Why write in an English course?

I believe in purposeful writing.  I have trouble when a course is just an exercise.  Often many writing courses have students do paragraph patterns such as narrative and description even when the students will probably never write in these literary styles.  When students are in a business specific college, they need writing that corresponds to the type writing they will do in their occupations. Reading great literature and copying its writing style probably is not a valuable life skill for these students.

What type writing do your students do? Is it real life writing or is literary exercises?  Do they ever send their writing to a person outside of the school to response to? Are they writing for the 21st century or for a traditional century old theory of writing?


2 Responses to “Why write in an English course?”

  1. 1 adsoofmelk January 6, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    With all due respect, I disagree here. Though a job might never require a student to write a narrative or descriptive paragraph, a job might well involve narration or description — everything from a police officer being able to write a specific, detailed witness statement to an advertising executive describing a product, these skills are like every other form of practice: they are there to be integrated into a wider range of skills. In football, the coach might have a player do wind sprints. Well, on the field, they’re not going to be running wind sprints back and forth, but they’ll need the skill of being able to run fully loaded and not lose energy. Same thing with writing.

    As far as reading great literature and copying its writing style, again, in and of itself and in isolation, it’s not a “valuable life skill.” What it teaches, however, IS valuable. Particularly for those students with an interest in literature and rhetoric (for example, at the AP level), copywork is an invaluable way of learning an author’s, country’s, culture’s, or era’s thinking style, the way in which the author’s unique matrix shaped her or his language and mode of expression. To use another metaphor, copywork is like learning to sing “in the style of” another singer. There are limited careers (outside of Elvis impersonation) in which singing in the style of someone else could be valuable, but what the developing singer learns is phrasing, breath control, timing, and other skills that can’t really be taught academically, but have to be done.

    Thanks for your interesting post.

  2. 2 hgtuttle January 6, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    I agree that students should be able to use the various types of writing, especially if they are in a business college. I do feel that their writing should be focused on real life examples such as you mentioned of a police officer. However, the book we are using is more of a creative writing “literary” book than a “using writing in your career” book.

    Many of my students are struggling writers. Numerous are working on their GED while at college. I feel that those students would benefit more from seeing actual writing in their new career profession than by reading famous literary examples. You can watch famous ice skaters but until you learn to put on your skates, you won’t go far.

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