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The Writing Kaleidoscope:
Writing, Reading, and Grammar
by Kathryn Benander
TO THE INSTRUCTOR
Teaching English is a challenging and wonderful profession because it allows us to influence the quality of our students' lives in profound and exciting ways. In courses where students may have few writing skills, this becomes even more important, as literacy can easily determine the quality of our students' lives and their children's lives as well. The goal of this text is to supply you with a variety of instructional materials and choices to use as you encourage your students to learn to write, read, and use grammar more proficiently. We already know that students who read often tend to be better writers, so applying this easily observed connection in a writing class makes a lot of sense. Furthermore, connecting grammar instruction and practice to writing and reading makes grammar seem more useful and important.
This text purposely emphasizes communication, not correctness. This may seem, perhaps, to be a small distinction, but for students, this is often an unfamiliar concept. If students do not see writing as communication, how can they see it as important to every facet of their lives? If they do understand that writing is self-expression and communicating ideas, how can they see it as anything but vital to their lives? A focus on correctness can be destructive to fledgling writers just learning to communicate their ideas on paper. They need time to experiment with language, especially the use of language to communicate a purposeful message to an intended audience. Without this "transaction," as William Zinsser calls it, what purpose is served by learning to write well? The unexpected bonuses, of course, are even more valuable to many students: self-confidence and self-respect.
This book is designed, both in layout and in content, to communicate clearly and without intimidation the connection between writing, reading, and grammar and the activities they allow us to do well. This approach is based on the belief that our use of language directly affects the quality of our lives and that learning to read and write well involves many stages that are discursive and individual. Because no single approach can be applied with equal benefit to every student, this book is designed to be used for the personal and in-class exploration of language, including reading, writing, and grammar. These skills are so interrelated that none of them can be truly learned and understood without the others. As an instructor, you can use whichever parts of this book you consider necessary for your class; at the same time, the book provides enough information, quality readings, exercises, and guidance so that students will be able to use it on their own as a multifaceted resource to build the skills for a lifetime of reading, writing, and thinking.
All the chapters follow a similar plan to assist you in making assignments and to assist students in finding them. Each chapter is structured in the following manner:
The first section in each chapter discusses a writing, reading, or grammar topic that gives the student a foundation for the topics to be explored in the rest of the chapter. Each opening section emphasizes the connections between writing, reading, and grammar, and how the student can become a more proficient learner, thinker, and communicator. In addition, each introduction relates the skills in the chapter to real-life academic, job, and personal goals.
Reading an Essay
Each chapter includes an essay written by a professional writer that addresses some aspect of reading, writing, or grammar. The essays purposely include more than one paragraph and may seem more difficult than choices typically included in a text of this type. Students, however, are likely to enjoy these longer essays more than short, stilted paragraphs that leave them uninspired and really do not reflect the type of reading many of them need to learn to do more effectively. To help them with comprehension and interest, each essay is preceded by a reading strategy to aid students in establishing goals and a context for reading. Additionally, each reading is accompanied by prereading questions and a "Building Your Skills" section that includes vocabulary and comprehension questions. The exercises that accompany each reading make good starting points for classroom discussions, individual or journal exercises, or small-group activities. They purposely challenge students to read beyond the literal level. Literal thinking, of course, also affects their writing and their ability to comprehend the world around them, so as students read and discuss these essays, they are likely to begin to see the differences between passively reading the words printed on a page and actively reading for meaning, ideas, and applications to their own lives.
Techniques for Writing
Each chapter includes a writing section that focuses on a writing skill or technique, such as paragraph and essay structure, rhetorical strategies, techniques for introductions and conclusions, and other specific instruction for improving writing. This section includes demonstrations, questions to promote active reading, and ideas for individual and group activities. The sequence of writing techniques throughout the chapters will help students move from getting started to writing shorter works to writing essay-length works. "Building Your Skills" includes writing and essay assignments that encourage students to write with a process and to practice ideas from each chapter. Assignments vary in their difficulty and scope to allow students to gain experience with various kinds of writing, including paragraphs, essays using different rhetorical strategies, letters to the editor, summaries, and job application materials. Most of the writing assignments also offer opportunities for exploration of topics that can easily be used for group or collaborative activities. Much of the rewriting suggested encourages students to work with others and to allow others to read what they have produced. Students understand the connection between writer and audience much better when they have played both roles by responding to other students' writing and seeing others responding to theirs.
