1. Florent150
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    Florent150 Member

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    Why do they teach "bad" writing in schools?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Florent150, Jun 10, 2011.

    One of my friends as part of his English class had to write an original story of quite a long length (for GCSE stuff) in the theme of scary stories. He's not into reading or writing in the way that I am, but he actually came up with quite a neat little ghost story around a haunted mansion, of about the shorter end of the Novella spectrum. He actually managed to score an A on it, and let me read it. (we're at College but he's retaking GCSE English in particular)

    What struck me though was a lot of techniques in the writing that I tend to hear from more experienced writers as being bad writing, that were being marked as excellent by his Teacher. For example, replacing "said" with all kinds of adverbs. I had a discussion with my friend about this (because he seemed to be getting in to English a little bit) and he told me that he had to remove "show"-type writing in favour of "tell"-type writing in some instances as well to please his teacher. All in all though I was still impressed, seeing as he usually openly dismisses writing/reading and probably has never written anything creative before.

    But I can remember it too, the times when my teacher would impress upon us to use as big a words as we could come up with in our writing ("he said tentatively" got me a gold sticker in Primary School :D), yet so much of if would be dismissed as poor by a publisher or other seriously writers.


    I haven't taken English as an A-level because I see it as more of a hobby and something more independent (I still aspire to be a writer though), and my academic life lies more in Science. But for those of you that have, are you taught to unlearn poor techniques lifted from GCSE or Primary School level as you move up? Why is it worth them teaching you it in the first place at lower levels if it's ultimately poor?
     
  2. Ashrynn
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    Ashrynn Active Member

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    It's hard to put into words how I feel about teachers....I'm sure if one was found it'd be a mixture of love and hate, with just a pinch of muderous intent.

    Not being reptetive with the word "said" is hard in heavy dialogue, but I prefer it to telling someone how the character is supposed to sound. All in all, it can be done on occasion, but not heavily. Here is one example:

    "How are you enjoying your stay?" “Have you been enjoying your stay?” A voice seemed to resonate from behind Alex, firm, yet there seemed to be a sense of amusement in it.

    I did it this way, because the character speaking had not yet been introduced. Now as I continue to write the dialogue and the character has been introduced to the reader I no longer will say HOW they are speaking, but I'll get descriptive on the actions they make. If I want to avoid the word 'said' I can write it like this:

    “Who are you…?” It was all Alex was able to squeeze out and even then it was quiet as she was nervous as to how to react.

    Or as I caught myself doing and still haven't fixed...merely because I prefer the way I wrote it:

    “First, answer my question and then I will answer yours. Only a child would answer a question with another one.” The blind woman tapped her foot as the faintest movement from her eyes seemed to give a hint that she was still scanning over Alex who sat a bit stunned at being scolded.

    Now then, as I said I try to just keep the character's in motion rather than say 'He said with a serious tone'. As I wanted to show the character was amused rather than say it again, I used this:

    Although, if you disagree…” Death chuckled as she finished speaking looking as Alex shook her head rather energetically.

    Now, perhaps my writing isn't up to par, as this was a short-story I wrote in 3rd person for the first time, I do find it better than using stupidly long words. I think the hardest word used in the entire story was "Transluscent".

    My take on it anyways, and no, the sentences weren't put into any order, just wanted to give an example!

    I'm a newbie, so if someone more experienced tells you that I'm doing it wrong you should take their advice maybe.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Those who can, do...&c.

    :D
     
  4. Ashrynn
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    Ashrynn Active Member

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    ^ Oh that does work perfectly.

    I've had only one English Teacher who I liked and respected. Very brilliant, encouraging, and although she would give her opinion on books, she never insulted writing techniques or told the class which was better.

    Our class was able to divide into groups of four and we chose what to read in those groups based off a list of 6. Although I was told to read in the advanced group which was fun ^^...

    Lead the book club, set us up to meet famous authors via a chain of book stores that held events in SF.

    What more is there to say?
     
  5. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I believe they are just trying to encourage the use of synonyms and adjectives as so many students tend to try to write about as much as possible in as a few words as possible - at least this is how it was in my classes.

