Wednesday, November 07, 2007

in a third kind of way

I've been thinking a bit about teaching writing and how I do it, partly because I've been accepted at TESOL for a demonstration that is primarily about teaching writing in both paper and online worlds simultaneously. This of course leads me to compare the two, mull them over, make little comments in class about paper versions ending up in the recycling bin, while "blog posts are forever," at least until you delete them.

But that's not what this post is about. I want to reflect on the process of teaching writing in general, all aspects of it, and one aspect has been weighing on me a little. Part of being a writing teacher (two classes, all day) is basically reading lots of essays in all your free time; reading essays sometimes until I fall asleep at night, my mind shuts off. My students come up to me trained to make their points in order and say First, Second, and Third...In fact I get a little sick of this, and wish they would just have the confidence in their writing to know that they are able to communicate the order of their points without those words at the top of each paragraph. One term I actually said that to my class, and had the feeling that going against what a previous teacher had told them, was not going over all that well. Well, i said, what works at the lower levels, might not always serve you perfectly all the way through your writing journey. Even this didn't go over so well. Students, I could tell by their faces, felt like saying, well, is it right or is it wrong? Because if it's wrong I've just lost my respect for one of my teachers...

So now, I just tolerate it. It's ok. Let them use First, Second, and Third until they've seen enough essays without them to know, with confidence, that they could leave those tricks in their bags. Let them use a successful writing strategy, clear, blunt, orderly, until they genuinely, easily, effortlessly feel they can live without it. And until then, I may just have to read upwards of a hundred each First, Second, and Thirds.

But here's where it gets interesting. Some students actually become aware of the little -ly endings. Firstly, Secondly, and Thirdly are actually words. I can't imagine using them myself. I find myself thinking, why would anyone need to say, in a second kind of way? Not me. I read these with even more firmly clenched teeth-on-lips. Finally I snapped the other day, and said to a student: Why would you want to say, in a second kind of way? What's up with this?

It so happens that there are some people, who, when given the option of making something a little fancier, a little longer, a little more complicated, will take it, just on principle. And that's interesting. I think they may have a very rudimentary conception of the difference between second and secondly (I may not be correct myself)- but, they have chosen this option for a reason entirely within their own head. They surely didn't learn it from me!

It could be a grammatical issue- the feeling that an adverb goes here, so one should use the adverbial form- not knowing that second will work just as well. This would actually be giving them some credit- it could come from hours of TOEFL study and learning that words like fortunately/fortunate appear on the TOEFL at the beginning of the sentence, and the adverb is right. Possible?

Whatever it is, it provides a window into their learning/acquisition path. And, I suppose, into my twisted mind and waning patience, given an endless stack of essays...

Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home