you? How did you figure out your writing process? Has your process always been the same?

1 comment:

Whittaker Luckless said...



Tah-dah! I walk into the room, and destroy all K-12 thoughts! With a hammer, the size of your face.

I didn't understand that "in paragraphs" comment. When I brainstorm things go into paragraphs. Sometimes. I mean, there are different types of brain storming. There's brainstorming on one topic...and, I think I'm going to go write a blog.