Saturday, September 19, 2009

Building Writing Skills

I wanted to further discuss an argument that came up during our online chatroom session on Friday. The argument is as follows: Is it better for students to write within or outside of their comfort zones? My initial reaction to this was that students would of course write better if they were comfortable with the assignment presented to them. However, under further consideration, I realized that when students are not completely comfortable with a writing assignment they are pushed to contemplate the prompt more and delve deeper into its meaning and purpose.

If someone were asked to write in a brand new style of writing, he would probably not master it immediately. With that said, he would most likely research the style, study examples, and try to fit the information generated from the prompt and the literature to the style. Of course it would not necessarily be comfortable to begin working on such an assignment, but such an effort would expand the student's repertoire of writing styles, encourage deep thorough thought, and promote creativity.

An assignment with which a student is more comfortable with may have a better end result, but, in regard to skills learned, thought invested, and emergence into the subject matter, not being comfortable seems to be more important for a "novice" writer. Maybe this helps to explain why college writing is so different and often uncomfortable to learn. We should consider that professors want us to reach beyond our comfort zones to explore new areas of thought. After all, if an assignment is not challenging, what is it worth?

How much guidance should be given to students who are presented with a writing style that they do not have experience with? Would giving students more autonomy promote creativity? Let me know what you guys think.


  1. I would have to agree that it is only when I am writing outside of my comfort zone that I see the most growth.
    To answer your question "how much guidance should be given to students who are presented with a writing style that they do not have experience with?" I think that is what attending office hours are for and writing multiple drafts. In a sense, it is like we are shooting in the dark but that does not mean we have to stay in the dark. However, even with all of those tools, it sometimes takes making mistakes in order to learn.

  2. Writing in and out of your comfort zone are both good ways to improve your skills, but the skills you learn differ in each situation. When you are writing in your comfort zone, you improve skills that you already know. You learn to use prior experience to expand your knowledge. When writing out of your comfort zone, you have to learn to adapt rather than refine your techniques. Adaptability is an essential trait to have when exploring new topics and styles. A good writer will do both: refine the skills that he/she already has while expanding their range of writing at the same time.

  3. I think that when presenting a student with a completely new writing style, there should be more guidance than when having the student write in a manner they are familiar with. However, I think that most of this guidance should come after the student's first attempt. By giving the student the initial writing liberty, the student will need to learn the style themselves, and figure out a meaning of their own. After the first attempt, it would be good to give guidance so that the student is pointed in the right direction. If you just tell the students what to do in the first place, they will probably get it right on their first try, but they may not "connect" with writing in that style, and may instead end up mirroring what they were told for later assignments, even if it is not what is desired.


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