Saturday, October 31, 2015

Teaching Kids to Write

I’ve always told my kids: Good writing is good thinking, clearly expressed.

But both had a high-school teacher who used something called the Jane Schaeffer method, which is popular with high-school educators, though it was originally meant as a temporary step for middle-schoolers struggling with writer’s block.

It is completely formulaic and unconcerned with meaning. Students are required to write introductory paragraphs consisting of two sentences, then a thesis sentence. Each of three body paragraphs has to be exactly so many sentences long, containing, in an exact sequence, three of what are called “concrete details,” each of those followed by two, exactly two, “commentary sentences.”

I watched my children quickly come up with ideas, then spend most of their time trying to fit them into the formula. The end result would make no sense. “That’s OK,” my daughter would say. “It doesn’t have to.”

Oh. My. God. This so entirely misses the point, I want to cry.

There is no divorcing form from meaning. Writing is all meaning.

This approach actively teaches kids to be bad writers, putting down meaningless words, just because.

The idea behind such a teaching method, I’ve read, is to introduce kids to the 5-paragraph, academic essay. I suspect another reason is that it makes it far easier to grade papers: You don’t have to read them, just tick off items on a rubric.

No. If you are going to teach someone how to write, you have to get into what they write.

Many writers, from Joan Didion to Stephen King, from Flannery O’Connor to Barack Obama, have said, basically, “I write to find out what I think.”

That’s what kids need to know: how to think, how to put their ideas into words, how to explain and prove things clearly to themselves and to other people.

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I had never heard of this, but just reading the description of the Shaeffer method on Wikipedia made my head hurt. Where is the creativity, the thought and the intellectual curiosity that should be behind all good writing? Really sad.