Thursday, April 08, 2010

Writing Class, examples

For the last couple of days in my class, Writing in Psychology, we’ve been talking about rewriting. I’ve always enjoyed rewriting myself; sometimes I think I like it better than “writing.” But I notice a real reluctance in many students to rewrite. I believe it stems from a bit of laziness. It was enough work to get the sentence down the first time. Rewriting it is just a bunch more work for little payoff.

Of course, what I tell them, but what they don’t always understand, is that writing and rewriting are really synonymous. It’s not like laying bricks, where you get one down and you don’t want to tear it up again for anything. Words put down in writing are always “approximations.” They’re placeholders, and tearing one up to replace it is part of the process.

One of the things I have my students do during this section of the class is practice rewriting poorly designed sentences and paragraphs. I actually give them examples to rewrite of actual papers handed in for grades to me during previous semesters. Of course, I leave off any identifying names. Here’s some of the ones I’m giving to them today. Except for putting them into quotations, these are reproduced “exactly” as they were first handed in to me in my classes. Are you amazed? Traumatized? I know I was.

1. “When they are hungry or want to be held or need to be clean babies respond in there own way by crying or screeming.”

2. “Lying is also used to conceal real truths,,escape punishment, to save face, and to also shun responsibility.”

3. “Suppression is the avoiding of thoughts that are stressful or negative in some sort of way by substituting them with other thoughts that are not so hurtful to the person.”

4. “Some people can get by one just a few hours sleep while others require eight nine or more.”

5. “Some point in life, an individual face a loss of memory.”


Bernita said...

Oh Lord...

ivan said...

I echo that.

Jesu Cristo!

David J. West said...

Once I fully embraced rewrites and editing, it became a joyful expirience.

Steve Malley said...

Coming at life as a guy with a pencil, I never minded rewriting.

After all, when I draw, I usually start with a loose mass of shapes and gradually, with much erasing, move to a finished piece. I never expected my work with words to be any different.

Btw, was that last sentence on a paper submitted by Twitter? lol

Rick said...


G said...

Holy bad punctuation, Batman!

Man, I sometimes talk like that to amuse my co-workers, but to see it live and in living color...wowzers!

Sad part is, I've seen examples of this from adults with twice the education and triple the money I make.

Rewriting can be fun. These students need to see that. Oh wait, I'm sure that their hi skool teechers told dem udderwise.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernita, welcome to my world.

Ivan, indeed.

David J. West, much of my favorite part of writing.

Steve Malley, that was pre-twitter, my friend.

Rick, yes. For sure.

G., I know. I can't imagine those were actually handed in. They're all like opening sentences, too.

Travis said...

I'm looking for a charitable way to describe those sentences, but I can't find one.

I love to rewrite.

G said...

Opening sentences?

Man, even Snoopy of the "It was a dark and stormy night" fame can write better than that.

I do not envy your job sir.

On a serious note: are you seeing more students with minimal writing skills as the months/years go by?

the walking man said...

I didn't see no mistakes.

Greg Schwartz said...

Wow, it's scary that college students can write that poorly. I know, at least in the Baltimore area, there's a huge problem with grade-school kids not learning, but you would think that by the time someone gets to college, they should have a basic understanding of spelling and grammar.

It's enough to make you want to screem.

Harry Markov said...

I can spot the mistakes and I am not even a native speaker, so these should not pose any problems even to the lazy ones.

benjibopper said...

It reminds me that there are so many places to go wrong with the English language. It must actually be a rare student who can catch all the mistakes and turn those into good writing.

It took me a long time to understand the importance of re-writing. For me it was an attachment thing, an ego problem. I couldn't fathom that I might actually improve on my brilliant creations. I guess I thought I was touched by the mind of God or something.

As Dylan said, I'm younger than that now.

laughingwolf said...

dunno who's worse, the 'students' or the 'teachers' who refuse to keep them back...

Angie said...

Gads. :/

I think it's a great idea to have them rewrite other students' work, though. It should be easier to spot the flaws in someone else's work, and then (hopefully!) take the lessons back to their own.


Charles Gramlich said...

Travis, yeah, nothing really good you can say here.

G, I actually saw an improvement for a while in students' writing skills, although since hurricane Katrina they've been backsliding.

Mark, perhaps you are wiser than I then.

Greg Schwartz, Indeed, I feel like screeming all the time!

Harry Markov, I think laziness is a big key, and just utter carelessness.

benjibopper, I don't think I understood the need for rewriting when I first started, but it seemed to come naturally to me. I just always liked working things around.

laughingwolf, I think part of the problem is that the teachers feel they can't keep them ALL back, and few stand out from the crowd.

Angie, they seem to enjoy correcting others too. Less emotional for them I suppose. And we certainly hope they take the lessons home. I know they do sometimes, but not always.