    I retook one of the classes I took in high school again in a community college and I was happy to see my lecturer there taught good grammar and style. She's also the only person who has taught me English who doesn't try to make herself sound clever when we're discussing literature - you can tell she's smart by just listening to her opinions rather than from decorative words.
     
  6. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    I won't defend bad teaching, no matter the subject, but I think it's also safe to say the broad generalizations in the OP are, well, generalizations. I want to know why they teach making generalizations in school? Or was that something learned on outside of a class? ;)
     
  7. JimFlagg
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    JimFlagg Contributing Member

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    1) I would say that here is nothing wrong with big words. It is how you use them. Some people will use them in the wrong place or the more common problem is what I call adjective spewing. This where some will use 4 or 5 adjective for one noun in one sentence. What happens is you end up with the worlds longest sentence.

    2) I do agree with removing the, "saids" when you can but you still need to tie the tags with the quote. The solution is using different words like, replied, explained, noted, and son on. You can also do away with the tags all together when there are only two people speaking with no dialog in between. I usually do this during the editing phase though never during the rough draft, but it is up to you. There is after all, some thing to be said about writing style and poetic license.

    3) As for removing the show in place of tell, I agree this is a mistake. I do notice people wanting to show nothing but the environment but not build the story, at times. I am always telling people to stop talking about the weather and tell me the story. This could be what the teacher was referring to.

    Just another point of view. Take it with a grain of salt.
     
  8. Declan
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    Declan Senior Member

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    Thanks to state bureaucracy and an out of touch and restrictive system, teachers are often not able to move out side of what the curriculum states, as they have all sorts of targets and averages to reach in order to keep thier jobs. It is a case of teaching what they are told, not what may be the common sense or more suitable option, and as unfourtently a lot of teachers become corrupted by this system.

    However, I do not what you have presented is the case with all teachers. I for one had fantastic English teachers at college and at school, although I could have done with spelling tests, they stopped in year 8.

    I despise the old, 'Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach'. We have enough so called 'do-ers' in our banks and businesses ruining the world for the rest of us. We could do with more teachers- maybe then everyone wouldn't be so ignorant of the world around them.
     
  9. Glimpse
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    Glimpse Member

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    The thing here is that schools aren't training children to become writers. The education system works such that creativity and analytical skills are developed by exposing the students to as much of the vocabulary and techniques that can be used in writing. It does not work on the assumption that everybody who takes GCSE English will pursue writing as a full time, or even part time career. Therefore, in the short period of time alotted, the system works to train the students in using different styles of writing, analysis, and creative thinking. Superfluous language in school is to be expected as I'm sure most who want to become writers (or even for regular formal writing) will sooner or later learn to be more concise in their usage of words. It's easier to drop a style of writing, rather than learning a new one entirely after all.
     
  10. Gigi_GNR
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    Gigi_GNR Guys, come on. WAFFLE-O. Contributor

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    It's different with every teacher. I've had the amazing fortune of having 3 amazing English teachers in 10 years of school (they're rare for me) who have encouraged and pushed me in the right direction with my writing.
     
  11. dizzyspell
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    dizzyspell Active Member

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    I was lucky enough that throughout high school I was taught not to use adverbs.

    As for the word "said", there's nothing wrong with it, if the characters are just saying things.
    In a dialogue heavy scene, I don't want to be bogged down with descriptions of how the character is saying everything. Some writers do this, and it makes me lose track of what the conversation actually is.
    Throwing in a "she commented" or a "he asked" breaks up the monotony of using "said" too much.
     
  12. Quezacotl
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    Quezacotl Contributing Member

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    Teachers can teach whatever they want, even, and especially, their bad habits. In college, people take classes just to pass them and get the degree they have in mind, and have a closed mind to the advice their professors give them. They never learned to do otherwise, nor cared.

    I have had the luck of being taught by teachers coming right out of college, and being very studied in knowing what their professors want, as well as having AP teachers who routinely have their standards checked.

    With every teacher, you are going to find a different taste for and a different way of writing. What students really need to learn is how to let the good teachers influence them more than the lazy ones.
     
  13. Rascal
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    Rascal Member

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    Through high school, I had a writing instructor who was absolutely brilliant. He really got down to fundamentals, and taught me the mechanics. When I finished my last class with him, I felt sad that it was over.

