On Teaching Writing

28 Jul

I had a rude awakening in my practicum seminar yesterday. We talked about an article called “A challenge to second language writing professionals,” by Ilona Leki, focusing on the claim that “Writing is personally fulfilling” and that that’s one of the big reasons why writing is so important. Basically, Leki says this claim is bunk:

“The argument that learning to write is important because writing serves a few people so well is reminiscent of parents’ argument to coerce children into practicing violin–some day the learner will be grateful. But we are not dealing with children, and we are not our students’ parents.”

The instructor asked how many in the room actually found writing personally fulfilling (we’re a class of 8). Two or three including myself sheepishly raised our hands. Fact is, writing is not fun for a lot people, and torture for a lot of language learners– a notion I never really considered but am beginning to understand. How can we ask them to see writing as “cathartic” if they’re still struggling with the language (another question posed by Leki)?

So I was left with this dangling question: if students are not the creative type prone to playing with languages in the first place, do we not bother? Do we focus forever on English for academic purposes and business English and all-things-dry-and-pragmatic? That doesn’t really lend itself to flexibility with a language. And that doesn’t seem practical either. Hm.

One Response to “On Teaching Writing”

  1. Andy August 9, 2006 at 10:34 pm #

    Very interesting observation, which I meant to comment on earlier.I consider myself averse to sweeping generalizations, and yet I’ve always taken it for granted that “writing is good for you,” and “Everybody’s a writer, they just don’t know it.”Now I wonder — might *reading* not be for everybody?

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