I wish I had some deep insight to share about life, but about the only thing on my mind lately has been this one question: Can great writing be taught?
At my request, my students turned in copies of the papers that they wrote last year so that I could see where I need to focus my lectures. Over the past two weeks, I've struggled through reading their papers and have averaged almost an hour on each paper. The results have been disheartening. Only one student "gets it." The others have major grammar, sequencing, and citation problems. I don't expect their analyses to be stellar (yet), but not having the facts in a logical order is not acceptable. Elementary students are asked to put sentences in the proper order to make a logical paragraph, and they can do it. So, I can't expect less of my students who are much older.
After marking one problem after another in their assignments, I began to wonder if good writing is truly a gift. A talent that can be developed, rather than taught. For instance, I took piano lessons for eight years and learned how to play the instrument. After all those years of lessons can I play the piano well? Unfortunately, no. Playing the piano did not come natural to me, and I had to practice quite a bit to learn how to play the songs at a competitive level. But no matter how much I practiced, I was never going to be a contestant in the Van Cliburn competition.
Good writing seems like it might fit in that same category. These students have been taught the basics for many years now. But there's still something missing in their writing. I'm not sure whether it is a lack of practice because they spend their time preparing for their other classes or whether they don't "get it." Either way, I've got my work cut out for me over the next few months. I want their writing to improve tremendously.
So, all you fellow writers, can great writing be taught or is it a gift? If you believe it can be taught, what pointers do you have for teaching it?