Monday, December 15, 2008

Illiterate Writers?

Collecting my senior essays last week, I was so sad to see their writing. Frankly it was dismal and certainly not at a senior level of writing. I wonder if we're sending kids into college being illiterate writers.

We have this conversation often in the English department:

"I know I taught my 9th graders how to write thesis statements. They write them again and again! And yet, on the final, they just can't generate one!"

"My sophomore students say they don't know what one is!"

"Juniors say the same thing. Or they stare at me blankly. Thesis? I can't write one."

"Why can't kids keep this information?"

We discuss this problem and are addressing this slowly in our PLC groups, but it continues to amaze me year after year. I wonder if the "one shot writing" is a culprit. That's where we assign a type of writing and even if they are allowed to rewrite it, it is a one-time thing. We then go onto another type of essay, explication, or response. Maybe our kids cannot hold onto information that's given in such isolated events. It makes sense; we don't learn to play baseball with only 1 practice. ...Not even 4 practices, or even 8. In order to be proficient, students need practice again and again and again.

I fear our rigor with literary analysis gets over their head so quickly, they feel unattached to their writing and simply try to fulfill the writing requirement without real ownership in their own thoughts and analysis.

It could be that kids are lazy, unwilling to use what a teacher has taught them from the year before; this is what we conclude every year. However, I'm afraid that there's enough grade-grubbers, people pleasers in the world of students that to see this trend year in and out, seems naive. I think we need to considerate the age, the assignment's purpose, and begin to figure out how to practice writing like coaches have their little leaguers practice a level swing at home plate.

2 Comments:

At 5:35 AM, Blogger Megumi said...

I have just had a very similar experience -- finished grading a set of literary analysis essays that were uniformly horrible, and I realized that the sinking feeling I had was at least partially from guilt. I didn't give them the kind of instruction they needed to be successful. But I don't know if I have the patience or time in the curriculum to give them enough practice. It's frustrating. Thanks for the post.
Megumi

 
At 11:34 AM, Blogger bkitch said...

Great post :) What I find in Spanish (in Spanish 4 especially when they write various essays)is that students have no idea how to organize their ideas and expand on ideas with details. Most of my year 4 students don't even start a new paragraph when beginning a new idea. The students always complain to me, "this isn't English class!"
What a ridiculous comment I tell them. Writing will be a part of anything/everthing you do! My favorite are the basic year 1 essays in Spanish (realize they know very little Spanish) can't make a cohesive essay, they usually read something like this...
"Hello, my name is Juan. I am tall. I like school. I am skinny. I don't like to ski. I have a dog. My Math teacher is Mrs. Korn. I am sad. I don't like homework. I eat a lot."

What???? I tell them they need to reorganize their ideas and make a cohesive piece of writing. Maybe we (all subject) could use some of the same graphic organizers??? I don't know what the answer is :)

 

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