Sara Wink, Purdue University Global Composition Faculty
For months, my daughter asked—not quite begging, but close—for a “real bike.” Her Radio Flyer big wheel just barely contained her lanky frame, so it wasn’t an unreasonable request…except she couldn’t pedal.
“It’s hard.” Those words came every time I stopped pushing. By five-year-old logic, something hard equals something not worth doing. Far better to go back to what is easy: forming words, over, and over, and over again: “Can I have a bike? I’m big enough. Can we look at bikes? Look, that kid has a bike. It only has two wheels. Mine has three, and that’s okay, but I really only need two, Mom…” It took weeks of (mostly) gentle prodding to drive her to move her feet, fall into the rhythm of the wheels, and—HOORAY! Pedaling!
Nowadays she still asks for a real bike, but not nearly so often. She knows a “real” bike will require more energy on her part. She knows she has to build up her leg muscles and balance to get there. She knows she needs to keep it up.
Why aren’t we all like that about the skills that count?
Teachers should set an example for students to follow. By showing them that regular reading and writing do help build one’s skills, they’ll be more motivated to try both. We need that connection of experience for the sake of understanding. My students always feel badly when they have to deal with their kids during seminar. When I tell them I’ve handled class discussions within 24 hours of giving birth to twins, they KNOW I’m one to turn to when things get overwhelming.
So how can we ask them to do all this reading and writing when we only do it when we absolutely have to? We’ve all read some faculty emails that really could have used an editor. We’ve also been guilty of writing such emails ourselves. And yet here we are, demanding students step up with their written work.
Let’s set a good example. Let’s make reading and writing count in our daily professional lives. I’m not just talking emails. I’m talking some critical and/or creative work. Be it novels or professional books, give yourself something to read every day.
No, not student projects. Something fun. I recently finished Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, a medieval mystery filled with Latin. I enjoyed the story, and I was also challenged by the translation work as well as the dense prose. Now I’m going to read Agatha Christie. Maybe you like romance, or an epic, or a historical biography. Great! READ IT. One chapter at a time won’t bite too much out of your day. As we so often tell students: the more you read, the better you write. This applies to teachers, too.
Writing skills need practice outside of discussion boards and announcements. Blogging can be a great way to exercise those skills. Like my colleague, Lisa Gerardy, I have a website where I write under a different name. I write about my studies in fiction, influential music, observations captured in photography, etc. It has absolutely nothing to do with Purdue Global; it has everything to do with what interests me. That interest motivates me to write every week.
The more I write, the better I feel about reading—and critiquing—what others write. The more I write longer pieces, the easier it is to write those discussion board responses. Yes, the extra reading and writing take time, but we owe it to the students as well as to ourselves to show what a good reading and writing regimen can do.
If not, we should stop telling them to ride the two-wheeler until we are fit to pedal it ourselves.