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Teaching Writing

Slang, Dialect, and Proper English

I own a writing business, but for years, I was a secondary school teacher in Mississippi's public school system. I also taught college courses, and yes, I taught English, Literature, and Composition. As an editor, I must make important decisions regarding slang, dialect, and clichés. This is a topic on which most writers and editors have a specific stance. I, however, do not have a specific stance on the topic. I can see both sides of the coin. (See, I even use clichés in my writing).
I'm a writer and an editor, and I'm a damn fine one. I am not, on the other hand, better than anyone else. I have a passion regarding civil rights and equality of all people, no matter a person's race, religion, gender, or occupation. For that reason, I also believe that doctors are not 'better' people that janitors. Are there occupations that are more prestigious than others? You bet, but we are people. We all breathe, bleed, and shit the same way. We have skills in different areas. Some of us make better decisions than others, but in the bigger scheme of things, we are all on the same level.
I make that point because some writers are 'snobbish' regarding their occupations. That may be offensive to field, but I believe it to be true. This is not to say that all writers are snobs. I certainly know a lot of writers who are down-to-earth, funny, and well-rounded.
When I taught school, I came across many teachers who would correct students who used slang or dialect. The word 'Ain't' was a common word used that teachers would correct. I, however, find it a bit snobbish to tell someone how to talk. Here's why.
If Johnny's mama, daddy, grandma, and great grandma talk a certain way, then Johnny certainly will talk that way as well. And just because they don't use 'proper' English, then should I be the one to correct them and tell them that they sound ignorant? I don't think so.
I'm not naive. I know that there is a standard for proper English, and the expectations for proper English should be maintained in business, job interviews, etc. I know what proper English is, and I know how to use it. I also think that all of our youth should be taught proper English. I, although, still say 'yall,' and I've been known to be heard saying, 'She don't know nothing." Do I know that y'all is dialect? You bet. Do I know what a double negative is and how to avoid it? Of course, I do. But when I am comfortable, I speak the way I've always spoken- the way my family and friends speak. And there isn't anything wrong with that.
There is nothing worse than reading a book that contains dialect that's not 'authentic.' In the South, we say 'y'all.' We use clichés and southern sayings, and to read a book set in the South that doesn't incorporate those details would be unappealing at best.
When it comes to writing, my best suggestion to writers is this: write about that which you know, that which you enjoy, hate, or love. Write in authentic manner. If your manuscript, as a whole, is authentic, memorable, and unique, then your editor will handle the small stuff.
And if there are any 'snobby' writers out there reading, please quit correcting everyone's English. We are the melting pot of the world, and our diversity, even in speech, is beautiful. If you're not a teacher, then it isn't your job to teach the world proper English.

Teaching Writing

Today's post is dedicated to all the primary and secondary education teachers in our country. Teaching is such a difficult job, but it is also one of the most important professions in our country.
With that said, I've been doing some education consultation work recently, and the subject of teaching writing can be quite tricky. As an editor, I can immediately spot a writer who has the 'X factor.' Though writing is a learned skill, it is also a talent. I've covered this issue before on my blog.
However, can the 'X factor' be taught? In my opinion, no it cannot. As most writing teachers will tell you, the safest and most conservative way to teach writing is to employ the 5-paragraph essay method. In this method, teachers instruct students to employ a formula to write a thesis sentence. Then, each body paragraph starts with a topic sentence.
In this method, the formula is strict, which allows students to stick to the given topic and to avoid rambling. This is the tried and true way to write an essay.
Nevertheless,in writing testing, a typical 5-paragraph essay will receive an average(passing) score. Usually this type of essay will not, however, receive the highest score. The highest score is usually reserved for those essays that are creative, written well, and emanates the writer's voice.
The problem with these two separate scores lies in the fact that the structure of the essays vary greatly. A simple, 5-paragraph essay is very structured, but a creative essay may not follow any specific formula.
Not every student can write a creative essay, and that's okay. Teachers know which students have a 'knack' for writing. Teachers also know which students struggle with writing. It is necessary for teachers to individualize instruction based upon a student's skills and capabilities.
Sometimes I come across teachers who want all of their students to write creative, intricate essays, and unfortunately, this confuses students who struggle with writing. If a student does struggle with writing, then it's perfectly fine to teach that student how to write a formulaic essay. After all, an essay with purpose and structure is the basis of technical writing.
In summation, teachers should encourage students who have a talent for writing. Allow those students to use their creativity, let their voices shine through the essay, and break the conventional norms. On the other hand, teachers should also encourage students who struggle with writing. Present those students with the 5-paragraph essay, and allow them to write a structured, simple, essay that sticks to the topic. Once the student masters that formula, then the teacher can improve upon areas like support, voice, and elaboration.
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