Insofar as the students I teach are generally unskilled in the fundamentals of correct usage, it comes as no surprise that there exists a severe deficiency in the area of writing. This unit, designed to improve basic writing skills, is to be used to supplement other kinds of writing as well as the study of grammar and sentence structure. The study of basic English skills is of little value to students in itself, but the application of the students’ knowledge of grammar through the process I’m about to discuss will enable them to improve their own writing and speaking.
This writing unit is based on a method of writing presented by Robert Gay in his book
Writing Through Reading.
Although this method was originally designed to be used with high school and college students, I believe that by modifying the reading assignments and writing exercises, this approach can be used with culturallydisadvantaged middle school students in an attempt to improve not only the students’ writing but their reading as well.
Writing through reading is simply a unit of methods and exercises in different kinds of rewriting or retelling another person’s thoughts. Through the processes of transcribing, translating, paraphrasing, condensing, and imitating, which I will discuss in detail later in this paper, students can learn to reproduce in writing the thoughts of others. Originality of expression rather than originality of thought is emphasized in this writing unit.
Practice in the use of the forms of reproduction mentioned above provides many benefits for students. Reproducing thoughts through these methods requires concentrated attention to reading. If students must record in some form the thoughts read, they must learn to read discriminatively.
An advantage reproducing thoughts has over original composition is that the problem of writing is greatly simplified by providing the students with the ideas about a subject.
Reproducing thoughts has another advantage in that it allows students to measure their own success. The reading material reproduced serves as a model with which students can compare their work. Similar writing submitted by classmates also provides a model with which students can judge their own work. Original writing can really only be judged by the teacher’s standards, which may be totally inconsistent with those of the students.
Another advantage of reproducing thoughts is that it forces students to enlarge their vocabularies. If students are to reproduce the thoughts of another, they must strive for accuracy. If their limited vocabularies do not provide the words for expressing another’s thoughts, they must find them.
Reproducing thoughts also provides a practical means of attaining competency in writing sentences. Generally, frequent exposure to good writing eventually enables students to distinguish between good writing and bad writing. If students read the sentences of an author who knows how to write them, reread them over and over, preferably aloud, and practice writing sentences following the exact model of those read, they will master the art of writing sentences.
Gay summarizes the advantages of rewriting another person’s thoughts as follows:
(a) That students know exactly what they are doing, and have two standards with which to compare their products—the original, and the versions of their classmates.
(b) That students can write under the eye of their teacher, and are subject to the teacher’s suggestion and criticism.
(c) That students discover that learning to write may be an artistic discipline, conducted not only in accordance with theory, but by practice in the presence of a model.
(d) That students are compelled to pay attention to the two essential units of style—the word and the sentence; and to these, not—as too often in rhetorical study—because they appear to be important on their own account, but because, to express the thought of the original, they must be “right.” Students must extend their vocabulary, refine their diction, and labor over their sentences.
(e) That, since good writing is largely an affair of feeling,—of the ear,—students unconsciously train their perception of sentencepattern and sentence rhythm.
(f) That the rewriting of carefully selected passages of prose and poetry imprints upon the minds of students worthy ideas which, merely read, would soon be forgotten.
The intent of this unit is not necessarily to produce great writers. In a classroom setting, I’m not concerned so much with the training of young authors as with the simpler problems of teaching students to write sentences and to acquire a vocabulary. Since good writing is basically a matter of habit and feeling, I hope that this unit will also provide methods of establishing habit and generating taste.