10-second review: Defines the “basic” writer not as deficient, or remedial, but as never having been taught to write.
Title: “Before Mina Shaughnessy: Basic Writing at Yale, 1920-1960.” K Ritter. College Composition and Communication (September 2008), 12-45. A publication of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).
Summary: A review of “basic” writing courses in the distant and not-too-distant past. In general, “underprepared” writers were not allowed into the mainstream writing curriculum in college. The courses were usually noncredit. Course descriptions were/are meager and gave no promise of really teaching the underprepared writers what they needed to know.
Comment: Are these basic writing courses any better today? Who are the underprepared and why are they underprepared? Looking back at my experience, I can identify some who were what we call today “learning disabled,” otherwise very bright students, who could not spell or organize their writing, but who had been taught to write. They just had not learned. In most of these cases, the students were not lazy. They simply could not put words together in an organized format. Their frustration must have been great.
Other students who were underprepared had not been taught how to write. In fact, I was one of those students. Why wasn’t I taught to write? Because my English classes focused on grammar rather than writing and never distinguished between the two.
I think part of the solution to how to help underprepared writers is to define more clearly the types of underprepared writers and their characteristics. Don’t teach them all in the same way. RayS.