Wick Communications

Can you teach writing?

In Books on August 3, 2017 at 2:42 pm

There is a fascinating discussion of the art of teaching young students to write on the New York Times website at the moment. It’s prompted by the fear that young people are worse writers than young people of the past. Among the startling figures: three-quarters of both eighth- and 12-graders lack proficiency in writing, according to one educational study.

Not that this concern is anything new. The Times story asserts that more than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874.

The question is how to promote better writing, particularly at a time when there is so much distraction and seemingly so little attention span.

Some suggest working at the sentence level. Line editing with students. To me, that feels like advanced work and not much fun for people who aren’t really all that invested in being better writers.

The Times story opens with a teacher trying to get student juices flowing by reading Anne Lamott’s classic writing inspirational “Bird by Bird.” You could do worse that that. If you haven’t read it, you really should. As another teacher says, “You hope that by exposing them to great writing, they’ll start to hear what’s going on.”

There is a certain osmosis that goes on when you read. You could read all of Dickens’ work and never create your own “Great Expectations,” of course, but I bet your expectations would be greater nonetheless. Reading gives writers a sense of rhythm, a look at proper grammar, a feel for storytelling. Reading might not make you a great writer, but you won’t be a great writer unless you read. …

Think of it this way: Would you be a good football player if you never watched the game? Do you know a good chef who doesn’t eat others’ cooking?

Writing is the foundation upon which we tell stories of community. That foundation is built upon the solid ground provided by the good writing we have read ourselves. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but sometimes that a satisfying thing for a writer to do.

Clay

 

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