In College, But Reluctant to Read or Write

Teaching English in Quebec’s version of community college, Siobhan Curious told her students toread 150 pages of Life of Pi in a week. They gasped. Then, as they discussed a short reading passage, she asked them to think about writing several hundred words on it.  There were “quiet snorts and groans, subtly and not-so-subtly rolled eyes.”

When her patience runs out, probably in October, she may say:

“If you’re not sure you can read one hundred fifty pages of clear, simple prose in a week, or if you’re not sure you can write two hundred words about a two-page passage, that’s ok. It’s not a problem if you don’t know how to do it – you can learn. However,

if you don’t want to learn how to do these things – if you don’t want to practice and get feedback and meet that challenge, and if you resent me for asking you to – then college is not the place for you.”

In a previous class, many students “said that they don’t like to read, never read for enjoyment, and last read a novel in the ninth grade, because it was required.”

Her students “write” texts and Facebook messages, but do little long-form writing.

We Can’t Teach Students to Love Reading, argues Alan Jacobs. No matter how hard instructors try, “deep reading” will be enjoyed by a minority of students, he writes.

This may be true, Curious responds. But she expects her students to be “willing to read and write” in English class.  The “skills of deep reading and deep writing can be taught to anyone” who’s willing to try, she writes.

They must open to the possibility that they may enjoy them more than they expect, but also to the possibility that they may not.  They need to be prepared to keep stabbing away at them even if they find them difficult, boring or even infuriating, in the hope that they will get better, and with the faith that they will learn something.

A veteran composition teacher at Georgia Perimeter College, Rob Jenkins lists his favorite things to say to first-year students. Number one:

If you think you won’t have to write anymore once you’re done with your English classes, you need to think again. As a junior and senior, you’ll probably have to write term papers for most of your classes. And this is the last time anyone will ever spend an entire semester showing you how to write those papers, so you’d better pay attention.

Once you get out of college, you’ll need to write, Jenkins adds.  “The minute you get one step above fry cook, writing becomes part of your job.”

Writing is a skill, he adds. It can be learned through hard work and practice. One draft is not enough. Finally:

Good writing comes from having more to say than you have space in which to say it, so that you’re forced to say it as well as possible. Bad writing comes from taking a few meager ideas and puffing them up to make them sound like more than they really are.

Very true.

Via Joanne Jacobs, Community College Spotlight.