Fact: The average student cannot write an essay and doesn’t really want to. On the other hand, that same student will write more words in a day than the average length of a college essay.
I know I am not citing my sources here, because they are largely anecdotal. I ran several informal polls in my classes in order to figure out how much writing was going on in the span of a day. When I told students to include their 140 character texts, the number of words skyrocketed. The fact is they didn’t see texts as writing, and neither do most professors I talk to. This is where reality and academia generally part ways. See, texting is a form of writing and argumentation. While not accepted by the academic mainstream, it is quickly becoming the primary form of communication among students 18-25. We, as educators, are not doing our part to link the new world to the old thinking of what is an acceptable form of communication. Instead we are desperately swimming against the tide by teaching them that what they spend their hours doing is not the ‘right way’ to communicate. No, it wasn’t the right way to communicate, but in a world that is being broken up into digestible sound bytes, it is likely the new way to communicate. This and other similar revelations have led me to a certain understanding of the world. I am quickly learning that the way I taught can no longer be the way I teach.
Johnny can’t write because of me and the multitude of English professors that came before me. We bored him to death by repeatedly demanding that he complete the same tired tasks over and over again. We tried to jazz it up or even break it down into components/levels, but we taught writing all the same. Take for example the developmental college sequence. 071, 081, 091, 101, 102. Five classes linked by so-called ‘graduated language’ that ensures that students enjoy a deeper understanding of the rhetoric at each level. But what do they do at each level? They write essays. They write college essays and are held to ever narrowing standards for those essays. For a while I broke away from that trend. I taught 071-081 as paragraph writing classes and 091 and 101 as college essay classes with the 102 capstone being a self-directed research seminar.
See, I was still doing essays and I was creating artificial constructs to support my desires to have things be different at each level. People don’t write paragraphs. They write essays. Or they tweet. Or they write to a purpose. These are the things that were being ignored, which led to a student, who went through 081 and 091, becoming bored by the time they hit 101. What if each level offered a truly different style and meaning of writing, one that if stacked atop each other presented a body of evidence of how to write and were threaded together by the spine of the writing process?
If I could teach our tweeters one thing it would be economy of words. Think about what you want to say and find the way to say it in the clearest and most direct language. This is, of course, antithetical to the idea of writing an extended research essay. Students hear 20 pages and actually wet themselves, or they simply surrender. My school found hard evidence that a large percentage of 101 completers were not prepared for and often failed 102. Why? Because 101 was never that transition course that taught them how to expand their reasoning; it didn’t offer them an avenue to take a simplified thought and blow it up into a chain of reasoning that is undeniable by anyone seeking to challenge the argument. That is my new 101.
My new 091 focuses on reflective writing. In order to be successful learners, students need to be able to reflect on what they are learning and the process of learning itself. So in the context of making them aware of grammar and rhetorical strategies, I need to help them to reflect on how they learn and how writing is used. I need to make them more aware of the fact that they are writers and then I need to make them better.