Novelist teaches freshman writing, is shocked by students’ inability to construct basic sentences
Have we lost this essential skill and can it be recovered?
The First Year Writing program at my university stresses essay-writing skills: developing an arguable thesis, presenting strong supporting arguments, using quotations as evidence.
The prevailing opinion seems to be right: brief lessons don’t accomplish much. A few bright students will quickly absorb the new concepts; the others will fill out their worksheets on subject-verb agreement almost perfectly, and then write things like, The conflict between Sammy and Lengel are mainly about teenage rebellion.
Many of the writing instructors I spoke with shared my frustration. No one enjoys reading final papers that are just as awkwardly written as the first work of the semester. But none of them said what I’ve come to believe: that we should offer more help to students who reach for eloquence, only to trip over their own contorted clauses.