'Students can’t write,' they say

| Alison Wagener

College students are notorious for breaking the rules of writing, and it's usually not on purpose.

But when future English teachers do it, innovation happens.

In an English education methods class, students wrote an explorative story about the restrictive ways students are taught to write. The class crafted the story using an ironically nontraditional medium — Twitter.

Dr. Christina BerchiniThe students wrote by adding to the story piece by piece through individual tweets. The exercise started as a class assignment from Dr. Christina Berchini, assistant professor of English, who provided a short prompt for inspiration: "Students can't write, they say."

The message resonated with her students. Tyler Cran, a senior comprehensive English education major from Star Prairie, said students perceived to be "bad writers" aren't necessarily bad at writing — they just don't excel at the formulaic writing style taught in schools.

"Students think writing has to be the structured, five-paragraph, intro, point one, point two, counterargument, conclusion type thing," Cran said. "And if they feel like they can't do very well at that, if they struggle on even one paper and get a bad grade, they just shut down in all forms of writing."

Cran wrote in the class's story that students also don't see writing as something they'll have to do later in life and in their future careers.

tweet 1"They don't consider creative writing or any other writing that they do to be a contribution to society at all," Cran said.

Sami Blom, a junior comprehensive English education major from Lino Lakes, Minn., added that even though students are constantly communicating, they don't see it as writing.

tweet 2"Writing takes so many more forms than students think," Blom said. "Students tweet every day, they text every day, but they don't know that they're writing every day. They just don't enjoy certain forms of writing that we enforce in school."

Berchini added that academic writing is, simply put, "really, really hard."

"It's weird, because we assign academic writing tasks in school and then wonder why students won't do them," Berchini said. "I was a good 10 years out of college before I learned how to write academically in an acceptable way. It's hard, and it takes forever. Students are reading and writing all the time, but we're not honoring that as a field."

The story didn't end up as cohesive as the class had hoped, but they said that wasn't the point of the exercise. Instead, they said, the resulting disjointedness is what made the piece feel powerful.

Writing a story through Twitter provided the students with insight into new methods of online composition. Many of them said in today's digital age, it's critical for English teachers to incorporate innovative approaches to everyday assignments.

The future of the English classroom is ever-changing, but these future Blugold educators are ready to take on the challenge.

full Twitter storySee the students' entire Twitter story at right.

Photo captions

Large top photo: In an English education methods class, students wrote an explorative story about the restrictive ways in which students are taught to write. The class crafted the story using an ironically nontraditional medium — Twitter.

Photo within story: Dr. Christina Berchini, assistant professor of English, leads the English education methods class that used Twitter to craft a story.