An Organic Approach to Writing
youre not correcting papers showing the
writing every error that he or she made. Papers that bleed red ink
only please cruel teachers and humiliate students. Youre trying
to help students become better readers, writers, and thinkers. You
need to be able to justify everything you do in those terms.
reached the primary point of concern for that paper, theres
no real point in going on to the next criteria. What has been written
will only change if the student revises fully and effectively.
whats there and try not to read the paper that you think the
student meant to write. The harder you have to work as a reader
to supply whats not there, the weaker the paper.
How to Respond to Student Papers
Content precedes form and writing is not words and sentences but ideas which are honed into thoughts.
(Donald Murray in A Writer Teaches Writing, 1966)
MEMORABLE STUDENT COMMENTS ABOUT WRITING
"My teachers in high school said I wrote beautifully."
"I never got anything but an A on an English paper before your class."
"But this is how I feel and you should understand that."
"My secretary will know how to spell."
"I dont know what you want."
"I had writers block. I cant be expected to write something when I lose my spontaneity."
"I dont revise. I hope youll respect that."
1. Immediately. Though it is helpful at times for the student to put a paper aside for a while and come back to it, it is rarely helpful to have a paper written in October carefully corrected and marked up in December. It is better to have it returned when the writing is fresh in the students mind with one perceptive comment. But how does a writing teacher who sees numerous errors on a paper do that?
2. As a diagnostician, not a judge. Writing teachers must not be judges, but physicians. Most students are bad writers, but the more serious the injuries, the more confusing the symptoms, the greater the need for effective diagnostic work. When an accident victim is carried into the hospital emergency ward, the doctor does not start treating the patient at the top and slowly work down without a sense of priority, spending a great deal of time on the black eye before getting to the punctured lung. Yet that is exactly what the English teacher too often does. We writing teachers must train ourselves to be expert diagnosticians. We want to spot the most critical problem in each students writing to give that student a prescription which will be effective. If we look at a paper which is covered with red, we will usually find that twelve or fifteen of the problems are really symptoms of one problem. A student, for example, who has not given order to his views, who is illogical in his structure, will run into all sorts of problems in syntax. Confused and complex syntax usually is an attempt to fit information in where it doesnt belong. If the student has this problem diagnosed and is taught how to think out what he wants to say before he says it, then his papers may clear up overnight, they may become clean and direct. The good diagnostician will know the student did not have a problem in grammar, although he was writing ungrammatically; he had a problem in thinking, because he was not thinking logically (from Donald Murray).
3. Individually. Continuing with the metaphor...a doctor does not diagnose a neighborhood, even in the case of an epidemic. Penicillin may work for most people, but there are those who are allergic to penicillin. So even when there seems to be an epidemic in the classroom, the teacher must treat each student individually. We can handle many more students effectively when we think about responding in this way: we are not trying to identify and correct every fault on a paper; we are not trying to cover every point in a conference. We are trying to find one central problem on each paper and prescribe a treatment. When we see that a number of students are having the same problem, then we will develop a class presentation which will show the students that problem clearly, individually, separating it from all other problems, and then we will show ways that problem may be treated. The teacher of writing is a teacher of a skill. We do not try to make classes march to some abstract and theoretical goal. We try to teach each student by diagnosing the most critical problems and prescribing an effective treatment.
4. In a variety of ways. We can respond in writing on the individual paper, on an audio tape provided by the student, via email, in an individual conference, through holistic portfolios, and in a full class discussion that focuses on one students paper. Through all of these methods, though, writing teachers must offer the students strategies for the suggested improvements.
5.With the intention of making students independent writers. The ultimate test of the skill of the teacher as a diagnostician comes when we have trained our students to be their own diagnosticians. Before we give our own diagnosis, we should ask the students to volunteer descriptions of their own writing problems and listen to their answers.
6. Throughout the process--prewriting, drafting, revising.
7. Without grades. The student should be graded halfway through the course and at the end of the course, according to Donald Murray. The teacher should remember that the students in the writing course must develop the ability to evaluate their own accomplishments, to spot their own problems, and to correct them. The writing paper is not corrected by the teacher. The teacher discovers the students main problems and shows them a way of solving those problems. Then the papers are corrected by the students, who revise them in such a way that the problems are solved and the papers become effective pieces of writing.
8. Without defacing the page. It is easy to be overwhelmed and discouraged when we are faced with students who make multiple errors in writing, who have twenty-three separate, identifiable problems in a single page. The case seems hopeless, but the expert diagnostician will reduce most of those problems to one or two central ailments, and then will treat the most serious one first. By establishing priority we will gain control over our course. We will not have to spend hours on each paper written by the student; we will look quickly at the paper to see if that one central problem is being solved. If it is, then we can identify another problem; if it isnt we prescribes a new treatment or a repeated treatment. The time we spend on papers and with students will be cut down radically. Most papers do not require more than a quick reading, and most conferences require no more than a quick confrontation once a diagnosis has been made and until the problem is cured. The effective teachers identify the main problem in the paper to the student about the paper, or underline a repeated writing problem. Even this problem does not need to be identified each time it appears in the paper. The teacher should say to the student, "These are four vague, generalized statements which mean nothing to the reader. You are giving a blank check to the reader and expecting her to fill it in. Now there are eight or ten other vague statements in the paper. Find them and revise the paper so that it does not have one vague, generalized statement in it." That paper has been corrected. There may have been other problems in the paper--spelling and syntax, logic--but at this time for this student the teacher felt that she must solve the problem of making vague, meaningless statements. Teachers who are going to cut down on the number of marks on the paper will have to stop measuring their own accomplishments by the amount of red on the page.
Cathy A. D'Agostino (1999)
Is Not a Skill
A "logical fallacy" is an error of logic. Sometimes they're honest errors, but sometimes advertisers and politicians use them deliberately to persuade us to buy or vote without thinking through the decision. Learning the following patterns of faulty logic will help you avoid being swept up in faulty reasoning. There are many other named logical fallacies. The exercises below make a good start: they use the fallacies listed here.
1. Either-Or. You assume only two opposing possibilities: "either we abolish requirements or education is finished." Education will probably amble on, somewhere in between.
2. Oversimplification. As with either-or, you ignore alternatives. "A student learns only what he wants to learn" ignores all the pressures from parents and society, which in fact account for a good deal of learning.
3. Begging the Question. A somewhat unhandy term: You assume as proved something that really needs proving. "Free all political prisoners" assumes that none of those concerned has committed an actual crime.
4. Ignoring the Question. The question of whether it is right for a neighborhood to organize against a newcomer shifts to land values and taxes.
5. Non Sequitur. ("It does not follow.") "He's certainly sincere: he must be right." "He's the most popular fellow: he should be president." The conclusions do not reasonably follow from sincerity and popularity.
6. Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc. ("After this, therefore because of this." ) The non sequitur of events: "He stayed up late and therefore won the race." He probably won in spite of late hours, and for other reasons.
False analogy. "You should choose your wife as you would your
car." A person is not a machine, so that the analogy is unacceptable.
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