Harry Wong
Jun 2017
Vol 14 No 2

Quantity over Quality–The Problem with Writing Instruction in Our Schools

By Susan L. Lipson

From the archives

Susan Lipson’s novel for middle grade readers.

As an author and an itinerant writing instructor who visits schools, runs workshops, and tutors youngsters privately, I have found major problems in today’s methods of teaching writing to children. I sum them up as follows: Excessive quantification of written words diminishes the quality of both the writing and the writing experience, just as too much qualification in literary assignments diminishes the quantity of material produced and the thought given to producing it. Students who write with point values in mind merely compose words to fit a teacher’s standards, sacrificing quality to quantitative judgment; thus, verbosity–rather than ingenuity, conciseness, and preciseness–reaps rewards. On the other hand, many teachers eliminate verbosity (a good thing), but hinder fluency (a bad thing) by qualifying every assignment with required checklists demanding certain numbers of words and/or pages, specific placements for quotations, rigid structural limitations, a preset number of figurative expressions, and time-consuming, ancillary crafts projects designed, theoretically, to encourage “reluctant writers.” The competent writing teacher–who must also be a competent writer–knows how to elicit quantity with quality prompts, then grade the quantity in terms of quality.

Incompetence has flourished, however, because of our test-score-based instruction in most schools, instruction that has replaced in-depth critiques with sums of “points per section.” Sadly, the very purpose of writing–clear communication of ideas–has disappeared from many Language Arts classes today. The quantitative product has taken precedence over the qualitative process of writing.

Many teachers have misled students into believing that the scores applied to written works matter more than both the learning derived from the process, and the establishing of one’s own personal best standards in writing. If I, as a writer, create my works based only on what others expect or demand from me, I am not truly communicating, only fashioning words to serve others; not creating, but reiterating; not sighing with pride upon completion of a written work, but rather, with relief to be finished. If I, as a teacher of writing, do not lead my students into careful examination of the words they choose and the reasons they choose them, I fail to assist the communication process. Teachers must write the assignments first!

In focusing on the process, rather than solely on the product, during writing instruction, teachers serve as Muses–to inspire, enlighten, and guide. Teachers must practice more questioning (that good ole Socratic method) and less judging. We must pose questions that produce detailed and/or profound answers. Then we can guide and enrich revisions by asking, “So, is this what you were hoping to convey?” We need to ask what happened between points A and C, not simply deduct points for a lack of B. We should annotate, not simply grade papers; and offer clear example essays (which we ought to write ourselves!), not simply clever writing prompts. Teachers honor communication itself by showing young writers’ that their sweat-filled words matter enough to elicit our thoughtful reactions and sound recommendations for continued improvement.



Comment on this article...

Next Article...
This entry was posted on Saturday, September 1st, 2012 and is filed under *ISSUES, September 2012, Susan L. Lipson. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
By State
AL   AK   AZ   AR   CA   CO   CT   DE   DC   FL   GA   HI   ID   IL   IN   IA   KS   KY   LA    ME   MD   MA   MI   MN   MS   MO   MT   NE   NV   NH   NJ   NM   NY   NC   ND   OH   OK   OR   PA   RI   SC   SD   TN   TX   UT   VT     VA   WA   WV   WI   WY