Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Writing From Different Backgrounds: Some things to think about!

Hello there, Reader,

If you're a tutor, you have probably had difficult sessions where you might have wished the writer would be more engaged. You may have asked yourself why is it so exhausting and sometimes hopeless in making a good name for writing-- after all, writing is very powerful. However, the real question is: have you thought about how one's background affects how motivated the writer is/will be?

Knowing how diversified the demographic in colleges tend to be it is not easy to predict the level of writing or the type of experiences the writer has had in the past. So, when you feel frustrated and do not believe that your sessions are going too well, think about what kind of experiences that the student may have faced in high school and where certain issues stem from.  

Let us explore some of the common struggles that may arise in a session:

- The writer is disengaged/shy and you tend to be talking more than they are
- When you speak, the writer writes down what you say and stops when you stop speaking
- The writer is adamant about their lack of writing ability
- When asking questions or for elaboration on their ideas, the writer may become reluctant
-  Caution when the writing piece is more personal
- The most painful: the writer only comes in because they want proof that they came to a session for credit

Does this sound accurate to some degree?

Now, try think about what may be going on here. Sometimes, just by reading a writer's paper, you can tell what kind of style the writer sways toward. You can even be able to identify their style by their willingness to participate in the session. For the purposes of this blog, we will focus on writers who might not be a fan of writing.

Not a 'Fan'...yet!

Take a step back, and think about all the times a writer has told you that they either dislike writing or that they are terrible at writing. Why do you think anyone might say that? I, myself, come to find that many students who make such claims are missing something important: confidence. But, why is this the case?

The priorities of typical English curricula that are outlined by schools about writing vary. Not every school has English programs that pour their attention into areas of writing that are much more empowering than, say, grammar and spelling. Most of the work that youth are assigned is meant to "prepare" them for the infamous, and often dreaded, standardized tests. The room for creativity and self-expression then becomes highly restricted resulting in a student, who may have had potential, very bored by the concept of writing. Sometimes, the students' imaginative faculties open up when they pursue individual writing projects of their own creation such as: online sites where they may publish poetry and stories; journals about their life experiences or fiction; short stories and poems for 'Poetry Slams' or 'Spoken Word' events with their friends.
Very much related to the first issue is when the instructor then highlights grammar and spelling as vital to their grade. Imagine getting a paper back with all sorts of markings and red ink. How would you feel? What would you think? I, for one, always thought that I have done a very poor job, and I have hated writing all through high school. When someone tells you that your writing is terrible and that you are unable to write, that can be problematic. The student is harmed and disempowered. It is made to seem like writing is an ability rather than an art that you develop over time.

When you really think about what writing means, ironically, these practices are counter-intuitive to the "goals" many schools set for themselves. I think about writing as the embodiment of your thoughts, ideas, feelings, beliefs, and everything that makes you who you are. So, evidently, telling someone that they are unskilled in writing really means, by my logic, that you are fragmenting the identity of a person. Less ironically, these types of attittudes towards writing come from youth who live in predominantly low-income and minority neighborhoods.

That is not to say that teachers love to tell students that grammar makes the grade rather, it is the educational policies that manipulate the curriculum that teachers have to abide by. It becomes a challenge to work around and be nurturing at the same time. Still, this does not make it right. Educators should not have to face the kind of choices that they are limited to.  

But, what I have come to believe is that this is all for a reason (not a very positive one, at that). When you have the power to disenfranchise whole groups of people from being able to express themselves confidently and articulately, you are erasing identities and limiting their active participation in creating counter-discourses in the issues that concern them most.

Then, what should be done? There must be a complete revision to English curriculum in schools that are located in low-income and minority neighborhoods. Youth must be encouraged to express themselves and be proud about what they have to say! So, aim to be as thoughtful and positive as you can be and don't feel hopeless about sessions if they're not how you'd like them to be!

1 comment:

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