The excuses are many: Generation Y college students have allowed Internet communication to slide over into their classroom writing. Or: they weren’t given adequate writing instruction in high school. And now, it seems, the Millennials are graduating from college without having to complete a sufficient number of writing assignments.
A recent analysis of 10 four-year colleges in Texas conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education showed that education and business majors were exposed to intensive writing assignments in only a few of their courses (Glenn). If this is indicative of a trend in higher education, it is a sad one. Everyone knows that students entering college have poor writing skills—but are we willing to let them graduate without learning to write too?
Granted, teaching writing to students who don’t have an adequate foundation is difficult. I know; I served as Director of a Writing Center at a New York City college for three years. I saw students whose writing was almost incomprehensible, but I also worked with those who, with some encouragement, were able to transform poor writing into readable essays. The key is to identify what the student is trying to communicate, then look for ways to help that student build upon personal interests until he or she is motivated to improve the writing.
This is not easy, and usually it must be accomplished in a one-on-one situation. But aren’t our students worth it? I refuse to give up on improving student writing, simply because, when these students enter the work world, poor writing will hold them back. And let’s face it, our college students are already falling behind the rest of the world in math and science—are we going to let them lag in writing as well?
Yes, English teachers have it tough. I completely sympathize with one college teacher who writes in the Boston Globe, “I constantly do battle with myself to spend less than 20 minutes on a paper…This can be a genuinely frustrating experience: 50 papers stacked on a coffee table, 10 in the finished pile, and an entire afternoon gone” (Miller). Recently, teaching journalism at a mid-sized university where introductory classes often ran 35 to 40 students, I faced the same situation. If a writing teacher starts correcting all the subject-verb disagreement, the confusion between possessives and plurals, grading 40 writing assignments can take all weekend. Teachers need rest, too!
The solution must come from the combined efforts of government, college administrators, teachers, parents and students themselves. Writing Centers need to be funded for every department, and mandatory tutoring instituted for those who need it. Writing Across the Curriculum programs need to be taken seriously and, if necessary, trained professionals hired to run them. In short, we need to spend money to help students write, and we need to do it now.
But we can also start in small ways. As Melissa Hudler, Director of the Writing Center at Lamar University put it, “If students are asked to write short summary sentences instead of taking a multiple-choice quiz, that definitely helps build the flow of thought and the ability to articulate ideas” (Glenn).
Glenn, David, “At a Loss: When Students Don’t Learn to Write,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 28, 2011, Vol.. LVII, No. 21
Miller, Kara, “Failure to Communicate.” Retrieved February 4, 2011 from http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe