On Receiving Writing Instruction Williams January 28, 2014 Gillian Paku 11 Comments Post here your thoughts on being at the receiving end of writing instruction.
11 thoughts on “Williams”
Being at the receiving end of writing instruction is something I’ve become accustomed to in college, but I have never received instruction that is as in depth as the instruction we all receive in this class. I have taken classes with Dr. Paku before, and during those classes I learned some of the key facets of writing clearly and concisely. Yet, looking back at my papers from Dr. Paku’s class, I realize that my academic writing can be confusing and unclear at times. As a lot of what we’ve read so far in class has demonstrated (Williams, G&B, etc.), unclear writing is indeed everywhere around us…even in writing considered highly academic. As I discussed in class, the first step to entering an academic discourse is understanding the discourse, and unclear writing acts as an unnecessary barrier to understanding, which keeps individuals out of the conversation. I believe these barriers to discourse are detrimental to academia, because from my experience I’ve found that my thinking and writing is almost always improved when I discuss it with others. Therefore, by barring individuals from a conversation, one limits the potential of a discourse. One’s ideas can improve through ongoing conversation with others, and when there are more voices and perspectives in a conversation, the conversation becomes more advanced.
I hope that opening paragraph explained why I believe being able to write clearly and concisely is important. The first step to teaching good writing is not only being able to write well, though, but to understand how it is we are able to write well. In the first few exercises we’ve done in class, I’ve noticed that I can often correct unclear sentences, but can’t explain why. I have difficulty explaining how I write. As mentioned in Graff and Birkenstein, some writers acquire the skill of writing simply from reading good writing. As teachers, though, it is not only our duty to write well, but to transfer this skill to others. One of the main reasons I took this class was to learn how to effectively teach students how to write. As I have slowly begun to realize, in order to achieve this goal, I need to better understand my own writing.
Connor, I really appreciate what you said about writing being used to exclude populations of people from entering into certain discourses; it’s especially ironic because writing is a form of communication, which seems likelier to invite people into a discussion than to shut them out. With that being said, I think you’re completely right that academic writing is especially guilty of distancing people from some conversations. It’s one thing if the language used to communicate is so technical or field-specific that it is inherently difficult for the layperson to understand, but it’s another thing when the idea is not particularly complex and could easily be conveyed in a straightforward manner, but isn’t.
I also enjoyed reading your thoughts on analyzing our own writing. I found myself in a similar situation during our first few meetings when we were required to take a step back and uncover our personal idiosyncrasies. To me, it’s odd that a topic we have studied for so long can feel so foreign. The ability to write is natural for most of us, but the ability to describe where this skill comes from is not.
I’m sure it’s quite obvious how much I’ve been struggling to make sense of the subject/agent/verb/action material, and I hope I am not alone when I describe this difficulty. I’ve always loved English for the very reason that I understand it easily, so cultivating a passion for language and literature came naturally. However, what we have been doing with the Williams chapter has felt blurry and sometimes even unchartered for me. The way my brain hurts when I am trying to solve a difficult math problem – how I have to go back and rethink about the same information multiple times, working through the tangles slowly and begrudgingly – this is how I feel about Williams. It’s certainly a blow to my English major pride to struggle with these basic rules of clear writing, but I do find it to be making more sense the longer it’s studied. I hope that by the time I truly grasp these concepts confidently, I will be able to identify a way to pass this knowledge on to others in a comprehensible way.
I can sympathize with how you’re feeling, Katie. It felt strange and foreign to start really considering how to explain what I do while I am writing. It was like trying to consider how exactly I move when I walk and, much like that, I feel that the act of (over)considering it made it more difficult to perform. My reaction toward this process was a bit different from yours, though.
I was just as challenged as you were when faced with the verb/action/subject/agent conundrum, but while it was a bit frustrating to find that the skill that had always been my forte had become my enemy, I also found myself becoming elated by the experience. Part of it, I think, was my natural enjoyment of puzzles and wordplay, but I think the real source of my excitement was the feeling of progress. I feel as though my writing capabilities increased very dramatically early in high school and subsequently reached a sort of plateau for the most part; to legitimately feel as though I am becoming a better writer is just exhilarating, especially since I understand how and why it’s happening. I don’t know if high school students who may be less inclined towards writing would feel the same way, but I am really looking forward to trying to let them experience what I’m feeling right now.
