The reason for writing

Honduras_San_Ramon_Choluteca_school_2Because of the glaring short comings of multiple choice question as an indicator of  persons ability to evaluate or synthesize idea, the written essay has become a staple of state-mandated educational tests. Writing does take a lot more planning of action, organization of ideas and refinement of output than bubbling in an A, B,C or D. Writing also takes a lot more training and manpower to evaluate.

For a long time Texas teachers claimed the scoring the written part of the state knowledge and skills exams was arbitrary – sort of an educated dice roll. They were never sure whether the emphasis would be on accurate grammar, impeccable organization or creative story telling. Having talked with people would score the tests, I have heard of the pressure to match the scoring of other raters. It is not easy for multiple people who do not consult with each other to arrive at the same score based on paragraph or two of criteria. Everyone has a slightly different idea of what makes a good essay.

I recall one teacher who tried to proved the arbitrary nature of the scoring. She decried the fact that a student who wrote their entire essay as a dialog received a perfect score, as if there were something inherently wrong with that technique “It must have been because he used quote marks and punctuation correctly for every sentence. That would impress the scorers.”  Actually writing a meaningful essay that is completely dialog may be hard, but there is nothing wrong with it. In Cry the Beloved Country Alan Paton wrote a chapter describing the plight of the natives immigrating into Johannesburg for work – a strong statement made purely through dialog. If the student could manage to pull off a coherent essay that was all dialog, I would have rated them highly also.

Another problem for the written essay scorers is staying awake as they read the same things written over and over again. Typically we praise them for using a particular higher level of vocabulary, organizing with a particular intro-body -conclusion format,  and arriving at a particular kind of edifying conclusion. Students should learn that they can break the mold in there writing, and produce something creatively superior. Simplistically written sentences expressing complex ideas, often makes those ideas more compelling. Repeating the same word frequently is discouraged; it seems amateurish, but intentional repetition can add an extra emphatic or poetic touch. And not expressing same thing as everyone else – that is the real reason for writing.

Photo from San Ramon Choluteca School, Honduras by ZackClark (public domain)

This entry was posted in Teaching writing skills, Writer's resource and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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