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WRITERS’ BLOCKS

Students need care of good teacher, not swipe of red pencil

May 26, 2010

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I AM sure Kara Miller (“Failure to communicate,’’ Op-ed, May 19) finds it satisfying to portray herself as a weary but resolute defender of the English language against attacks by her untutored and careless students, but alas, her teaching methods are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Miller describes herself diligently “correcting’’ and “fixing’’ her students’ writing errors. She does not say whether this practice improves her students’ writing, but I would wager it does not. I would wager, too, that her students have seen it before, and from the same teachers Miller is quick to denounce for not teaching them the “fundamentals.’’

However, the research on teacher response to writing is clear: Marking every error only overwhelms students and alienates them from their writing. Effective teachers of writing identify a small number of patterns of error — perhaps three per writing project — and then teach students how to correct these errors themselves.

Effective writing teachers also help students care about what they have to say so that they are motivated to say it more effectively. Miller is silent about the content of her students’ writing. She apparently views their texts only as occasions for correction. Miller may wish students came to her with the “fundamentals’’ of writing, but the truth is, learning how to write is a lifelong discipline and it requires instruction, not “fixing.’’ All students, including those in college, deserve teachers who actually teach them how to write.

Chris Gallagher
Needham
The writer is director of the writing program and professor of English at Northeastern University.

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