Monday, December 19, 2011

Writing is Complicated

by Alison Hart

Since I am new to Pencil Tips, I want to shout out a cheery “hello” and a rousing “thank you” for inviting me to put in my five cents about writing and also to introduce myself.  I have been writing and publishing children’s books for, ahem, decades and teaching even longer. For twenty years I taught special education classes in Maryland both elementary and high school. Since 1995, I have been teaching pre-college reading and writing classes at Blue Ridge Community College in Virginia.  My classes are hugely diverse. I have students from countries all over the world including Iraq, Cuba and Mexico; teens straight from high school; military vets and active duty soldiers; and adults returning to college for retraining and new careers. They all have one thing in common: their reading and writing skills need improvement so they can succeed in a college program.
If you do the math, you will see that I have been teaching students who have difficulty with reading and writing for, um—let me get out my finger calculator—thirty-nine years.  For all of those thirty-nine years, I have also been searching for new ideas, new methods, and ‘ah ha’ moments on how to be the best teacher possible. My techniques and materials have changed and evolved, and yet, I still don’t have answers. How to successfully teach and motivate all students to be better writers remains a mystery.
One revelation I have had is that writing is incredibly complicated.  For example, if you task-analyze how to write alliteration, which is only one poetic device, students would need to understand many skills before successfully crafting their own. (See Laura Krauss Melmed’s terrific blog on “Amazing Alliteration.”)  For some students, alliteration will fly naturally from their brains and onto their papers with creative joy. For other students, alliteration will be a “woeful, avoid-worthy, writing wreck.” 
If a fun device, such as alliteration, can be daunting, how can a student ever craft a well-researched, college-level essay with cited sources? The list of needed skills to write is endless. Not only must students  have a knowledge of grammar, sentence construction, punctuation and vocabulary, they must understand the nuances of narrative flow, paraphrasing, crafting a thesis statement and topic sentences, point of view, description, supporting details, and the reader as an audience (to name just a few).  No wonder the acquisition of writing skills seems mind-boggling to most of my students, who have had limited opportunities in logical thinking much less writing and-even worse--who rarely read.  Which leads me to my second revelation: the Pencil Tips blog is MUCH needed because writing is incredibly complicated, but it is also incredibly important. I am excited to join in, be inspired, share ideas, discuss problems, and keep communicating and learning about this important skill. 

Thank you! Alison

1 comment:

  1. Nice to meet you and hear a bit about you. As a fellow teacher, I'm looking forward to reading your posts and finding new tips on how to make learning to read and write easier for people.