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Thinking about Teaching Writing

jrlewis's picture

Or Graduate School Application Responses...

The good writing teacher helps students express ideas clearly and concisely through writing in the form appropriate to their discipline.  The great writing teacher helps students develop the relationship between their thinking and their writing.  The purpose of student writing assignments is not a regurgitation of the material the teacher feed to the class.  It is to continue a conversation started in class and reading assignments.  While the teacher may initiate the conversation, it is the students’ responsibility to extend the classroom discussion with their own insights.  Students are supposed to learn about the relationship of words to ideas. 

Even in the work of the best writers, words fail a little.  Words always incompletely capture the world.  Acknowledging the limitations of language is essential to the practice of writing and interpreting.  However, the gap between intention and interpretation is where real learning occurs, for the writer and the teacher too.  As the technique of the writer improves, the gap decreases.  It is the work of the student and the teacher together to bridge that gap.  The teacher should deploy a variety of strategies to help the student realize their ideas in their writing.  Repeated revisions, experimentation with form, and face-to-face conversations are some good methods.  This story about teaching writing holds true across all disciplines. 

My writing experience spans from the humanities to the sciences; I am the intellectual bastard child of a literature professor and a neurobiology professor.  I wrote my senior thesis on the effect of the metaphors doctors, patients, and researchers use to understand cancer.  As an Introductory Biology Teaching Assistant or as a member of two graduate writing workshops, I have enjoyed teaching writing.  Teaching of writing can also be a tool for improvement of the teacher’s writing.