Friday, December 4, 2015

The High School/College Writing Classroom Disconnect

I believe there is a disconnect between writing as it is taught in secondary education and what happens in the college composition classroom.
I know I am not the only instructor who believes that the early part of the semester (and beyond) involves a kind of “deprogramming” of some beliefs and habits that have been inculcated prior to students arriving in college. As a rule (to which there are exceptions), many students come armed with a series of writing “rules” that are meant to be followed, or else. Essays are five paragraphs long, and should never contain “I,” “you,” or “we.” Some have been told that each paragraph should be limited to 5 (or 7 or 9) sentences, and that all concluding paragraphs start with “In conclusion.”
These rules are not purposeless. They can help give writing shape, and can guard against some of the worst excesses that writers of any age and experience may indulge in[1].
And when it comes to the kinds of high stakes standardized assessments students are primarily subjected to, writing to these rules is a veritable necessity.
I do not mean my criticisms as an indictment of the necessary, difficult, deeply unappreciated work of primary and secondary educators. To the extent there is a disconnect, I think it is the fault of higher education which has done very little to communicate the purposes and processes of the college writing classroom to the larger world. I don’t think we do it particularly well even inside our own college and university communities.

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