Recently, in a creative-writing context, diekreuzen wrote:
I’m glad I missed my last fiction class. Since we’re coming to the end, students are starting to get touchy about their progress. They wonder why their writing hasn’t gotten better. They’re lashing out at the critiques, questioning their usefulness. Such displays make me cringe–like witnessing adult temper tantrums.
All of this is the unhappy realization that no one can tell you how to write. You have to figure it out for yourself.
I have been thinking about this. Post-midterm, I have been making strong efforts to ensure students in my elementary writing don’t just discard the skills they’ve been working on mastering. It’s an unfortunate fact that when students have the experience of preparing for crazy tests like the University Entrance Exams, in which memorizing everything and then, post-exam, forgetting as much as possible is the norm, students can develop a deeply-ingrained habit of discarding whatever it was they learned before midterms. (Even more shocking was the girl who came to me last week to clarify what the difference between this type of list and that type of list was: I cannot fathom how she completed the midterm without knowing it solid!) Sometimes I throw in exercises where, among other things, they have to use this or that technique from before the midterm. During one of our short-classes, I even had the students make up an inventory of things they should have learned thus far, and then told them all to write me a letter using as many of those techniques as possible, and then to mail it to my office postal address (for a checkmark).
As I noted in my comments on diekreuzen’s post, linked above, I think a good teacher can make students a little more aware of things in their writing, a little more sensitive to things they ought to watch, a little more skilled in the mechanics of things. I tell them they still have t come up with something interesting to say or to write about, but the technical stuff, that’s what I’m giving them — the tools to say what they want. Of course, during the “Learning Inventory” we had, I asked them what they thought of their progress, and some of them were quite dubious. They seemed to feel that they’d made no progress at all, until I had them catalogue all the skills we’d covered. Then I reminded them that writing really well takes a long time, and involves both a lot of practice and a lot of reading, but that as far as using these skills to organize their writing, they’ve made the first few steps. Then I tell them if they’re planning on taking another writing course, they’ve better keep practicing.
(I think I’ll ask them if they want me to leave the classblog up this summer. But I think the majority will probably say no.)