Friday, September 30, 2011

A Mentor’s Musing: On Teaching Writing III

(In which I am slowly memorizing a monologue day by day.)


In teaching the academic essay, we use samples as they make discussions easier. The objective is not to set a standard, but basically to present the wide variety of styles and ideas and all the thrilling possibilities of the written word. But recently, I felt as though this objective wasn’t met, at least in my class. That I have been misunderstood. Or that I didn’t make sense to the student. Or maybe I am wrong in all aspects.
Consider that the student isn’t a beginner. She/He knows what her/his targets are and just want to polish the skills to achieve that. So I give her/him a topic to write about, usually a homework. Then the next day, we edit the work together. Then we analyze the sample essay which, of course, has the same topic as her assignment. And then after a tedious series of comparison and contrast and structure analysis, I was shocked by one of the biggest (and surprisingly, the most repetitive) question I received upon analyzing a sample essay with my student.
“So you mean my style is wrong?”
Of course my answer is always no. But how should I answer that particular question asked by a student who doesn’t seem to acknowledge the fact that there are gray areas in writing? Well, this is what’s running in my mind now.
For example, on the subject of cyclones in rural areas, N.V.M. Gonzales wrote:

The storm had come. The thatched wall shook, producing a weird skittering sound at each gust of wind. The sough of the palms in back of the hut – which was hardly the size of the deckhouse barrel, and had the bare sand for floor – sounded like the moan of a lost child. A palm leaf began to dance a mad, rhythmless dance. . .
Given the same assignment, my version would be:
A terrible storm shook a small and shabby-looking house, creating a sound that resembles a haunting wail. And the background is a swaying green pandemonium.
(Now I suddenly regret choosing N.V.M. but it still renders the effect I was trying to point out. Anyway, I know my example is literary but I know you get the point.)
“The thing is that every writer writes differently. The fact that we all have different opinions about a certain idea proves that. And then there’s the other fact that we think differently,” thus goes my usual explanation. “The samples here are just guides; they are not standards. In the end, you will choose your own style and vocabulary with the knowledge that it has to answer the topic. There is no strict rubric regarding the exact paragraph structure and writing style intended for a certain question.”
And of course, N.V.M. Gonzales has a better way of saying that.

Photo Source:
Trees Writing an Essay