Teaching writing goes beyond writing and essay exercises


“The times are bad, children have stopped obeying their parents and everyone is writing books,” lamented Cicero in one of his most epic harangues. And many today would be tempted to adopt this phrase from the famous Roman orator as their own.

It is a phenomenon that repeats itself throughout history: each generation tends to neglect or denigrate the values ​​that the previous generation still considered fundamental. This recurrence, far from validating the relevance of this attitude, makes it all the more suspect: does it not say more about the person who adopts it than about the era of which he speaks?

Can writing well be taught?

The teaching of writing does not always have a clear place in academic programs, despite the existence of numerous manuals and classics on the subject such as the books of Delmiro Coto , that of Frugoni , the Grafein group , or even of Queneau .

Many obstacles remain to be overcome, from class size to writing time to evaluation criteria. But the question is deeper: it is the lack of recognition of writing as an object of learning .

Writing as an activity, or habit, cannot be confused with publishing a book. Likewise, writing does not necessarily imply being a professional writer. Writing and reading are also not opposing tasks, with one stealing time from the other. On the contrary, they form a virtuous circle that makes the writer a better reader and the reader a better writer. Because, as Álvaro Enrigue says , a writer is above all an unrepentant reader.

Going beyond commonplaces about writing

It is commonly accepted to say that young people write very poorly, increasingly poorly, and that they do not read. Is the trend real? It is more than unlikely, but many are convinced that in the past, whatever the era, people read a lot and wrote better.

It is also a commonplace to say that writing cannot be learned. In the collective imagination, the idea – without justification or foundation – has taken root that painting, musical composition, mathematics or philosophy can be taught, but not writing. Writing can only be learned by reading and writing a lot, say those who try to distance writing from all didactics , as if it were the only discipline where practice is the most important thing. important.

But it is easy to let go of these beliefs. Everything indicates that people are reading and writing more than ever. Partly thanks to cell phones, which encouraged users to write on a daily and constant basis. But also because more and more teachers are introducing the practice of writing into their classes, with the methodology of literary workshops , which consists of rolling up one’s sleeves and working with texts as one works in a laboratory, in experimenting with the language and its forms, reading exhaustively, writing and rewriting many times until reaching, as Juan Ramón Jiménez said, the exact name of the thing .

Learning to write is more than sharing a recipe book: it is supporting the budding writer, helping them to envision their own project, showing them the resources at their disposal, guiding them in their reading and motivating them to continue writing, until it becomes a habit.

What writing brings us

Teaching students to write, at all stages of schooling, is a privileged way of working with them on their creativity, their skills of expression and understanding, their critical sense; and to give them a more lively and penetrating access to language, to make reading a more intensely lived experience and to really allow them to enter into dialogue with the texts.

Because writing well is not just about writing correctly, making what you want to say understandable, being orderly and clear. Beyond these minimums, writing well means showing your own style, your own way of seeing reality and giving it a reliable structure with language.

Clarice Lispector said that she wrote because she was incapable of understanding anything other than through the process of writing. Writing better also means thinking better, having a bolder perception of reality, giving yourself a more ambitious way of being in the world and knowing yourself.

Who can teach us to do it, and how? When the novelist Vladimir Nabokov was asked to teach at Harvard in the 1940s, the wary linguist Roman Jakobson asked: And now are we going to bring in elephants to teach zoology?

Today, there is no need to choose between writers and linguists: in addition to the valuable testimonies and reflections of many authors on their own practice, recent university research provides a scientific method for teaching writing. .

Author Bio: Enrique Ferrari is Vice Dean of Research of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities at UNIR – International University of La Rioja