This is my confession. Although I have extensively taught pre-college and freshman writing classes for the last three years, my scholarly background is not in writing. But I do have an extensive experience in trying to learn to write well.
As an international student at Boston College, writing was a struggle. I spoke and understood English well enough to follow classes. But writing a paper was different. Grammer, paragraph structure, essay outline, and many other issues made the process very challenging. In Japanese, my native language, there is nothing like articles (a, an, the). We have a very different system in terms of countable and uncountable nouns. Japanese writing does not share the same idea of a thesis statement. Japanese essays are constructed very differently from American counterparts. Looking back, I think it took me at least three years until I was able to say comfortably, “I think I know how to write an academic paper in English.”
This is to say that I can emphasize how my students struggle with their writing. Many students do not speak English as their mother tongue. I was there. To this day, I must admit, I have to have someone proofread my writing just to make sure that I am not making basic grammatical errors. I can also remember the process of transitioning to American way of writing.
My experience of struggling to learn to write well is relevant to my native English speaker students, as well. I have had very few students that have said to me that they liked writing. When I hear my student say that he or she is good at writing, it has usually been in the contact of, “I always got an A on my writing assignments in high school. Why am I getting only a 3.0 in this class?” So many students struggles regardless of their native tongue. Even those who are good at writing, they still have a long way to go. I enjoy offering different advice to students to refine their writing.
Good writing, of course, requires good inquiries. A set of high quality research questions is a necessary way to start a promising writing project. It is then followed by high quality research. Frenquently, collaborations with libraries, writing centers, and other resources on campus are extremely helpful for students. But I also often share my won stories. Referring to the current project at the time, I share what I have done for my project with my students. “I am currently writing an essay on X. What kind of research questions would you have come up with if you were me?” is one of the questions I ask my students. Sometimes, they are asked to find three useful article sources on the topic. This allows my students to practice what they have learned in class.
Even in writing, online instruction is on the rise. For my strategies on online teaching, please refer to the Teaching Online page.