One of the questions that parents, fellow teachers, or administrators frequently ask an English teacher is… ‘how do you teach writing’? They ask with a bit of awe and wonder, likely still colored by their own 12th grade compositional struggles; they ask with a generous dose of skepticism; they ask with intense curiosity; above all, they ask from the extreme doubts of their own hearts.
‘It’s an art form, not a science,’ it’s one typical, cliched response. But it’s a lie. Writing is, and nothing else, a reflection of the soul. If all we needed was manual-level communication, we could have stuck with a system of grunts a numerical values. It has to go deeper. But writing also isn’t some whimsical nonsense, maudlinly poeticizing the wind in the trees. It has to unite the right and left halves of the human brain, wed the emotional and creative with the logical and deductive. If that doesn’t sound difficult, it should…
You can put together a concisely arranged ten-point rubric that clearly delineates topic sentences, theses, use of evidence and the rest, but with many students it either stifles the small, budding amount of engagement they had with their writing or represses what was starting to seem like a conflagration. Alternatively, a writing program with little or no direction or structure tends to evoke prejudiced views (fair or no) of the wispy, Blanche Dubois-like teacher of the arts who spends her weekends in museums, recites Browning poetry to herself by candlelight, and wakes up to breakfasts of croissants and soft boiled eggs.
So the key, of course, as in all things, is balance: a structure, but not rigidly enforced, direction but not didacticism, implied form but not content. It is a familiar structure for all, the delicate balancing act in almost all facets of youth. But what’s at stake in this one is the ability to communicate meaningfully with others.