Heff said...

Lack of proper word crafting can be detrimental. Hell, I rewrite HBAG material SEVERAL times before the finished work is unveiled, lol !

BernardL said...

“Lying is also used to conceal real truths" That's my favorite. :)

Cloudia said...

Blessed endeavor!

Aloha from Waikiki

Comfort Spiral

Lana Gramlich said...


Michelle's Spell said...

Hey Charles,

Hope you and Lana are totally recovered from the various ailments! As for writing, fifteen years of teaching it has given me some doozies -- my favorite one, I dug a profound hole. Meaning a literal deep hole. I thought it sounded poetic and let it stand. God knows, I know what it's like to dig a profound hole. :)

Voidwalker said...

As I look at those, I'm reminded of myself. I've had my fair share of sentences like that.

Good times!

Charles Gramlich said...

Heff, I suspected as much. Or else figured you were just amazingly talented.

BernardL, as opposed to false truths! lol.

Cloudia, I hope I'm storing up credits in heaven.

Lana Gramlich, you've seen some of these at first hand.

Michelle, sometimes there is a certain "deeper" meaning in student writing. Often unintended I'm sure.

Voidwalker, I somehow doubt your's were quite this bad.

jennifer said...

I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer so I may have made worse mistakes than these!

Charles Gramlich said...

Jennifer, I doubt it. But we've all made some bad mistakes, I'm sure. I know I have. But these are not just single sentences chosen because they are errors or bad. They are part of the pattern exhibited in these papers and show a real lack of care on the part of the student writers.

jodi said...

Boy Charles, you have your work cut out for you.....Amazing..

ArtSparker said...

I wonder if there is a correlation with Alzheimer's and the production of this sort of sentence? This idea was sparked, of course, by the last example.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My husband sees writing like this too. It has deteriorated badly over the last 25 years. Secondary schools no longer require much writing, I guess.
I prefer to rewrite rather than write because the skeleton is there and you just need to fatten it up or slim it down.

Erik Donald France said...

Yeah man, I feel for you on many levels.

Re-writing is actually fun, me thinks. Especially someone else's work ;->

Merisi said...

Do your students know how lucky they are to get another chance to improve their writing skills?

Merisi said...

P.S.: Leaving a comment here does take courage. ;-)

Charles Gramlich said...

jodi,pray for me! lol.

ArtSparker, maybe an early marker? hUm?

pattinase, that's the same reason I love the rewriting part.

Erik, I've tried editing some folks' work for publication, though, and I've found that very very difficult.

Merisi, I don't think so. But why does it take courage to comment here?

Middle Ditch said...

Wonderful, wonderful howlers. I see sometimes (if at all possible) worse on FB.

SQT said...

I know I've put out some cringe-worth stuff over the years so I suppose I can't criticize too harshly-- but man, the "real truths" one is a doozy.

Charles Gramlich said...

Middle ditch, I should start keeping a record of some from FB

SQT, I don't think I've ever been quite so anti-brilliant before.

Demon Hunter said...

Parents should take out more time to read to their children. It makes all the difference. Seriously.

Mary Witzl said...

Mercy. Here I was thinking that we were working at polar ends of the language spectrum... We're not all that far apart, it turns out.

I got this one back today if it makes you feel any better: "If you will go Istanbul youtry locals. Because locals for make you felt pleasing. Very fantastik and enjoy."

(By 'locals', he meant 'local restaurants and bars'. I had to ask, and he's still smoldering with resentment that I couldn't figure it out.)

I try to explain to my students that I rewrite stuff all the time even when it's largely grammatical, just to fine tune it and get it even tighter and better. They don't get it. Nobody mourns their darlings like EFL students, for whom producing a sentence in English is like laying a golden egg.

Charles Gramlich said...

Demon hunter, agreed absolutely.

Mary Witzl, at least they have the ecuse of it being a second language. But yes, I can see how they put effort into a sentence and get wedded to it.

X. Dell said...

Interesting. Some of these read like word processing errors, mistakes that happen when you correct a word or phrase, but don't adjust the rest of the sentence. Other examples, if read out loud, would not sound as horrific as they look on paper.

I agree. Re-writing is far more fun than writing. Writing is kinda like bleeding words onto paper. Re-writing is grooving to the words on the paper.

Charles Gramlich said...

X-Dell, one thing it certainly indicates is a difference between their sense of written and spoken words. Like you say, if spoken, many of these might work because the speaker would naturally insert the pauses where commas should be.

Merisi said...

Why courage?
Well, it was a little tongue in cheek on the one hand,
on the other hand, I am not so sure about my writing skills, hence the comment. ;-)

Charles Gramlich said...

Merisi, ah, gotcha.