Friday, March 12, 2010

writing, culture and expectations

The Daughters at the String Shop b

There are two daughters at the string shop in Osaka
The oldest daughter is sixteen years old and the youngest daughter is fourteen years old.
Japanese samurai kill their enemies with arrows.
The Japanese daughters at the string shop kill men with their eyes.

This poem is used to teach Japanese students how to write a proper essay. Japanese essay style is made up of the "ki" (introduction), "sho" (development), "ten" (turning point), and the "ketsu" (conclusion).

The cultural nature of writing makes teaching and evaluating it very difficult and learning to write in a new culture is one of the most difficult things about learning a new language. In some cultures, you only give main ideas and let the readers supply details. Other cultures will only give small details and let the reader decide the main idea. Other cultures take a long time building up the relationship between the writer and the reader before coming to the main point. In the Japanese style, the "ten" is used to get the reader's attention. American style is to give big ideas up front, provide the details and examples, and to repeat them again and again; the reader has few responsibilities.

On a daily basis, I confront careful decision-making about student writing, trying to decide what is good enough writing for a student to be successful in an American academic classroom. Expecting international students to write perfectly, with no accent, is unrealistic. I look for writing that has meaningful ideas that are clearly expressed. I don't want to struggle to understand what the student is trying to say. Grammatical errors that don't interfere with meaning are unimportant.

Every summer, I grow tomatoes in containers on my back porch. I take special pains to get good, organic seeds, and tend to them very carefully, feeding them and watering them. I am so excited when I see the first green tomatoes. My dog gets excited too. He has a special talent for choosing them at his perfect moment of ripeness, ripping them off the vine, and eating them the day before I want to pick them. His estimate of the perfect tomato is one day off from mine.

Every fall, students write their essays for their classes. They take special pains to choose the perfect words, and correct all of the grammar. They think they are ready when they have checked them for spelling and grammar. One teacher looks at organization and tries to perfect the grammar. I look for clear meaning. Both are good enough.

by Meg Palladino

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...