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Teaching Writing to Students Who Don’t Like to Write

Last year, I had the privilege of teaching a course about writing to students who already liked to write. However, at the time I believed that I was having trouble getting them excited about certain types of writing and encouraging them to keep open minds. I struggled with challenges like trying to get them to participate in class discussions and to understand the value of reading.

This semester, however, I feel lucky to be able to teach students who – by their own admission – hate writing. Candid comments have included “I already know that I’m bad at writing” and “I don’t believe in the writing process, I just write what’s on my mind.”

As someone who wasn’t always the best student, I can sympathize with my less-than-enthusiastic students. Believe it or not, I used to find writing tedious and pointless. Very few 19-year-olds who don’t already like to read or write can see the value in learning how to write a five paragraph essay.

Perhaps they are wise beyond their years. When the heck do I ever need to write a five-paragraph essay?

So far, my reluctant students have taught me that most college kids are resistant to “textbook speak” and method. Sure, the textbook has a lot to offer me in terms of how I can structure the class, but the textbook does little to show my students why they should care!

I can only laugh, since one piece of advice given by the textbook author is to remind your reader why he or she should care – why is the subject important? When you’re a native speaker and writer of English, you find it hard to believe that you don’t already know everything about the language, that you weren’t born with a grammar rulebook in your arms.

It wasn’t until I started studying Spanish seriously in college that I was ready to admit that I didn’t know as much about my native language as I once believed – learning to write in a new language from scratch and examining the mechanics of its common sentence structures made me wish I could experience my native language – the one I took for granted – in the same way.

In class, I am battling every other teacher who didn’t teach my students the writing process and every sentence the students have written on their own – without thinking twice about any one of those sentences – in order to demonstrate that they don’t already know everything.

Because it’s my first time using the textbook, I have yet to decide what resonates the most with my students. Though I already know the subject matter, in many ways I am learning right along with them. They are deciding what to take from the class, and I am noting the lessons they absorb with the most enthusiasm.

As the saying goes, “It’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.” My students are quite young, but they have been writing for many years. Who am I to say that the way they write is ineffective? They have been able to communicate with their friends and family, and they have been able to graduate high school.

Why should they care about the new way that I am trying to introduce to them? They have no interest in pursuing careers as journalists or novelists, and most of them will use very little writing in their jobs. In my heart, I know the answer, but I struggle with getting them to see beyond what they already know. I simply need to continue taking the pulse of their enthusiasm and follow the course that makes them most excited.

(Photo by RecycledStarDust)

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