Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Mentor’s Musing: On Teaching Writing

(In which he finally wrote.)
We reached the chapter where my student, Gerald, is supposed to study narration, finally, after days of procrastination due to the combined bouts of nostalgia, lovesickness and plain laziness. I was so thrilled to teach that I discussed the four major modes of discourse despite of myself, much to the surprise of the wide-eyed East Asian man whose attention shifted from the whiteboard to the sports article on the PC monitor. I know not which he’s feigning attention to but I care not as well. He had his days of unproductiveness; it’s about time that I lift the curse he caused!
Knowing the importance of time and place in a narrative, I told him how he could use order to show sequence.
“In your story, you should always pay attention to the order. Which comes first? Which do you want to narrate first?”
He nodded, and glanced at the monitor.
“Oh soccer!” I muttered under my breath. “Okay, about the order, you may use the chronological order or the reverse chronology. You could also use some flashbacks.”
He nodded, looked at the monitor and clicked on a link.
“Yes! Chronology! I understand”, he assured me.
“Well, for the sake of discussion, the chronological order shows how a story transpires from the past to the present or from first to last. The reverse chronology, however, works from the present to the past or from the last to the first.”
“Why should we use that?” he asked.
“The reverse.’
“Well, it depends on what the writer’s purpose is. Joel Gross in his book The Books of Rachel used the chronological order to link different Jewish families from the past to the current. Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue is presented through the reverse chronology to trace the origin of a painting. So you see, the purpose is the thing.”
“I still don’t get it but, anyway, chronological order is easier.”
As we went on with the writing activity which includes the writing process, i.e., topic selection, brainstorming, outline making and the rough draft, I almost jumped for joy when he actually wrote a topic outline legibly! And wait, he also asked questions like:
How am I going to write the introduction for a narrative? I’m sure it’s different from an example or a process essay.
How am I going to write the conclusion?
Do I still need to summarize in the conclusion?
I don’t want my essay to be too detailed. Can I just write about the interesting things and explain them?
Okay, you may think that it’s no big deal since it’s a writing class and students are supposed to ask questions like these. But considering that a couple of months ago, his colossal interest in writing revolves around the fact that he didn’t want to follow the correct structure and that he didn’t find an outline of any kind important or that his idea of an essay is a bunch of paragraphs with a minimum of five sentences overflowing with conjunctive adverbs and comma splices, yes, this one’s a big deal!
The formula in a nutshell:
Be lenient and practical. Let the students think for themselves. Make a list of topics to give them options. Don’t use Emerson and Bacon to elucidate. Give your own writing examples and let yourself be criticized. Understand their interest and let them write about it. If they happen to be Korean, let them write about Park Ji Sung and prepare to correct a two-page essay. Well, that’s better than correcting four paragraphs made up of five sentences each.
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