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Thread: HOW should writing be taught?

  1. #1
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    HOW should writing be taught?

    From elhi through the uni my schools never taught me HOW to write.
    They made us write a lot. They taught a lot of line editing but they never taught a process of HOW to write.

    When I was forced to write for my job I had to invent my own process about HOW to write.
    When you have to meet a deadline with word count, aimed at an audience, using a prescribed format,
    while being effective there is no way I could have pantsed that and kept my job.

    I found that I had to organise and plan in detail in order to succeed.

    A few elhi schools are starting to touch on the organisation as key to writing.
    But no school whether elhi or uni teaches HOW to write as a process other than filling in a template.
    Templates work for short papers students do, but really are not sufficient for longer papers or books.

    One professor described his approach to teaching a writing process in the washpost last year.
    But AFAIK no school has done anything to change their current methods of teaching how to write.

    So what should schools do to teach HOW to write. Pantsing is not really teachable. At least I can't see how to teach that.
    So should they try to teach a process around organising and planning, or should they just keep doing what they are doing now.

    I would suggest they develop a process around the 5 levels of editing, with possibly some related procedures supporting organising and planning.
    Then students would at least have been exposed to a logical method of writing and would be able to use whatever parts helped them while changing or omitting the rest.

    Those students who don't need/want the full process can pants as much as they want after they graduate.
    The others will at least have a sound basis to enable them to write when their jobs require it.

    My experience was that most people don't know how to write. I saw that both at a regular job as well as teaching courses at major unis.
    So it is clear that we need some way to better teach the writing process in our schools.

    What would you teach in our schools in order to teach students how to write longer papers and even books ?

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW cornflake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pat j View Post
    From elhi through the uni my schools never taught me HOW to write.
    They made us write a lot. They taught a lot of line editing but they never taught a process of HOW to write.

    When I was forced to write for my job I had to invent my own process about HOW to write.
    When you have to meet a deadline with word count, aimed at an audience, using a prescribed format,
    while being effective there is no way I could have pantsed that and kept my job.

    I found that I had to organise and plan in detail in order to succeed.

    A few elhi schools are starting to touch on the organisation as key to writing.
    But no school whether elhi or uni teaches HOW to write as a process other than filling in a template.
    Templates work for short papers students do, but really are not sufficient for longer papers or books.

    One professor described his approach to teaching a writing process in the washpost last year.
    But AFAIK no school has done anything to change their current methods of teaching how to write.

    So what should schools do to teach HOW to write. Pantsing is not really teachable. At least I can't see how to teach that.
    So should they try to teach a process around organising and planning, or should they just keep doing what they are doing now.

    I would suggest they develop a process around the 5 levels of editing, with possibly some related procedures supporting organising and planning.
    Then students would at least have been exposed to a logical method of writing and would be able to use whatever parts helped them while changing or omitting the rest.

    Those students who don't need/want the full process can pants as much as they want after they graduate.
    The others will at least have a sound basis to enable them to write when their jobs require it.

    My experience was that most people don't know how to write. I saw that both at a regular job as well as teaching courses at major unis.
    So it is clear that we need some way to better teach the writing process in our schools.

    What would you teach in our schools in order to teach students how to write longer papers and even books ?
    I'm sorry; I don't really understand what you mean.

    What do you mean by how to write?

    Every school I attended taught how to write, like how to construct an essay -- what goes in an intro, the point of body paragraphs, conclusions, thesis statements, outlining the whole mess, etc. That stepped up as students moved from simple, third-grade type essays to longer, more elaborate papers. In grad school there's a whole class on how to construct a thesis.

    Every kid I know has been taught some method, like the burger, the hourglass, and is usually forced to outline by many teachers, all the way through high school. In elementary we were taught how to write business letters, had to write a letter to a politician, asking about an issue I think in third, fourth and fifth grades.

    If you mean creative writing, I wasn't taught to outline, but I was taught basic story structure and how it related to books and stories we read. I don't think a one-size-fits-all approach to creative writing works.

    I agree many kids are lacking in basic grammar and construction but I'm not sure that's because schools don't actually teach it. Many kids in this country don't understand basic science or history either, but they're taught it.

  3. #3
    Travelling around the sun cbenoi1's Avatar
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    My teachers: experience and practice.

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    In general, I think the problem comes down to engagement.

