CRUCIAL SKILL

ASHFORD GIKUNDA: Teacher must teach composition writing

In Summary
  • Lazy teachers facilitate their learners' dislike for writing because of their methodology of teaching
  • Learners must listen to good English to speak good English. After listening and speaking they can read and finally write
Start with short stories if you find reading a whole book hard.
Start with short stories if you find reading a whole book hard.
Image: THE STAR

Kennedy Buhere’s piece, ‘Why schools should develop students’ writing skills,’ Thursday July 29 got me thinking about composition teaching lessons.

Conventionally, teachers walk into a classroom and write a composition rubric on the chalkboard. They then instruct the clueless learners to write an interesting story on the composition rubric.

The Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary defines the word interesting as: ‘attracting your attention because it is special, exciting and unusual.’ Many learners, and teachers, do not pay close attention to the word interesting.

The bottom line of writing is to have an interesting story. The story must bring out the four aspects captured in the definition of the word interesting: attracting attention, special, exciting and unusual.

Typically, most compositions have rubrics like this: ‘The following is the beginning of a story. Complete the story making it as interesting as you can.’ Then, learners are, for example, given a composition rubric like, "My mother and I had just left the house when suddenly we heard strange noises...".

The teacher takes his/her place in the classroom and times the learners who half of the time, are in confusion as they rack their brains trying to interpret the composition topic.

It is one of the harrowing experiences in school, especially if your teachers have not trained you how to ‘attack’ the rubric. This is meting torture on learners.

This pattern repeats itself the entire term. The results are catastrophic and learners loathe writing compositions. Lazy teachers facilitate their learners' dislike for writing because of their methodology of teaching.

Teachers of composition can be very elusive. After all, marking of compositions is always subjective. Marks allocated are never verifiable and commensurate with the creativity put in.

Teachers are therefore advised to expose their learners to good storybooks. Good writing comes from good reading. In the four skills of the English language, writing comes last. The correct order of these skills is: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Sometimes it is pure feelings, other times it is guesswork. What is appealing to one marker may be quite opposite to the next because our tastes are different.

What one marker finds interesting may be boring to the next. This variant makes justifications of composition marking a difficult task. One time, at a marking training, we were given dummies to mark as a warm-up exercise. It was dubbed Dummy Y.

After the marking exercise, there were two extremes: one guy gave it 32 out of 40 marks while another gave it 16 out of 40 marks. The actual mark for the said dummy was 24 out of 40 marks. You see, the deviations were extreme because of the individual markers’ tastes and preferences.

The marker’s exposure too plays a role in marks allocation. If you are used to bad compositions you might tend to over-mark and vice versa. Learners who are exposed to a lot of reading tend to have a high sense of creativity, vocabulary and sentence structures than their colleagues who are not extensively read.

Teachers are therefore advised to expose their learners to good storybooks. Good writing comes from good reading. In the four skills of the English language, writing comes last. The correct order of these skills is: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Learners must listen to good English to speak good English. After listening and speaking they can read and finally write. Speaking fluent English is highly influenced by our teachers. Our students cannot just pick a language from the blues. They emulate their teachers.

Instructing learners to write an interesting story in 40 minutes when you have not thoroughly guided them is cruelty. This is not teaching but damaging learners.

Composition writing must be modelled by teachers training the learners on vocabulary, sentence structure and other items of merit like idiomatic expressions, doubles, adages, sounds, similes among many others.

Until teachers have adequately covered these areas, composition writing will remain abstract and a form of torture to our learners.

Career teacher and founder of Examinations Hub