“In too many classrooms, we assign and assess writing without teaching the craft of it.” –Penny Kittle
The first time I heard about parallel structure, limiting one’s use of linking verbs, and different sentence types, I was only a couple months from earning an English B.A. from the University of Michigan. If not for one class with a graduate student named David West Brown (who went on to write the wonderfully practical In Other Words: Lessons on Grammar, Code-Switching, and Academic Writing), it is likely that I would have started my career as an English teacher without even basic knowledge of these three foundational writing concepts.
I share this fact not to disparage my schooling, as I got lucky in so many ways with the lessons I learned and the teachers I had. But it is remarkable that someone who took dozens of English classes from quality teachers had such gaps, and I think it illustrates a major issue with how we teach writing in this country. The fact of the matter is that we simply don’t teach much of what Penny Kittle calls the craft of writing. We talk about spelling, vocabulary, grammar, and, in the later grades, the essay form ad nauseam, but almost no one directly discusses what makes writing work. Rarely do teachers explain and explore what makes a transition jarring, why some words sound good and others don’t, how to cultivate a powerful voice, common reasons why sentences sound choppy, and what makes the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. sound like liquid silk. Continue reading “Writing Should be Taught and Caught”