As a college English teacher with over twenty years of experience, John Warner is often asked why recent graduates can’t write. Warner typically responds, “They’re doing exactly what we’ve trained them to do; that’s the problem” (2018, p. 2). As the subtitle to Warner’s Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities suggests, formulaic writing is in large part to blame for students’ struggles. From an early age, students are taught to write in standardized forms without considering audience, purpose, or the importance of developing creative ideas. Exacerbating the situation, few college teachers craft writing assignments that provide students with the resources, time, and intrinsic motivation to do good work. As a recent national study has demonstrated, most college-level writing assignments simply ask students to tell the instructor what he or she already knows (Melzer, 2014).
Warner and other composition scholars have advice for higher education instructors who would like their students to produce better writing. First, whenever possible, ditch formulaic writing. Warner sees no value in the five-paragraph essay for any writer at any skill level. Instead, students should have practice writing in a variety of forms to a variety of audiences, as they would in the real world. With well-designed assignments, students are capable of producing good writing that is also meaningful to them. According to a national, multi-campus research project, students found that their most meaningful college writing assignments allowed them choice, applicability to their future careers, connections to personal knowledge/experience, opportunities to interact with others, and significant time to devote to a project (Eodice, Geller, and Lerner, 2016).
Want to learn more? Join us for a book group beginning in January 2020 to discuss Warner’s Why They Can’t Write. More information abut the book group can be found on its registration page. The author will join us for one of our three book group meetings. Please also plan to attend Professor Warner’s SoTL talk on February 21 or 22 (final date/time T.B.A.). And, remember that the Campus Writing Program and Writing Tutorial Services are always available to help you and your students through one-on-one consultations and tutorials.
Works referenced in this blog:
Eodice, Michelle, Anne Ellen Geller, and Neal Lerner. 2016. The Meaningful Writing Project: Learning, Teaching and Writing in Higher Education. Utah State UP.
Melzer, Daniel. 2014. Assignments across the Curriculum: A National Study of College Writing. Utah State UP.
Warner, John. 2018. Why They Can’t Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities. Johns Hopkins UP.