Event date & time:
17.01.2020 at 16:00
One of the chief motivations behind writing Why They Can’t Write was seeing students enter our first-year writing class feeling essentially dispirited about the prospect of reading and writing.
I was not concerned about deficiencies in their skills. That we can work on. I was deeply concerned about their attitudes, however. There was no joy to be found in our particular writing Mudville.
In the book, I share the evidence of my own experience and student testimonies as to the source of their damaged spirits, essentially a system that privileges proficiency and standardization over exploration and growth.
Andy Schoenborn, an English teacher in Michiganand past president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of English, starts his semester by asking his students to reflect on their lives as readers and writers through “surveys” that are a series of questions asking them examine their “experiences,” “challenges,” and “goals” when it comes to reading and writing. This is in the service of introducing students to some of the “habits of mind” (curiosity, openness, engagement, creativity, persistence, responsibility, flexibility, metacognition) of writers as articulated in the Framework for Success in Postsecondary Learning.
What Andy Schoenborn’s students write in response to these prompts is both incredibly heartening and terribly distressing.
On the heartening side, the examples Andy shared via Twitter show thoughtful people capable of strong writing.
On the distressing side is the testimony regarding their lived experiences with reading and writing in school.
One student uses an extended cookie metaphor to contrast the writing she was tasked with in high school with what she’d experienced previously. High school has been a series of repetitive tasks, “I have (for the most part) only written one essay–introduction, three body paragraphs, and conclusion. I would clearly state my thesis, structure my evidence into three neat little pieces, and wrap everything up in five sentences rambling about how extremely significant my point was to the world.”
To this student, “My writing as well as my experiences with high school english in general ended up dry and flavorless, like a grocery store sugar cookie that sat on the shelf for too long. Sure, it’s beautifully shaped and frosted, but it usually doesn’t taste that great. It’s the type of cookie you only buy for its appearance.”
In contrast, in middle school, where the student was given more freedom to explore, “I enjoyed writing a lot more; rather than focusing on making a cookie look good, I could focus on making a cookie taste good. They were homemade, and cookies that are homemade tend to contain a part of the person who made them. Despite being rather misshapen and ugly compared to the store cookies, they at least tasted, if not good, how I wanted them to taste. I could write in a way that was meaningful to me, and as a result, I felt as though I improved and grew as a writer.”