Wednesday, July 11, 2012

And The Big Question Is...

Can good writing be taught? It's a pretty simple question. I mean, it is only five words long. It shouldn't be that complicated right? Unfortunately, there is no simple yes or no answer to this question.

I've spent this past week reading countless newspaper articles, blog posts, and scientific studies (some of which you may have seen posted in our Facebook group) all in an attempt to capture an answer to this question only to find that answer is a disappointing "sort of."

Interestingly, no one whole-heartedly supported the idea that writing could be taught. Most experts agreed that techniques and writing tools could be taught, but no one seemed sure that teaching these tools would improve the quality of student's writing. Some, mostly published authors, thought that even the teaching of technique could not form a writer from a person without talent. There were so many interesting opinions on this subject that I've decided to share a post that makes the most sense to me and conveys a view that I find interesting.

This post comes from composition professor, Kate Geiselman, on her blog Talking Writing. Because she teaches Freshman composition instead of creative writing, she is less focused on creating published creative authors out of her students and more focused on turning her students into people who can successful write for whatever professional position they want to have after college. This makes her opinion of teaching "good writing" more universal.

But, the most important part of her blog entry - the part I want to share with you most - is the exercise she uses with her students at the beginning of the semester. She asks them to draw a picture of their shoes. She gives no other instruction nor does she provide them with any materials. After about two minutes of watching them frantically scribble she asks them to hold up their creations and explain why they are unhappy about their work. This is the metaphor she uses to explain her views on teaching writing.

She can give the students the the paper, pencils, and more time to work, but ultimately how well they accomplished their task was directly proportional to their innate talent and previous practice with the task. This is perfect evidence of how the creative arts live in a strange realm between what can be taught and what is natural ability.

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