    Many subjects are taught in ways that simply fail to engage student interest - and sometimes actively stamp on budding interests (as witness the many teachers who scowl at genre writing, or have the My Way Or The Highway approach to subjects that leaves many stranded on the shoulder.) As class sizes increase, school funding decreases, and testing becomes more important than long-term retention or knowledge gathering, it only gets worse.
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    Quote Originally Posted by cornflake View Post
    I'm sorry; I don't really understand what you mean.

    What do you mean by how to write?

    Every school I attended taught how to write, like how to construct an essay -- what goes in an intro, the point of body paragraphs, conclusions, thesis statements, outlining the whole mess, etc. That stepped up as students moved from simple, third-grade type essays to longer, more elaborate papers. In grad school there's a whole class on how to construct a thesis.

    Every kid I know has been taught some method, like the burger, the hourglass, and is usually forced to outline by many teachers, all the way through high school. In elementary we were taught how to write business letters, had to write a letter to a politician, asking about an issue I think in third, fourth and fifth grades.

    If you mean creative writing, I wasn't taught to outline, but I was taught basic story structure and how it related to books and stories we read. I don't think a one-size-fits-all approach to creative writing works.

    I agree many kids are lacking in basic grammar and construction but I'm not sure that's because schools don't actually teach it. Many kids in this country don't understand basic science or history either, but they're taught it.
    ===

    Clearly you are a lot younger than I am. My schools did not do that. I have found that many schools do teach the way you say yours did.
    And maybe your school was an exception as a professor in the field of teaching writing proposed his new method in that washpost article because the schools he knows do not teach writing effectively.

    Our graduate school did not have anything about writing a thesis. Again new methods and progress by the schools. Or at least yours.

    I am less interested in the type of writing than the method used , but I would expect that a writing process that worked well could be adapted for NF as well as stories or novels.


    Grammar is all that we were taught. I realise that many schools now may be weaker in that area while improving the methodology aspects of teaching how to write. And students do not read as much now as they are more into videos and shorthand for twooting.

    And unfortunately logical thinking is missing in too many schools too. That is a key aspect to organising and focusing your writing to be effective.
    Last edited by pat j; 11-29-2017 at 01:20 AM. Reason: added note

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    Quote Originally Posted by cbenoi1 View Post
    My teachers: experience and practice.

    -cb
    ============

    Been there , done that , failed miserably until I stopped spinning my wheels and devised a process to use that worked for me first.
    Then experience and practice were meaningful.

    Perfect practice makes perfect. Practicing mistakes does not help.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brightdreamer View Post
    In general, I think the problem comes down to engagement.

    Many subjects are taught in ways that simply fail to engage student interest - and sometimes actively stamp on budding interests (as witness the many teachers who scowl at genre writing, or have the My Way Or The Highway approach to subjects that leaves many stranded on the shoulder.) As class sizes increase, school funding decreases, and testing becomes more important than long-term retention or knowledge gathering, it only gets worse.
    ====

    I absolutely agree that people learn more and better if they are interested and not put off by the prof.

    If they scowl at genre writing they absolutely went ballistic about teaching writing for the real world where people have jobs and need to communicate.

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    i think most of my education in writing stories came from listening to them being told on front porches and around supper tables, etc. there is music in a well-told story. you gotta listen closely to hear it. but you listen closely because the story and the way it is told pulls you in. it grabs a dear part of you. i try to do that on the page. just my experience.
    Last edited by ancon; 11-29-2017 at 01:31 AM.

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    All of the schools I have been to gave some measure of freedom with writing, but I know what you mean by "template" writing.

    Most templates are used in things like reports and essays. Unfortunately, that's the standard, and I don't see that really changing. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, though. One can be creative as far as approach goes, by perhaps using questions and interesting personal anecdotes, but that's about it.

    Fiction has a seemingly endless amount of approaches, so if you are feeling confined by a bunch of "rights" and "wrongs", don't. As long as it holds your target audience's interest, you can go off on a monologue about paint drying - it's all in the delivery.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pat j View Post

    Clearly you are a lot younger than I am. My schools did not do that.
    I'm really old, and I remember being taught pretty much the same stuff as Cornflake by a child-loathing nun with a ruler - and my kids in the late 80s/90s learned the same sort of thing but without so much of the flogging. I wonder if you fell into that pedagogically experimental era when all sorts of new approaches were being tried out and some of them were good, but a lot of them weren't?

    ETA: For the Aussies - I looked it up. elhi = K-12. You're welcome.

