Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I think the best way that high school and college English teachers can counteract the product-oriented influence of the education system, which precludes in-depth self-analysis and revision of writings, is to assign a final paper about the student's own evolution as a writer. The paper would require that they cite examples from their own previous works as evidence of their progress. I call this the "Introspective Analysis of Writing Progress" essay, which doubles as a comparative literature paper. Using literature THEY have created, students can find new meaning in the typical comparative essay, by comparing their skills and style from one essay to another. They could address issues such as:

~strength and clarity of thesis
~strength and clarity of main points in support of thesis
~conciseness/elimination of superfluous words
~logical progression of points
~effectiveness of concrete details as illustrations of main points
~evocative quality of commentary
~specificity (versus vagueness) in word choices
~smoothness of transitions
~subtlety in expressing opinions
~quality of technical details, such as grammar, punctuation, spelling
~liveliness of writing style (active vs. passive phrasing, vivid words)
~the degree to which the opening entices reading
~the degree to which the conclusion leaves readers thinking.

I think that assigning that kind of essay, toward the end of a semester, or even as a final, can allow students to leave a writing or literature class understanding their overall growth. But they do need to know about the introspective analysis essay from the beginning of the semester, which will heighten their consciousness as they write. The most meaningful means of progress is introspection.