Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Topic: Writing and Minorities

10-second review: How do you answer the head of the English department of a high school with about 95% minority students, most of whom are African American, when he says, “Why try to teach them to write? They can’t even write a good sentence.”

Title: “Comments by RayS.” July 17, 2009.

Comment: Well, I have not heard that one in a long time. It reminds me of the reasons that English teachers taught grammar when I was young. The thought then was, “You can’t teach them to write compositions until they have learned to write good sentences.” And so I was never taught to write. The teachers never got beyond teaching me to write good sentences. I diagrammed from eighth grade to twelfth. The purpose? To get those lines straight or whatever geometric angle was used for gerunds, phrases and clauses. I never wrote a composition. I never wrote a term paper. I did not know about summary paragraphs. Or introductions. Or thesis sentences. Occasionally, one of my teachers taught us to write paragraphs, so I did know about topic sentences.

Grammar and composition are two pretty distinct subjects that enlightened teachers show students how to apply one to the other. Grammar focuses on sentences. Composition focuses on paragraphs, on organization, on coherence in which the writer starts and the reader follows, undistracted by grammatical mistakes, from beginning to end.

Composition means the writing process: (1) brainstorming the topic. (2) Writing a first draft, beginning with a thesis sentence, (3) writing middle paragraphs some of which begin with topic sentences, (4) writing a final, summary paragraph, (5) constructing an introduction to add in the beginning to the thesis sentence, and concluding with (6) revising and (7) editing. Writing means “Telling them what you are going to tell them (introduction and thesis), telling them (middle paragraphs) and telling them what you told them (final, summary paragraph).”

Grammar study has one purpose, and it usually occurs after the draft—to polish the writing.

These students have ideas. They need to be taught how to express those ideas in paragraphs and whole compositions; they need to know how to tell the readers what they are going to tell them, tell them and tell them what they told them. They can go back and fix up the sentences. They should not be limited to the sentence or even the paragraph. Begin by teaching them to write whole compositions and then show them how to use a knowledge of grammar to complete and smooth their sentences. RayS.

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