Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Learning to write; Preparing for college

This little statistic came as no surprise to me. In Colleges spend billions to prep freshman, the author states,

... one-third of American college students have to enroll in remedial classes. The bill to colleges and taxpayers for trying to bring them up to speed on material they were supposed to learn in high school comes to between $2.3 billion and $2.9 billion annually.

If you doubt this statistic, just check the schedule of available classes at community colleges. There are dozens of remedial classes taught every semester in math and English. I know high schools are not preparing students for college because I have students in my college classes every semester who cannot write a complete sentence. This article tells the unfortunate -- but not uncommon -- story of one young lady:

Christina Jeronimo was an "A" student in high school English, but was placed in a remedial course when she arrived at Long Beach Community College in California. The course was valuable in some ways but frustrating and time-consuming. Now in her third year of community college, she'd hoped to transfer to UCLA by now.

Like many college students, she wishes she'd been worked a little harder in high school.

"There's a gap," said Jeronimo, who hopes to study psychology. "The demands of the high school teachers aren't as great as the demands for college. Sometimes they just baby us."

I have had students who were shocked to receive an F on their first paper, because they were A students in high school. Sometimes, they were even in the honors program. These are smart kids, but they were stuck in a system that had unqualified teachers working in an archaic system. When it comes to writing, no one is going to learn to write unless they read and write a lot! They do not learn to write by diagramming sentences or labeling nouns and verbs -- but it is so much easier to grade worksheets instead of essays.

A teacher in a class of 30-40 students (times five classes a day) does not have the time to provide feedback on the amount of writing that most kids need to do in order to become proficient writers. It really does not matter what kind of writing they do -- they can write movie reviews, letters to Grandma, or short stories about their favorite subject. (My youngest has written dozens of stories about horses.) The point is that kids have to write!

And they have to read, so they can see good writing. If they want to read Harry Potter 15 times, that's great! So-called "reading books" are one of the things I blame for so many kids hating reading. As every agent and editor in NYC will tell you -- publishing is a very subjective business. Most best sellers are rejected dozens of times before an agent agrees to represent a book, and then it is usually rejected even more before a publisher buys it. That's because not everyone loves even the most popular books. Between my three children, the only thing that all of them like is Harry Potter. Otherwise, they can't even agree on a genre. My oldest loves fiction; my middle child likes non-fiction books about movies; my youngest reads fiction and non-fiction, as long as the subject is animals.

All of them became competent writers with almost no help from me. They wrote things that interested them and excited them. I never told them to write anything, and yet they wrote prolifically. They wrote fan fiction, forum posts, short stories, and novels. They wrote because they loved the subjects, and they wanted to share their thoughts with other people. Just like playing the piano or shooting hoops, the more you do it, the better you get!

No comments: