You Can Teach Writing

Linda Aragoni's

Philosophy of education

Most of the pages on this website deal with issues that are fairly straightforward: objectives, the writing process, writing patterns, and so on.

I've scarcely mentioned the one factor in teaching that's anything but straightforward: Students. That wasn't an oversight. Students are as hard to write about as they are to teach.

Below is a list of observations about students that form the philosophy of education on which this entire website is founded.

Reading these informal jottings together with reading pages on this site will give you a picture of what my formal philosophy of education statement would say if I wrote one.

Our goal should be competent writers.

In Linda's philosophy of education, writing competently is the goal for all students.

Making all students competent writers is a big, audacious, and achievable goal.

My philosophy of education defines the goal of teaching writing as competence. Competence is a state in which learners need only more practice, not more instruction, in order to improve their skills.

If all students in our classes don't achieve competence, we have failed as writing teachers — even if one of the students we taught in our 50 year careers became a bestselling novelist.

Set reasonable, inflexible standards.

Set reasonable performance standards for student writers. Once you set the standard, do not change it.

If you lower or raise your standard of competent writing in mid-course, you'll not only confuse students but also make them less likely to stick with learning something hard in the future.

You don't want to be the role model for giving up when things are tough. And, to be quite honest, you will be ready to give up trying to get your students to write competently weeks before they are.

Aim for the "average kid." 

Most classes have a core group who usually exhibit about the same degree of interest, motivation, and effort and get roughly the same grades. That's what I mean by the "average" kid even when the kids are adults in their thirties.

Usually 80% of my classes are part of that core group, but the characteristics of the group varies from class to class. I suggest you figure out the characteristics of the core group first — there are more of them — and deal with the outliers later.

Don't teach hatred.

I don't subscribe to the philosophy of education that all learning is fun: The work and discipline of learning to write isn't fun. That does not mean you have to make it misery.

my philosophy of education says don't make writing too hard

Don't make writing so stressful and so impractical that students learn to hate it.

Sometimes all you need to do is to do less than what you have been doing. Short, regular study and practice sessions are more effective than long ones — and much more pleasant.

Novices writers need beginner treatment.

Most advice about teaching writing given by professional writers is aimed at intermediate and experienced writers, not at novice writers.

Novice writers can't be treated like professional writers having a bad day. When they're beginning to learn to write (whether the beginner is almost 12 or almost ready to retire), novices need someone to:

  • Focus their attention on writing a document developing a single thesis.
  • Specify what they must do every single time they write.
  • Establish the order in which they must do those essential tasks.
  • Teach them how to do the essential tasks.
  • Supervise their practice while they learn how to put the essential tasks together to produce an acceptable text.

These five tasks are the core of what you as the writing teacher must do for the beginning writer.

Students don't mess up deliberately.

Students write as well as they can under the circumstances.

This bicyclist didn't deliberate plan to lose a wheel.

Students don't mess up their writing on purpose any more than a bicyclist falls off a bike on purpose.

If you want to know why Josh or Caitlin messed up some particular aspect of their writing, ask them. The most frequent explanations are:

  • They don't know any better alternative.
  • They know the but don't understand or misunderstand what it means.
  • They didn't have time to do better.
  • They lack confidence to try to do better.
  • They see no reason to learn the material.   

To a significant degree, each of those circumstances is within the teacher's control.

Teaching methods must be flexible.

Writing teachers must be ready, willing, and able to apply diverse methods of teaching to a diverse group of students at the same time they remain focused on a single goal — writing competence — and essential knowledge to support that goal. 

If you didn't understand (or attempt to understand) the nonverbal header on this page, that's a clue that your might have difficulty connecting with a significant number of your students.

For maximum efficiency, appeal first to the students' preferred ways of learning, which seen increasingly to be nonverbal. Then work to help students strengthen other ways of learning.

Allow students to fix mistakes.

Students should always have the option of repairing their work
up to the minute they submit it.

Sure, some clowns will mess up all the preliminary planning and then turn in papers on totally different topics that they downloaded from  the 'net or borrowed from their cousin.

Most won't.

Plan for the majority of students in the majority of cases. Deal with the exceptions as they arise.

Real writers write for outsiders.

Writers who have not developed the knack of writing about topics in which they have no interest for audiences to which they have no emotional ties have not really learned to write. 

Writing for one's self or even for close friends and family isn't real writing — not even if the topic is astrophysics.

And students who can write only about subjects on which they are  passionate are not doing real writing. In the paycheck world, passion is no substitute for information.

visitor comment about Linda's method of teaching writing

I am a EFL writing instructor at a University in South Korea. Although my students could tell me the writing process … they could not tell or show me how they use each step.… I have adapted your material to create a writing process to more effectively teach my students. ~ James Lochhead

comment from visitor about Linda's method of teaching writing.

Your site is very helpful and easy to read because you get right to the important points. I am passing your info on to the rest of my department. ~ Nancy, a private school teacher

Teacher share's Linda's belief that all students can learn to write.

Thank you for your sharing your insights and strategies with us! I am an experienced writing teacher but am always looking for ways to improve. I do believe ALL my students can learn to write, and that most of them can learn to write well. ~ Jo

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Visitor agrees with Linda's philosophy on teaching writing.

First a thanks for your website. I agree with and appreciate the way you verbalize it so clearly. I've never understood why teachers spend so much time on writing poetry and writing short stories when college (and life) writing revolves around expository writing.

I taught in public schools 8 years and am now educating my daughter at home. ~ Jimmie