Composition Theory and Pedagogy
by Erin Coon
I always thought that I was a talented writer. By writing, I mean conveying my thoughts or ideas in ways that people found interesting and fun. Writing came easy to me, and I could write pages of original ideas and thoughts in a matter of minutes. It was fun and easy - not something I had to work hard at.
That was until I entered into the tenth grade. That year in Honors AP English, my whole writing style was turned upside down. We were no longer writing the "In my opinion." or "I think." papers. We were writing critical and analytical essays. We actually had to prove and support our ideas - something totally new to me. Of course, with my writing "expertise," I thought this would be no problem at all. That year, everything changed, and six years later, I still use the techniques that I learned in that class. In classes prior to this, teachers had always stressed the ideas of pre-writing, drafts, and editing. But because writing always came so easy to me and I excelled at it, these were just practices I completed to humor the teacher. I had no use for them. They didn't seem to have any effect on my writing at all. However, that changed when I entered the tenth grade class.
The teacher of the class was the department head, Mrs. Kuthy. We called her "the Kuthster." She was a fairly short, roly-poly woman - the kind that are supposed to be so nice and call you "sweetie" and "dear." But she didn't. She wasn't mean, but she didn't take excuses, and that was made very clear to us early on. If we didn't work in her Honors AP class, we could kiss our seat goodbye. According to her, there was a list of people just waiting to get into the class. The Kuthster always carried around a water bottle. Every time she spoke, she would get two words out, and then start to cough and choke. At first it was amusing. My classmates and I would smile at each other as she guzzled her water. After the first couple of weeks, however, it was down-right annoying! And yet, that wasn't the only thing that would annoy me about this teacher.
I had always been a "straight A" student. I worked hard in every class, and had never gotten below an 85%, or "B". So you can imagine the lump I got in my throat when we were handed back our first papers, and I received a "D-"! I don't remember what the paper was about, but I do remember not thinking the paper was that bad! I was crushed! When I went to speak with her about it, she told me that my paper was not well organized, and I didn't support my ideas. Well, I was just uphaulled! First of all, everyone knew that with the Kuthster, you didn't give her your ideas. You spit back what she had told you because that was the only right answer! And as far as not being organized, I thought the paper was very straight forward and coherent - no problems there. The poor lady must be going crazy!
So I let that first grade go. I decided that all teachers graded very hard in the beginning of the year, and this was her way of telling me that I couldn't slack in her class, that I actually had to work. And so began our weekly writing assignments. Each week, we would have an assignment - of course, assigned one day, due the next. All of the assignments were a critical analysis of what we had been reading in class - the "new" style of writing for me. And for the first three months of school, I never got above a "C" on a paper, always accompanied by the same comments - "Lacks organization .Where is your proof of this?.Where does the author say this?." It was terrible. Talk about tearing me down off of my pedestal. I was crushed. It finally came to the point where I sat down with my mother and told her I wanted to be moved to another class. It was then and there that my mother and I created for me a system of writing that I still use today.
It took me a long time to perfect my writing process, but I ultimately found myself turning back to the steps previous teachers had forced me to complete. My first step is brainstorming. I put down on paper everything that I think I might want to say in this paper. This step takes a few days, as I jot down ideas every once in a while as they come to me. Then I create an outline. I sit down and make a very thorough outline, complete with quotes and explanations, page numbers and citations. Finally, I take a seat in front of the computer and write until the first draft of the paper is done. With the extensive outline, however, this part is very easy, and ultimately is the shortest part of the whole process. After the paper has been written, I print it out and high-light all my verbs to make sure they all agree. Then, I have several people read and comment on my paper - my mother, my friends - anyone who has a few spare minutes. I take their comments into consideration and make my final revisions, and then I have my finished product.
This process was quite extensive, but it worked for me. Kuthy never said that my writing was getting better, but I did get better grades. Unfortunately, writing began to be no fun for me anymore. Kuthy took structure and organization to such an extreme that I dreaded the words "writing assignment." This feeling has stuck with me for years. However, now I can whip off a theoretical paper in no time flat! In fact, I have fine-tuned my system so well that, depending on the assignment, I can sometimes skip writing down my brainstorming, and just think about the ideas for a couple of days until they blossom.
As much as I didn't like the Kuthster, she forced me to deal with a new type of writing with which I had a very difficult time. Because of her, I now have a system of writing that works for me, and can be applied to almost any type of analytical assignment that can be given. However, I have the opposite problem now. I can write analytical and theoretical essays very easily, but writing creatively is difficult. I'm out of practice. I don't know where to start.I don't feel good about the ideas.The same excuses I had when I started tenth grade.
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