Rethinking College Writing Instruction

College Writing: two methods, compared

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In the standard compare-and-contrast essay, the writer has to take two topics, items, or people and state how they are like and how unlike.  In these few paragraphs, I will take the same approach, contrasting the standard way of teaching first year writing and the Readable Writing way.

Readable Writing, as I call it, is a specific way of teaching writing. I designed it to counteract the problems that I saw with the standard methods. I can’t claim complete originality for the method–it did not spring out of my forehead whole and beautiful—but it indeed rests on the work of two highly original thinkers who came before me: Rudolf Flesch, the linguist and readability expert, and Karen Pryor, a famous authority on animal training and behavioral modification.  From Rudolf Flesch, I took the theory of readable prose that forms the spine of the course. From Pryor, I took a step-by-step behavioral modification plan that makes the course efficient and effective.

If I had a plan in designing this writing course it was:

  • Break it down
  • Make it simple
  • Make it learnable

Below I contrast the new method with the standard method. I describe the standard method from memory, because I formerly used it; it’s what can be read between the lines when perusing conventional comp textbooks. The new method is easily described because it’s what I do now.

The comparison below is a bit rough and inexact, but it will serve to point up differences the reader will want to know. RW means Readable Writing and SP means Standard Practice.

RW is like SP:

It’s a one-semester course, 14 weeks.

It can be taught in various rhythms: 3x per week, 2x per week or once per week.

It aims to improve student writing.

The writing assignments are roughly similar in each method.

This table stresses the differences, and it’s quite a good summary.

Readable Writing

Standard Practice

·Teaches a [roughly] defined “readable style.” · Is agnostic or neutral as to style.
·Focuses on words
· Focuses on both words and ideas.
·Defines good writing as a compound skill composed of a five sub-skills. ·Has no definition of good writing beyond that it pleases the teacher.
·Uses a sub-skill-to-top-skill framework. ·Has no hierarchy that relates different writing skills to each other
·Instruction is tightly sequenced and lessons must be taught in order. ·Order of lessons is up to teacher
·Objective performance standards are used. ·Subjective standards (Does it please the teacher?) are common.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John G. Maguire
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Lowell MA 01852
maguirejohn@comcast.net
978-761-4515