Do not fret, Katie, you are not alone. I felt like I got punched in the gut when I left the first class. I read a lot, and I when I write, it feels second nature, but I can not sit and pick apart every detail of a sentence and describe what makes it right and what makes it wrong. I have been telling myself for years that I was going to teach myself grammar – just grab a book and plug away (and I still plan on it), but I just have not found the time. When this class was advertised via email, I was in Ghana, and did all that I could to get the internet to work so I could apply, because I need to make time to learn the intricacies of writing so I can then teach these intricacies to others. I’ve never considered academics this way, but I am beginning to believe that just like in sports, hard work is never easy, and becoming good takes time. I am not ashamed to say that I am really going to have to work and push myself if I want to get better at writing and at teaching writing. From the writing struggles that I have seen in my field experience, I know that I need to become a master of writing because these students need a lot of help.
Although I am a senior, sometimes I feel very young when I am learning this kind of content, and because of this, I think that I will be able to relate to the students I will be teaching. We haven’t delved into too much content yet, but in addition to just learning, I am going to consider how students who are 14,15, or 16 would respond to this kind of instruction. Katie and Emmy can agree with me – once you’ve finally been in front of the classroom, your way of thinking changes and everything becomes focused on students and finding the best ways to connect with them.
Michael, I just want to say that I completely agree about hoping to learn more grammar skills and having more hands-on practice with them! We’ve touched on this conversationally, but now I actually want to ask our classmates if they feel similarly, and I’m hoping this is a good platform to do that.
I think it’s excusable to not know EVERYTHING as a teacher because we’re human, and we’re not expected to. In fact, I think it connects us with students more authentically if we are reciprocally sharing in the learning process by both giving and receiving knowledge, and making efforts to find the answers we don’t know. However, as I think most of us are discovering in this course, it’s inexcusable (and unprofessional) as future ELA teachers to struggle with basic rules of grammar, and to simply write it off. To me, this would be like going up to a teacher in a field I personally do not excel (ahem, math), and asking him or her to break down the solution to a problem so that I might become more proficient in solving it myself. Imagine that instead of being able to guide me through a step-by-step process, the teacher simply replies, “I can’t help you because this type of problem comes so naturally to me, I wouldn’t know how to explain it to make it easier for you. Sorry.” This scenario might seem crazy because isn’t it this individual’s job to help me solve field-related problems? This is why personally, I believe I would benefit from reviewing the grammar rules we have already learned time and time again, as well as learning new ones, so that they DO become second nature to me, and so that I might never find myself struggling to help a student because of my own grammar obstacles.
If you’re reading this, please respond to let me know if you feel similarly! 🙂
After reading through these blog posts, I was wondering how everyone felt in regards to their experiences in high school, and whether or not it was clear to them then why they were writing the way they did? I know for myself, reading Williams’ guide and the other writing texts has been a very different experience from what I am used to both in college and from what I remember from high school. In high school, we very rarely discussed the reasons behind clear writing and how to do so effectively. When we did spend time going over the proper way to write, it often felt like we spent a day or two on the skills, and then never discussed them again. Looking back on this experience after reading and working with the class and Williams’ writing instruction, I feel as though this was not the greatest way to learn to write, because there was so little that was reinforced. I realize now that while we did write many essays and other writing assignments as practice, we very rarely knew the reasons why we were improving, or what rules we could remember to fix common mistakes in our writing. I think that had we had examples from writing guides like Williams or Graff and Birkenstein, we would have internalized these lessons more, and understood better why what we had written was good or still needed improvement.
Having spent so much of high school focusing on developing content, I feel that being able to focus on how my sentences and paragraphs are structured can only improve my ability to teach. I feel that by taking this class, I am learning to understand and apply these rules, so that future students can know why something is done a certain way, instead of having to simply accept them “because I said so.” Even though we have only had four class periods, I can feel as though I am improving by doing the practice activities and through our discussions of the guides. Before our reading of Williams, I had no idea what a “nominalization” was, or how they can muddy a sentence to make it almost impossible to understand. I feel that this writing instruction can only help me better understand writing, and I feel much more confident knowing that I am learning the reasons behind these rules!