    Then I took English in college, and passed easily with an A. It was literally about a tenth as hard as my high school teacher.

    My take is that teachers are unique. Saying that "schools" teach bad writing is a bit of an over-generalization.
     
  14. polarboy
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    polarboy Member

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    It sounds like you've known your share of writing teachers who did give bad advice. So I understand why you ask in the subject line why "they" teach bad writing in school.

    In my own experience, writing teachers from grade school through college ranged from adequate to excellent. I can't think of teacher ever encouraging some of the bad habits you describe above, such as using unnecessary adverbs or "telling" rather than "showing."

    There are people who are good at the jobs at every profession. And there are people who are bad at their jobs in every profession, including teaching.

    I personally wouldn't say that "they" teach bad writing in school. I'd say that there are probably some writing teachers who give poor advice.
     
  15. darkhaloangel
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    darkhaloangel Active Member

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    Teaching english language - is different in America to the UK. i.e in America you're taught not to use the passive voice, distain adverbs etc. There are differences.

    However for a GCSE because it's not of an advanced level they are just looking to see whether you CAN use a range of literary devices. They read through the piece and you geta tick for similies, metaphors etc. You've got to show tha tyou can use all these and often only in one piece of writing (so it's going to be a bit messy).

    I think you're mistaking learning (which a GCSE is) for using in a practical situation which is what you do when you have left school/uni.

    They're not bad teachers - you just miunderstood the aims. GCSE is the most basic level of certificate you can take.
     
  16. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was going to say something like this. :p There's just check boxes and whether it's something that will lead to good style or not, the curriculum just wants proof we know how to string words together. I never got completely awesome marks on my creative writing until higher level because I had my own style and I was already avoiding doing really awful literary things they hammer into you, so not meeting their check box requirements... Like when they wanted us to use 5 similies in a piece, and I got bored after the first one and switched to metaphors and just poetic language which wasn't strictly wordplay imagery stuff.

    I remember being in about year 3 and writing something where in a conversation I reported the last part of it just as a summary, like, they'd stopped talking about anything interesting, so I just rounded it off with a "he told her which way to go" or something, and to my frustration, I lost a mark from what was almost a perfect score because the teacher circled it and wrote "Use speech marks!" ... I KNOW how to use speech marks! I want to do other stuff! :p

    Also I once (I think I remember my year 2 teacher telling me this) tried to use a word that wasn't in our recommended vocab for the age, and the teacher flat out denied the word existed, and that left me with a bit of a headache later when I found out it did, especially since I'd wanted to use it since I saw it in a book and I was totally going to use it correctly, and I only asked her because I couldn't remember where the e went in it. :p /traumatic spelling-related childhood memories

    So I've always been wary of what teachers try to tell us. I've always read more than enough to see language in practice far more than being told how to use it, so creative writing lessons right up until university level - and sometimes even then - just felt like being told stuff I already knew and seemed really stupid and basic to me, and often contradictory to what published authors I respected a hell of a lot better did.
     
  17. AvihooI
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    AvihooI Member

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    I'd use a different verb, other than 'said', for dialog when I find it appropriate. Even verbs that aren't necessarily about verbal talking (like mutter, ask, yell, utter, whisper, explain, exclaim, etc..). The whole point of dialog is to be communicative. So adverbs often get in the way. The reader would focus on how things are said rather than what was said - that's just poor communication.

    For instance, I could write:

    Martin Luther King exclaimed, 'I have a dream!'

    Or:

    With great passion that reverberated through the audience, 'I have a dream!' Marthin Luther King exclaimed.

    It's your call to say what makes a greater impression. The words in the dialog itself (and if the dialog is any good - they should be), or the description of how the words were said.

    Always think what you wish you to convey - what message your character is trying to deliver. And if the words cannot on their own accord create an image that's strong enough. Do use descriptions (e.g. adverbs). Otherwise, leave them be - they're a strain and redundant.

    As for what's taught in the UK or America - I have no idea. My English teacher, more correctly, translation techniques teacher; would probably emphasize the importance of clear and coherent writing. To deliver what you want to write in the most pragmatic sense, avoiding unnecessary embellishments.
     

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