    ETA2: It's a very interesting question, OP. I suspect that much of the process can be taught, but that the amount depends on interest, in the same way that any child can learn scales, and some children, forced to, can become very proficient musicians - but only those with a real interest will be able to add the unteachable quality to the playing that makes their playing exceptional.
    Last edited by mccardey; 11-29-2017 at 01:38 AM.

  11. #11
    practical experience, FTW indianroads's Avatar
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    I think that the mechanics of writing can and should be taught (especially these days (yes, I'm an old man - so get off my lawn)). The rest though - organization and structure... that knowledge / ability encroaches into many, many other endeavors, and I see this as a separate subject.

    When I returned to college to learn to do computer programming - they taught a lot of structure (more than most programmers need or use).
    <tangent>
    We even learned to diagram our program on flow charts - which of course led to the laughable "And then a miracle happens" box right before the program ends.
    </tangent>
    Actually I'm having a flashback from a Dean Koontz novel called Mr. Murder. Not relevant - but amusing.

    Anyway, for writing I think we have to learn by doing, and find what works for us. The process we use should evolve with each new project.

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    I've taught a lot of college comp and lit classes.
    I got my M.A. in English in 1985, and a Ph.D. in 2008. I'm not sure where you went to school, but every college I've ever taught at, it was standard to teach about the writing process, including prewriting, drafting and revising, among other things.

    It's so standard a methodology that there's a pedagogical short hand for it; Google "writing as process."

    This is one of several handouts I used to use for English comp classes. These days the underpinnings of comp training and rhetorical training include modeling the process, that is actually showing students what we mean by doing it, as well as providing a variety of techniques to suit different kinds of writing and writers.

    Writing fiction drama, poetry, etc. also has a variety of techniques and strategies and methodologies, many of which are shared by standard academic prose, and there are all manner of workshops, books, and classes to help. There's a certain level of competency that can be taught; that's what composition classes are for. Beyond that, the writer is in charge of his or her own learning.
    Last edited by AW Admin; 11-29-2017 at 02:32 AM.

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    I am not what you would call young and I was taught essay and journalist structure. Grammar not so much.
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    interesting.

    pedagogical. now there is a word you don't run into every day!

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    I'm also not entirely sure what you mean.

    From elementary school into college, we were taught how to write many times. Granted, despite that, I still had to teach my friends because they clearly weren't listening to the teachers haha.

    Personally, I learned most of the technical stuff through professor corrections. They'd take a point off and circle what was wrong and why, and I'd make sure to remember that for next time.

    As for creative writing, I can't speak to that, because I never took a class in it. I feel like most writing rules, guidelines, common themes, so on, can be learned on one's own through research and general reading. Creativity, however, isn't something so easily taught.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pat j View Post
    ============

    Been there , done that , failed miserably until I stopped spinning my wheels and devised a process to use that worked for me first.
    Then experience and practice were meaningful.

    Perfect practice makes perfect. Practicing mistakes does not help.
    Isn't process born from practice and experience?

    Schools give a baseline. I remember outlining and brainstorming in elementary school; I learned a process for building a research thesis in high school. Same with some short story development flow diagrams (which I don't use now, but I learned from them.) We did a few different types of essay structures in Intro Composition in undergrad, which was a required course at my liberal arts school. Maybe some of it could have been improved? Sure, I guess. I think individuals have to develop their own process out of the myriad tools available.

    In the end, I'm not sure I understand what you're asking.

    If I had one suggestion for someone wanting to learn how to write, it would be to read more (and more) in the genres and styles you want to write. Beyond that, practice and experience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pat j View Post
    What would you teach in our schools in order to teach students how to write longer papers and even books ?
    Schools are teaching their pupils how to write school papers already. I don't think schools should teach how to write fiction books at all. But in school there is the study of "literature" which shows how the greats have done it. And in school you also learn how to understand text and make conclusions. It's enough for anybody with interest in fiction book writing to continue on their own and explore further, outside school.

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    Quote Originally Posted by pat j View Post
    A few elhi schools are starting to touch on the organisation as key to writing.
    But no school whether elhi or uni teaches HOW to write as a process other than filling in a template.
    Templates work for short papers students do, but really are not sufficient for longer papers or books.
    When I was in school (I haven't run across the term elhi before but I assume you mean K-12 schools), they were big on organization and outlining. It made me think (for a while) that I was "bad" at writing.

