Roughly every three months, I have to write 40-odd comments, one for each student I teach, on the quality of their work so far. Then I comment their potential for the future. Finally, I offer some advice on how to translate where they are now into where they could be with hard work, dedication, interest, personal responsibility, and other fantasies. Every time I go through this ritual, I am reminded of how utterly futile it seems.
One of my students handed me a short story, about 8 pages long, which is a good example of this. It’s long-winded, full of fantastic little details, and utterly lacking in compelling story. How do you tell a student that his writing suffers from a lack of characters and a distinct lack of plot? His writing shows, if I dare say it, a lack of exposure to other people’s writing. That is to say, this student does notread. He knows how, but he chooses not to read. Video games are more important, apparently.
My own colleagues in the English department barely believe me when I cite Stephen King’s advice, “Write to read; read to write.” How can I expect my students to follow that advice? His other advice, write first drafts with the door closed, and revise with the door open, is also virtually impossible in school settings with our emphasis on grading and assessment.
Also, I like this piece on the writers’ strike…