…at what they’ve just written, and at the squiggly lines that word processors generate under questionable word choices and grammatical errors, this is an example of what you get:
(From a recent student paper.)
Actually, most of my recent students have been good about proofreading. Examples like this one stand out to me partly because they aren’t that common, but partly, also, because I don’t understand why they happen at all. That is, I can’t imagine what it takes to turn something in without (a) noticing these markings, and/or (b) caring to address them.
We’re still a long way from routine, sentence-level revisions!
With enthusiasts like Doug Lemov, the sentence is finally, after years of neglect, regaining its due. And this due is long overdue. After all, the sentence is the minimal unit of thought. It derives from Latin sententia, meaning “opinion” (and shares its root with “sententious”). As Catherine has cited J.S. Mill as saying, “the structure of every sentence is a lesson in logic.” And, as I noted in my last post, it’s the smallest unit of prose that lends itself to multiple revisions.
Jostling me out of my grading groove this weekend was this item–another candidate for my collection of student sentences:
I’ve entered a slightly obsessive state …. writing, rewriting, writing, rewriting, writing, rewriting … I’m stuck in a loop.
I don’t like loops.
Anyway, long story short, I haven’t read comments.
One of the best writing instructors I ever had gave some advice that, for many years, I took too much to heart. “Wordy,” “repetitive,” “you can reduce this passage by a third”—these were among Mr. C’s most frequent comments in the margins of our English papers. My takeaway: the number one priority in revising your work is to cut out as many words as possible.
To this day, I continue to cut. And even when I’m forced into virtual clear-cutting—say when my first draft is several hundred words over the limit—I’ve generally found what survives to be much improved: denser with active verbs and precise nouns, freer of fillers like “it” and hedges like “seems”.
A couple of excerpts from an essay J recently submitted for English 101:
At that time, people didn’t think that smoking was as bad, and therefore a lot of people have smoked and there weren’t as much rules about smoking in the building or restaurants or bar, and even hospitals.
Speaking of people drinking alcohol, there was some prohibition from 1920 to 1933, but it seemed like picture was taken after the prohibition ended, but before the prohibition ended, there were some organized crimes, like going to a secret bar and drink alcohol.
Just as subjects and verbs can agree (“he walks”) or disagree (“he walk”), so, too, with verbs and prepositions. For example, we “bring up” a topic; we don’t “bring of” a topic; we “speak of” someone”; not “up” someone. Arbitrary though preposition agreement is, it matters. As with verb agreement, errors be hard on the ears.
I forgot that the most egregious ones in my collection were hiding in my iPhone notes!
- During this field experience, it was the first time I saw an autistic support classroom in action.
- In Ms. X’s classroom, she teaches math and reading.
- When observing the speech therapist and teacher, they would show just how dedicated they are to their jobs.
Sentence 3 illustrates another hazard of not revising such sentences (a hazard far worse than loose structure and wordiness): some of these modifiers, however innocently they start out, can end up as danglers.
I’ve been distracted away from blog posting by a number of things: most recently, a heap of student papers. But these papers, as it turns out, aren’t just time-consuming items to read and grade; they’re also rich material for a blog about writing instruction. With great regularity, they illuminate blog-worthy patterns in the prose writing styles of the latest crop of college graduates (my students are typically master’s students). One of these patterns appears in the three sentences below, which I’ve altered slightly for anonymity:
- In Temple Grandin’s Thinking in Pictures, it discusses how autistic people can be very visual in their thought processes.
- From talking with the student’s mother, it seems as though she is very satisfied with the accommodations he receives at school.
- For those individuals that are included with their regular education peers, they struggle more with accessing classroom reading materials because they are reading below grade level.
I’ve been doing a fair amount of coding lately—I’m working on an upgrade to GrammarTrainer to make it more user friendly and more informative about student progress.
The other night, trying to revise the dyslexia passage, I convinced myself it couldn’t be done without adding new content.
I’m sure that’s wrong, but I’m finding it much easier to fix the start-stop quality (technical term: choppiness) of the original by changing the content, not just the syntax.
In my last post, I revised a passage from a high school history book using techniques that Catherine and I teach in our exercises for Europe in the Modern World. I also promised to discuss the specific techniques I used and why I used them.
In my previous post, I excerpted a passage from McDougal and Little’s World History. I proposed that this passage could be enlivened by revisions in sentence structure and paragraphing–using some of the techniques that Catherine and I cover in our exercises for Europe in the Modern World.
Sentence structure, paragraphing, cohesion—these are some of the things that Catherine and I focus on in our exercises for Europe in the Modern World.