The complexity conundrum

02 steph oct 050While working with the development of a secondary language arts and literature curriculum, I had a co-worker say “If you don’t live by the 6 + 1 trait writing model, we are not going to get along.”

At the time I said nothing, but I probably could have used a snappy rejoinder, “Wow, such an impressive model. How could anyone have even written anything of quality before this model was created a mere twenty years ago?”

Yes, I admit that sarcasm is one of my bad characteristics. Of course, saying this would have embarrassed her because obviously people have been writing well for centuries. That is the problem with the passion that teachers show for any new model or mode of education. New fads keep occurring because the old ways do not work for everyone. But then neither do the new ones, so there is no sense in getting emotional or defensive over them.

Recycling of ideas in education is similar to the creation of Frankenstein’s monster – parts of old theories and notions, stitched together in new ways. Of course, this constant revamping would not be necessary if we would learn to add new ones to the old still living models rather than killing them off, with the death knell of ‘“paradigm shift.” Yes, the amount of theories and models are going to be overwhelming this way. However, overwhelming amounts of information on have been around eons before the Internet, and somehow humanity has managed.

When my dyslexic child was in fourth grade, I was given a writing workbook for her to use over the summer. If she followed the examples precisely, she should end up with well written paragraphs that would look exactly like everyone else’s paragraphs ( at least those that used the same book). So I took what worked from the workbook, and tried to make it mesh with other writing guidelines. Then, I gave her freedom to choose topics and mix up the methods and organization. Writing should be a creative activity and not simply rote learning.  

Unwillingness to deal with complexity is a greater problem in teaching than unfamiliarity with the latest instructional trend in composition. When we deal with complexity we will not all teach writing in the same way. But consider this, we do not want a boring world in which all students write in the same way either. They will make an effort to write when they have something to say, something unique or meaningful to themselves. No matter which set of techniques you use, techniques are futile to improve writing unless the content is worthwhile.

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