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Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other…

av John Warner

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411479,527 (4.5)1
There seems to be widespread agreement that--when it comes to the writing skills of college students--we are in the midst of a crisis. In Why They Can't Write, John Warner, who taught writing at the college level for two decades, argues that the problem isn't caused by a lack of rigor, or smartphones, or some generational character defect. Instead, he asserts, we're teaching writing wrong. Warner blames this on decades of educational reform rooted in standardization, assessments, and accountability. We have done no more, Warner argues, than conditioned students to perform "writing-related simulations," which pass temporary muster but do little to help students develop their writing abilities. This style of teaching has made students passive and disengaged. Worse yet, it hasn't prepared them for writing in the college classroom. Rather than making choices and thinking critically, as writers must, undergraduates simply follow the rules--such as the five-paragraph essay--designed to help them pass these high-stakes assessments. In Why They Can't Write, Warner has crafted both a diagnosis for what ails us and a blueprint for fixing a broken system. Combining current knowledge of what works in teaching and learning with the most enduring philosophies of classical education, this book challenges readers to develop the skills, attitudes, knowledge, and habits of mind of strong writers.… (mer)
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As someone who teaches in a writing-intensive discipline at the college level, and who has taught writing seminars in the past, I found myself nodding along with so much of what John Warner has to say here. The billions that have been pumped into standardised testing, private charter schools, ed-tech, etc., over the past thirty years or so haven't just been wasted—they've caused actual harm. In this, we are in absolute agreement.

I'm also not the person who needs to read this book. Why They Can't Write needs to find its way into the hands of the politicians who defund public education, the college administrators who pay comp/rhetoric instructors a pittance for a crushing workload, and my senior colleagues who sniff about "kids these days." The kids are all right; it's the system that's an unholy mess. ( )
  siriaeve | Jun 19, 2019 |
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There seems to be widespread agreement that--when it comes to the writing skills of college students--we are in the midst of a crisis. In Why They Can't Write, John Warner, who taught writing at the college level for two decades, argues that the problem isn't caused by a lack of rigor, or smartphones, or some generational character defect. Instead, he asserts, we're teaching writing wrong. Warner blames this on decades of educational reform rooted in standardization, assessments, and accountability. We have done no more, Warner argues, than conditioned students to perform "writing-related simulations," which pass temporary muster but do little to help students develop their writing abilities. This style of teaching has made students passive and disengaged. Worse yet, it hasn't prepared them for writing in the college classroom. Rather than making choices and thinking critically, as writers must, undergraduates simply follow the rules--such as the five-paragraph essay--designed to help them pass these high-stakes assessments. In Why They Can't Write, Warner has crafted both a diagnosis for what ails us and a blueprint for fixing a broken system. Combining current knowledge of what works in teaching and learning with the most enduring philosophies of classical education, this book challenges readers to develop the skills, attitudes, knowledge, and habits of mind of strong writers.

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