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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: April ::
Re: Composition
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1163  Monday, 29 April 2002

From:           Bill Arnold <
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Date:           Friday, 26 Apr 2002 08:12:18 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1141 Re: Composition
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1141 Re: Composition

Edmund Taft writes, "For what it's worth, it seems to me that
composition courses can make a bad writer a better bad writer, or a good
writer a better good writer, but we do not yet have the expertise or
know-how to make a bad writer a good writer. It just doesn't happen.  If
this observation is granted, then two possible conclusions follow: (1)
Students who cannot write by the time they come to college cannot be
taught to write because they have missed the 'window of opportunity'
only open during grammar and high school.  (2) Such students can learn
how to write, but we, as yet, don't know how to do it effectively. (1)
is hopeless and (2) is hopeful, but I don't have a clue as to which one
is really true."

Karen Peterson writes, "I must give an enthusiastic 'second' to Alan
Pierpoint's comments Bill Arnold's suggestions...I entirely agree, and
have saved Bill's post for my own 'professional development' file.
While I rather hope I will not have to teach *straight* composition (as
opposed to teaching composition within the context of teaching
literature) again, it certainly could happen.  Bill's ideas look as if
they would work brilliantly in both reducing instructor frustration and
in improving student-writing skills.  Thank you, Bill!"

Again, Karen, thank you.  And, Ed, I hope you are READING, as in my last
post I even forgot to mention another of the prime things I did in Comp
was to stress READING COMPREHENSION.  I apologize for that, and none of
this is directed at you, Ed.  It is just where it fits in my post, as I
saw COMP as ears, LISTENING, eyes, READING, mind, THINKING, mouth,
SPEAKING, and hand, WRITING.  Now: did I leave anything out I taught my
students in COMP?

Anyway: I have two case studies to report as my last remarks on my Comp
methods, and I promise, Back to the Bard!  There were two cases, a young
woman and a young man.  The young woman story first:

She was a student writing in the journals like every other student.  And
one day, soon after the start, noticing that she was having a hard time
expressing herself in halting, starting, backpedaling sentences, I asked
her: "Sprechen Sie Deutsch"?  She sighed, and said, in English, "Thank
God!" and started hammering at me in German.  I said, "Hold it, I do NOT
speak German."  Well, to make a long story short, she was THINKING in
German, her primary language at home, and WRITING in English!"  Wow!
Had any of THOSE, lately?  What to do?  Easy, I told her, think in
German, write in German, translate in English.  Well, it was a fun
semester, as her longer passages in German with paraphrases in English
became shorter and shorter, and we both learned a lot, I some German,
she a lot of English, and the transference of knowledge about HOW to
acquire a writing skill was helpful to me.

The point is this: a straightway methods course as NOW taught by most
grammar schools, high, and college, is NOT up to the task.  My answer:
an INTERNATIONAL journal approach until each and evey person can, as
stage-person MaDonna said, "Express yourself"!

The second story was a young man, from the inner city, and my English
department head came to me, and begged me to take him on, as she had
just FAILED him.  She said he had failed with a previous professor,
So-in-So, who was very hard-nosed, and I said, "Yeah, I get the
picture."  She said, college policy of three strikes you're out meant,
if I was willing to take him on, I was his last chance.  I said sure.

Now: this is really a GREAT story.  I LEARNED from it, so LISTEN up, and
out-guess my solution.

He sat in my office, opposite me, and we talked.  He said he was a
failure and would never learn to write.  He said he'd done it twice and
he was ready to quit.  He said he didn't think even I could help him, on
and on, and down and down.  And I said: STOP.  Button it, and listen to
me!

He looked at me, and I told him the truth.  I said, you talk fine, you
are literate, you speak English, American, even some street talk is
mixed in, and you think well, you are well-mannered, you dress well, you
obviously care about yourself, there is hope, and I CAN do it, and hang
in there.  Give me a minute!  Well, in ten seconds the light bulb went
off.  Believe me, I had never done this, but my secondary background in
journalism was kickin' in.

Guessed it, yet?

I wrote up a slip and sent him down to Audio/Visual Aids department with
a request for a student take-out of a tape recorder, and told him to go
by the bookstore and buy a 120-page ring bound notebook, and come back
with a good pen, as well.

We spent a good fifteen minutes talking with the tape recorder, and soon
he forgot it was on, whirring away over there, and was less
self-conscious, and I asked him, for the record, his name, his bio, and
his goals in college.  I told him, after we had run the meeting, guess
what?  You, young man, are going to LEARN to WRITE the way you TALK.

I taught him how to run the tape recorder.  I said, sit, here, next to
me, so you can see I can SEE you are writing for ME.  I made him write
on one line what HE SAID, and skip a line, and then skip what I said,
and write the next thing HE SAID.  I told him he was only to WRITE what
he SAID himself, ignore what I said.  He LEARNED by transcription.

He filled a page, and I sent him home to transcribe his bio and his
goals.  I told him to come back in one week, and we would do a three
hour session, once a week to start, as it was a three-hour course.  I
told him he did NOT have to come to COMP class.  Later, we added him
having others interview him on his THOUGHTS on books, at home, teaching
him how to pull out his THOUGHTS and transfer them to paper.  He took
fast to punctional and capitalization, and he bought the little RED
40,000 word spelling book.  [I have read, by the way, that's about how
many words Shakespeare used in all his canon?]

He was in a, you guessed it, directed-study program.  It was DO or DIE
for him!

Well: you guessed it, by semester's end, he was EXPRESSING HIMSELF the
way he SPOKE, and he is probably a speech writer today for a Washington
politician :)

Bill Arnold

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