Pearls of Wisdom to Offer Students About Writing

There are five things that Rob Jenkins tells his composition students every semester.
  1. “If you think you won’t have to write anymore once you’re done with your English classes, you need to think again.”
  2. “If you think you’re going to be done with writing when you get out of college, you need to think again.”
  3. “Writing is not a magical ability that some people just have and others just don’t.”
  4. “If there is a secret to good writing, it is this: multiple drafts.”
  5. “Good writing comes from having more to say than you have space in which to say it, so that you’re forced to say it as well as possible.”

He elaborates on these in some detail in his post over at the Chronicle of Higher Education.  I intend to drop them on my students one at a time, as the occasion warrants.

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15 responses

  1. #4 multiple drafts – can I get an Amen? It’s so true! My middle school students are very resistant to editing their work and writing multiple drafts, but it is so valuable!*

  2. I love the last one. I have three middle school classes with gifted clusters this year and those students could easily write 35 pages on a subject. Obviously, they need to learn to edit. I told them they had to keep their word count under 700 for their first assignment and it’s really making these gifted kids stretch. Btw, I just finished reading Carol Jago’s book COHESIVE WRITING. Short and sweet, it offers great ways to get students fully invested in their writing.

  3. When I was teaching Freshman Composition Classes in college, I would always have at least one discussion in the beginning of the semester talking about why writing was valuable. I would challenge them to come up with a job where they would never need any form of writing. They managed to name a couple, like garbage collector and porn star, but that was about it. One of my most successful moments came at the end of a semester, when an accounting student wrote her final paper, and discovered (through interviewing accounting professors and other sources) how much writing was involved in a successful career in accounting.

    • Lisa: I love that outcome. I often have the same result when I teach them about writing effective emails – they suddenly realize that the tools for good communication are practiced in ALL forms of writing and are necessary for so many of life’s tasks.

  4. I love them. I’m a student and its funny to hear so many people ask why they need to write research papers or why they’re even taking english classes if they’re art majors. It’s crazy. But I totally agree with them all, and jesus, those drafts!

  5. I agree with the majority of this, actually all of it when it comes to academics, however, I write to cope with my crap and I just write, free write. I don’t think about how others will perceive it nor do I think about how well organized it is. I write poems and misc. things in order to release emotion and in which case, I just use my vocabulary and principles of writing. I’ve written academically too, don’t worry and I actually got a better grade and won three contests with the papers I wrote with no drafts. Drafts are a great, great way to get started and master it until you’ve written what you need to have written in the manor required, but, some people over analyze and multiple drafts drop their grades. It really depends on the individual.

    • vn: Yes, I think this advice is meant for academic writing in particular. And there are certainly times when a first version is the best version; for students who are not accustomed to writing, however, I find multiple drafts are usually essential.

  6. It’s a good thing I’m not in charge! Electronics would be banished from the school for students AND teachers until 10th grade. Kids get enough of it at home. And so do teachers.

    Education is NOT about learning to push buttons. Most chips are easier to train and frankly cost less if I need someone to sit and push a button under a given set of conditions. Even pigeons can be trained to do this. Just ask Skinner….

    Education is NOT the social hour. If your child needs to be socalized you should investigate religious services, day care, sports, play groups, parks, and after school activities.

    Education is about learning to think critically. Educators who rely too heavily on “learning games” aren’t teaching their students to think. They are not themselves thinking critically and in not doing that they are not challenging their students to do the same. They are merely cranking out more sheeple.

    Education should be about learning to apply logic and reason and scientific method so that you can solve problems and get through each day to the next. A little of it about teaching ethics and morality in as much as we can agree on those as a society (things like “You cannot hit Johnyy

    If you can’t write, no matter how smart you are you will still come across as a drooling idiot. Do you think that people don’t write emails? If you can’t use proper grammar when addressing your boss, how are you going to present your big idea? And if you do present it, but you sound like an illiterate toad, do you really think that he’s going to listen to you?

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