Sunday, October 07, 2012

How I Learned to Write

 Before I began my first college experience at Southern Virginia University in 2002, I was part of an advanced math and English program. By my junior year of high school, I was taking concurrent enrollment classes at a local community college. While most of the classes related more to creative writing and literature, one was a class on an argumentative research paper. It was my first experience with a long paper (25 pages), and also my first college paper.

Prior to that program, my best English teacher, in regards to writing, was my father. He taught me how to organize essays and structure arguments. He also taught me how to do massive amounts of research in a short amount of time. I always took my essays to him, and he always had comments on how to improve them.

Between these two experiences, I arrived at college equipped with several tools related to critical thinking and rhetoric. I only took a few classes at SVU, and none were related to English as I had a different major. Still, I was able to write well and rarely received a poor grade on an essay.

By the time I got to English 2010 at Utah Valley University (I skipped over 1010 due to the writing class in high school) I had a fairly refined craft. The only learning curve I faced occurred with different modes of writing, but I viewed them more as ways of structuring arguments rather than different writing styles or modes. I managed to do well in that class with minimal effort.

Honestly, I would rather have had a difficult 2010 class, one with a demanding teacher who insisted on clear delineations between different types of writing assignments. There is a part of me that feels I didn’t start moving beyond the five-paragraph essay until English 3010, Academic Writing. I look back at some of my previous essays that received high grades and feel I should have been held to a higher standard.

It’s especially unhelpful when, sometimes, I feel that I haven’t done very well on an assignment, yet still receive A’s. When I’ve completely multiple drafts and workshopped a piece, I usually have a sense of whether that essay is “good” or needs further revision. Other times, when I am rushed by a deadline and have to submit, the process of how I got an A seems like a mystery, a sensation compounded when the teacher only uses check marks or empty statements, such as “nice,” in the margins.

So, by one standard, I have always known “how to do it,” based on the terms of the assignment and the requirements of the teacher, with minimal amounts of further instruction. By a different standard, I still needed to be taught how to write a proper collegiate essay beyond the point where I feel I should have learned how to do so. Even now I couldn’t exactly define the difference between “analytical” and “argumentative,” or “analytical” and “research,” although I do see a distinction between an argumentative essay and a research paper.


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