A radical rethinking of the teaching of writing



maguireThe idea here is simple:  today’s college students can learn to write well in one semester. All that’s needed is (1) a clear goal, and (2) a clear sequence of skills that can be identified and practiced until they are second nature. But getting the sequence of skills right—that’s the rub. 

The clear goal is readability—window-pane clear prose. The sequence of skills is a sequence of style skills, choosing the right words and patterns of words. Many instructors mistakenly think these skills are minor, or they don’t believe they are skills at all. Readability is not actually a stated goal in most courses. That’s why we end up with so many students who cannot write a readable sentence. The readability method does the opposite—states that readability is the top goal of the course, and aims for it with every action and activity undertaken. 

My freshman comp course has an eight-week Part One and a six-week Part Two. Part One covers five skills that together produce readable prose. Part Two also teaches five skills, which properly coordinated produce organized essays. By the end of the course, the students are doing all ten writing skills more or less at once.  And they know how to edit and improve their own work.

Click on the Essays tab for two accounts of the method from different angles. One was published in the Atlantic Monthly, the other on the Pope Center web site. If you click on “Buy the College Writing Guide” to the left, you can read more about who uses the method and why. (Clicking that button won’t complete the transaction; it will just take you to a page where the buy button is.)

John G. Maguire
28 Sprague Avenue
Chelmsford MA 01824