It's Hard to Write Well

Wendell Dryden writing

Can you read this? I hope so.

I recently read a professional blog accompanying a website promoting educational resources. The posts were full of run on sentences, poor punctuation, apparently random capitalization, sentences missing pronouns, and an over-all lack of standardization.

I don't intend to be mean spirited, and I'm not criticizing just to criticize. I could point out that I find it difficult - and ultimately impossible - to trust the opinions expressed in websites I have to struggle to read. But right now, I'm thinking about what it means to ask students or learners to write daily with precision, care and craft, and then fail to take the same care in my own writing.

Nor is it just poor grammar or syntax that worries me. Sometimes, it's the language itself that gets me down.

Sometimes, reading about learning or education, I find myself in a strange country where ordinary English doesn't exist. Apparent explanations become dark, tangled forests, stifling and burdensome. I'm not just lost, I'm stuck.

The idea to use the book and a protocol with the faculty came from a Leadership Retreat attended by the school principal and four teacher-leaders in the summer of 2003. We were already planning two days of Project-Based Learning (PBL) with our external service provider, and after doing the protocol at the retreat, the Leadership Team (principal, School Improvement Facilitator, and the Smaller Learning Community coordinators) decided that it would be a good lead-in to the PBL training.

The Leadership Team developed a “game plan” at the retreat that focused on developing a school-wide definition of Quality Teaching & Learning (QTL). The “game plan” included doing the same protocol with the faculty and then using the results of the protocol to guide the development of QTL assessment rubrics (for faculty and student use) and to guide the development of faculty Personal Learning Plans (PLPs).

It was decided that in order to do the protocol with the whole faculty, other staff members would have to be trained in the protocol. The Leadership Team planned a meeting to train the Instructional Leadership Team (all assistant principals, SLC coordinators, department chairs, and literacy coaches) in this protocol and then have this team participate as facilitators for the whole staff activity.

I don't know what that means. Do you know what that means?

Is there someone else I can talk to?

Alright, I know if I sit down with my dictionary and pencil, and replace the big words with small ones, I'll get some sort of meaning from this. Still, for writing this dense to appear on a "literacy coach" webpage doesn't bode well for either "literacy" or coaching.

And yet. And yet.

How dare I cast stones? I know I'm no grammarian (grammatician?). I'm embarrassed - dismayed! - each time I witness one of my learners struggling to understand a post I've written. I understand that it is a hard thing to write well. I write with a three-inch thick dictionary by me (yes, it's here , right now - I've used it four times thus far) and still manage to misspell and misuse words.

It's hard to write well.

It's hard to remember how to spell, to not mis-type, to use small words instead of big words, to be clear and exact and persuasive.

It's hard to write well, and because it's hard, learners are apt to choose to not write, or to blame themselves for the struggle.

I wish I knew how to convey to my learners that everybody struggles to write. (Maybe that's not true? Maybe I just like to think everybody struggles like me.) The trick, I suppose, is to enjoy the writing.

Is that possible in school?

Edit: After posting, I spotted 3 spelling mistakes and a missing word. *sigh*

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