    I loved reading, enjoyed writing little stories, the way kids do, but I got pretty mediocre grades on my essays. The teachers required us to turn in an outline as part of the process. I never "got" the how of outlines (they always dinged me for not getting when to have roman numerals versus letters versus numbers for subcategories), and could never figure out what I wanted to say, in more than a general way, until I was trying to say it.

    I think they emphasized this back then because word processors didn't come into wide use until I was in college. The concept of writing was firmly centered around the outline >> penciled rough draft >> final (typed) copy formula.

    It didn't work for me. I finally came into my own as a writer and started getting compliments (and A grades) from my teachers on essays in later high school, when they stopped making us outline before writing the paper. I had a couple of teachers in college who insisted on outlines, and I learned to fool them by writing the first draft of my paper first, then constructing the outline afterwards. at least it kept me from writing the paper the night before, since the outline was usually due a week before.

    I work faster and better as a pantser, or with (at most) a general idea of where I'm going. As for working under deadline, when I was in grad school, my advisor wanted me to write a grant proposal. I mucked around with outlines, because after all, it was important to know what you're going to put in something like that. However, this approach left me staring at a blank page.

    Finally, on a Friday the week before the thing was due, when my advisor was giving me his "disappointed" look and muttering that he didn't think I could finish it if I didn't have a draft by now, I chucked the outline and pantsed it. I had a draft of the thing done for him on Monday (he was amazed, and even more amazed at how organized and well-written it was), and we got it polished and in on time.

    I get a cascade of ideas once I'm writing something, and even more ideas when I'm going through a draft (complete or partial) I have written.

    No, we didn't get the grant in the end (though it made the final cut before being rejected and got high ratings from the committee), but everyone who read it thought it was very well written.

    My point is that process is a really personal thing, and people aren't all alike. I agree that teachers should work with kids on process, but I don't think they should insist that there is one "best" way to organize one's writing that works for everyone. IMO, too many people think they can bottle what works for them and force it on teach everyone else how to do it to. Being told that you will fail unless you follow one specific method is very anxiety provoking.

    I don't mean that teachers should let kids flounder with no assistance with process either. Teachers should help kids to explore different ways of doing this, from rigid, formal outlines to pantsing it, and let the kids learn what works for them. I think a lot of anxiety about writing (and math for that matter) and the firm beliefs many have that they are simply "bad" at them are because of the "one method fits all" philosophy.

    Quote Originally Posted by ancon View Post
    interesting.

    pedagogical. now there is a word you don't run into every day!
    You do in academic settings, where people talk about teaching on a daily basis.
    Last edited by Roxxsmom; 11-29-2017 at 04:21 AM.
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    I learned to outline in school, and it's a method that works fine for me, as long as I'm writing non-fiction. But when I'm writing a novel (specifically, my fantasy novels), I'm creating both a world and the characters who people it. Sometimes I need room to move outside the limits set by an outline.

    So...I don't outline. When I start, I have a good idea of where I'm headed, but figuring out how to get there is part of the pleasure of writing. I've written five novels without an outline. I wouldn't pretend for an instant that it's the only way to write, only that it works for me.
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    Thanks to all for their views and comments.

    I am sensing that I am really old andor my schools were so rural that they were out of touch.
    The only thing I was ever taught was grammar and lowest level line editing. There was never outlines or organisation or development editing or polishing editing.

    To be fair one teacher once did talk about outlining. She was clueless. She described the structure of the Harvard style outline but assumed that somehow we could start at the top and just write down every line in sequence and get it right.

    Appparently the schools have improved a lot according to many comments here.

    I did teach at some unis a decade ago and at that time my students had no idea about HOW to write.
    They just winged it , adhocked it, andor pantsed it; and most of the stuff disproved Sturgeons law as being optimistic.
    Closer to what Hemingway said about the first draft.

    So did the schools regress again or is this a hit and miss situation that depends on the region or state and how they teach.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mpack View Post
    Isn't process born from practice and experience?

    Schools give a baseline. I remember outlining and brainstorming in elementary school; I learned a process for building a research thesis in high school. Same with some short story development flow diagrams (which I don't use now, but I learned from them.) We did a few different types of essay structures in Intro Composition in undergrad, which was a required course at my liberal arts school. Maybe some of it could have been improved? Sure, I guess. I think individuals have to develop their own process out of the myriad tools available.

    In the end, I'm not sure I understand what you're asking.

    If I had one suggestion for someone wanting to learn how to write, it would be to read more (and more) in the genres and styles you want to write. Beyond that, practice and experience.
    ========

    Reading is good for improving, not so much for learning the basics of how to write.