Hi Julianne! I completely agree with what you’ve said here, and I want to respond to the question you posed about our own high school experiences. At CCCSD, we definitely focused on the “formula” for writing a good essay, and I think the “how to” trumped the “why” in terms of our lessons. You bring up a really good point with your comment because if we had spent more time on the “why,” we probably would have been much more invested in the outcome and more motivated to learn. Instead, it felt kind of like plugging various information into the “correct” places, and then weaving those sentences into the ones around them, just for the sake of doing it. I think by the end of this course, we will have a much better understanding of how to teach these writing skills meaningfully.
I’m still unsure how I feel about the whole instruction method found in Williams’ book. I realize that it serves as a practice to become aware of how a sentence functions, but I still find myself shying away from it, perhaps because of its unfamiliarity. Regardless of its appeal, I think it demands that we as writers pay attention to the basic structure of language, which is a good skill to have especially when trying to decipher another persons writing. Clarity of prose is important and essential for our ability to communicate to others, and the instruction shows how it becomes hidden and how to uncover its meaning. I do enjoy the struggle of this new approach because it requires a different mode of visualization as a reader, which will undoubtedly effect how I write thereafter. This is the practice of writing and I assume that different instructions will demand us to approach language through an array of angles, and by doing so will give us the skills to become clear in our writing and hopefully, eventually, at some point, in our own instruction to others on the matter.
Julianne! I also wanted to respond to your question in regards to my high school experience. My high school education (even throughout grade school) was very similar to yours. While we had a lot of written assignments, we had very few classes, if any, that spoke on how to achieve clear writing through sentence structure. That being said, I would like to comment on Dr. Paku’s prompt. I agree with Kyle when he says that this new approach that we are covering in class is a “different mode of visualization”. It really is and that’s why I am struggling with it! It still comes unnaturally to me but with practice I think I can get it. I agree with Connor when he said that his thinking and writing is almost always improved when discussed with others. Last night I explained to a friend a better way to rephrase what she had written by changing her sentence structure. It felt really good to explain to her how and why she can make it better and it also underlined what I need to focus on in order to become a better teacher. This blog will hopefully allow us as students to discuss topics in class allowing us to sharpen off and challenge one another.
I honestly do not think that I ever felt happier to struggle with something academically. Katie mentioned how she faced a lot of trouble learning the new terms of a sentence structure and how consequently, this was a blow to her self-esteem. Throughout teaching my students, I saw so many of them get frustrated with a trying topic at hand, and this would cause many of them to shut down and give up all together. By learning difficult new concepts and being on the receiving end of new knowledge again, I feel like I can relate to students even more. It is very easy to forget the feeling of vulnerability when learning new academic material, but the Williams information definitely put me back in my place.
I knew it would be a hard transition to go from teaching my own class for a whole semester to completely reversing the roles and sitting back in a student’s desk. Luckily, I am able to see the benefits of jumping back and forth from each role in the classroom: I can sympathize with both the student and the teacher. I know how much time and hard work a teacher expects from his or her students to dedicate to their learning, but I also understand how overwhelming and intimidating it can be to learn strange, brand new material, let alone challenging material.
As a junior, I feel I have had a bittersweet experience with being on the receiving end of writing instruction. On one hand, I have been exposed to many different styles of professors, their personal writing expectations, and several spheres of academic writing. On the other hand, the fundamentals that all collegiate students should have never seem to be the priority in any of these classes, excluding the English department. My coursework in my freshman writing class focused more on the content, and the academic goals of the professor teaching the course, and we did not do nearly enough with writing skills. As we discussed at length and as Connor mentioned above, unclear writing works as a barrier, and creates a disconnect in the conversation that should occur between the writer and reader.
Due to the ever popular “technical difficulties” I am obviously posting this much later than the rest of you. This is a bit of a blessing in disguise on my part, as if I had written this several days ago, the tone would be much more reflective of a discouraged and overwhelmed student. At this point though, I believe the worst of the bad habits are beginning to break, and thanks to Dr. Paku and working with you all as peers, I have learned (if nothing else so far) HOW to go about analyzing unclear writing. I have discovered that I am more dependent on one-on-one instruction than I had noticed, or decided to acknowledge. As future teachers, discovering these things about ourselves is imperative before we can hope to reach the minds of students, and already I am finding this class to be one of the most valuable I have participated in at Geneseo. As Michael said, despite where you are in your program, you can feel young when it comes to content you have not yet been exposed to, but I am deciding to put a positive spin on this, and simply say I am open to accepting my downfalls, correcting my mistakes, and learning for the betterment of myself and my students.