    I wish I had your schools. Mine never did outlining or brainstorming.

    I guess what I am asking is what textbook could you use to teach businessmen how to write for business faster, better, cheaper, easier to end up with a focused document by deadline, within word count, using required format, and that is aimed at the correct target audience.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Antipode91 View Post
    I'm also not entirely sure what you mean.

    From elementary school into college, we were taught how to write many times. Granted, despite that, I still had to teach my friends because they clearly weren't listening to the teachers haha.

    Personally, I learned most of the technical stuff through professor corrections. They'd take a point off and circle what was wrong and why, and I'd make sure to remember that for next time.

    As for creative writing, I can't speak to that, because I never took a class in it. I feel like most writing rules, guidelines, common themes, so on, can be learned on one's own through research and general reading. Creativity, however, isn't something so easily taught.
    ======

    All we had were grammar corrections which taught us grammar but not how to write.
    The Socratic method is not very effective. At least when I suffered through it.

    Creativity is a separate issue to me. I know techniques for creativity and how to teach them.

    My interest is in how would you teach people to write for business faster , better, cheaper, easier.

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    Quote Originally Posted by indianroads View Post
    I think that the mechanics of writing can and should be taught (especially these days (yes, I'm an old man - so get off my lawn)). The rest though - organization and structure... that knowledge / ability encroaches into many, many other endeavors, and I see this as a separate subject.

    When I returned to college to learn to do computer programming - they taught a lot of structure (more than most programmers need or use).
    <tangent>
    We even learned to diagram our program on flow charts - which of course led to the laughable "And then a miracle happens" box right before the program ends.
    </tangent>
    Actually I'm having a flashback from a Dean Koontz novel called Mr. Murder. Not relevant - but amusing.

    Anyway, for writing I think we have to learn by doing, and find what works for us. The process we use should evolve with each new project.
    ========

    We improve by doing. We learn best by being told and shown how to do it first.

    The basic process should be the same. I tailor mine by size of project. Others tailor theirs for personal preference.

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    Scribe of the girls in the basement Marissa D's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    (I haven't run across the term elhi before but I assume you mean K-12 schools)
    Neither have I. Took a minute to parse it out.

    Quote Originally Posted by Roxxsmom View Post
    My point is that process is a really personal thing, and people aren't all alike. I agree that teachers should work with kids on process, but I don't think they should insist that there is one "best" way to organize one's writing that works for everyone. IMO, too many people think they can bottle what works for them and force it on teach everyone else how to do it to. Being told that you will fail unless you follow one specific method is very anxiety provoking.

    I don't mean that teachers should let kids flounder with no assistance with process either. Teachers should help kids to explore different ways of doing this, from rigid, formal outlines to pantsing it, and let the kids learn what works for them. I think a lot of anxiety about writing (and math for that matter) and the firm beliefs many have that they are simply "bad" at them are because of the "one method fits all" philosophy.
    A few years back I talked to the Creative Writing club at my daughters' middle school, and met a boy who was in despair: his teacher made everyone write and turn in outlines for creative pieces, and he just. couldn't. Whenever he outlined something, he said, he lost all desire to write it. I explained to him about plotters and pantsers and that there was nothing wrong with his process--he could "pants" his own writing all he wanted, and that was fine, but he still had to turn in the outlines for class work. He was so relieved--I think he'd gotten it into his mind that outlining was the only way he would ever be able to be a writer, and that there was something fundamentally wrong with him. Poor kid. I wanted to smack his teacher upside the head (along with a high school creative writing teacher a few years later who told his classes they couldn't use "said" as a dialogue tag because it was too boring.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Fullon_v4.0 View Post
    All of the schools I have been to gave some measure of freedom with writing, but I know what you mean by "template" writing.

    Most templates are used in things like reports and essays. Unfortunately, that's the standard, and I don't see that really changing. That doesn't have to be a bad thing, though. One can be creative as far as approach goes, by perhaps using questions and interesting personal anecdotes, but that's about it.

    Fiction has a seemingly endless amount of approaches, so if you are feeling confined by a bunch of "rights" and "wrongs", don't. As long as it holds your target audience's interest, you can go off on a monologue about paint drying - it's all in the delivery.
    ========

    The advantage of templates is that they have a chance to write a better paper. Before templates the writing was horrible. Not that it is so much better now.
    At least at the unis I taught at; the students' writing was bad. And if they had seen any templates they chucked them when they left high school.

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