Reading a Student Essay
This section includes a peer review strategy that identifies a specific focus for students as they read. The student essays also demonstrate techniques the student has read about, and this can promote a stimulating small-group or class discussion. The "Building Your Skills" questions following each student essay encourage evaluation, and they include a section where the student can list three positive characteristics and three possible improvements for each essay. This set of questions forces students to look for something positive to say about another student's essay rather than being overly critical. Since the student essays are well-written, the questions also force them to think about what could be changed without sacrificing quality. The instructor's manual offers vocabulary and comprehension questions if you prefer a different approach.
Each grammar section explains a grammatical concept by means of demonstrations and then discusses its relationship to writing and reading. Each presents common grammatical problems for writers who are developing their skills. In these discussions, students learn what grammar is, how it affects the writing process, and specific guidelines for using punctuation, parts of speech, and improving sentence structure. The "Building Your Skills" section following each discussion provides grammar exercises that help students observe the use of grammar in other people's writing as well as in their own; they learn to use grammar skills in their assignments and everyday life rather than simply filling in a workbook full of blank lines. Many of these segments refer to reference materials in the Appendix and cross-reference other sections of the book. You may want to photocopy the Appendix or have students photocopy it for themselves for easy reference in class or during assignments. In addition, the first chapter introduces an idea for developing a grammar journal and many of the assignments in "Seeing the Connections: Applying Your Skills" ask students to use and develop a grammar journal.
Seeing the Connections: Applying Your Skills
This final section in each chapter offers three assignments that can be used in addition to or instead of the other assignments in the chapter. Each assignment includes a reading, writing, and grammar component to help students see the connections between the skills they are developing and to give them an opportunity to apply their skills.
Most of the students in basic skills or developmental courses need help in reading, writing, and grammar that prepares them for college requirements or job goals. This text includes writing assignments that give students opportunities to express themselves better and more professionally. Some assignments work on developing specific types of writing, such as college admission essays, resumes, cover letters, and other assignments in practical writing. Other activities encourage students to find reading and resource materials in newspapers, magazines, dictionaries, and other commonly read resources. Chapter 10 includes a discussion of the various types of library resources and how to use them. Students who read about and use these resources will not only become better writers in particular situations, they will gain a better understanding of the resources available to them and of the many opportunities that many students simply do not know exist.
TO THE STUDENT
This book is not designed to teach you how to pass a particular course; it is designed to teach you the skills that will give you the opportunities to read, write, and learn throughout your life. It will prepare you for a job, for college-level work, for writing to friends, writing to the IRS--anything you do that involves writing, reading, or speaking (which, by the way, is just about everything!). If you have not done much reading or writing, you may not be aware of the richness and opportunity they can bring to your life. You may even believe that reading and writing are boring or frustrating activities that are unrelated to your everyday life. As a writer and reader, you can express yourself better and understand what others want to communicate to you more easily. But reading and writing have some important effects on a person that may not be immediately obvious. As you learn to read better, you begin to understand not only what people say, but how they are communicating that message. You begin to think and interpret the world for yourself. Although this may seem like an unimportant reason to read, think about the many ways you must interpret the world for yourself.
Each day you are bombarded by messages from people around you, from television, newspapers, billboards, and so on. Interpreting the world and making good decisions are developed through reading, while expressing those views and decisions is a function of writing. Through becoming a better writer, you will gain an ability to communicate your ideas better, to identify and speak to different audiences, and to write appropriately for a variety of situations. Most important, you will gain confidence in your ability to read, write, and think that will affect all areas of your life. People who are confident and think for themselves are able to speak with others and write to others, as well as to express their feelings and opinions without feeling embarrassed or silly. They have learned the value of what they have to say and write, and they know how to persuade others to see their opinions too.
This book will help you to build the skills and background to become a better student, writer, reader, speaker, and listener. You will read what many other writers think about language and other interesting topics; you will learn to use processes and techniques for writing that will help you get your ideas on paper so that you can organize and work with them. You will learn about grammar and the effect grammar has on language and self-expression. You will learn how to construct sentences, paragraphs, and essays, and how to use marks of punctuation. You will also learn about the many resources available to you for a lifetime of learning and success. Try to begin using this book with an open mind and allow your skills to build. Sometimes students begin with a feeling that they will not do well in a writing or English class--but try to avoid giving yourself these negative messages. Instead, wait a few weeks before you make up your mind about how well you will do in this writing course. This book is designed for your success and was class-tested with many students like yourself who needed to build their language skills and confidence. Work to build habits and routines that will make you more comfortable with reading, writing, and studying.
The title of this book--The Writing Kaleidoscope: Writing, Reading, and Grammar--hints at the important focuses of the book. Each chapter includes instruction in writing techniques, reading, and grammar. You will be asked to examine your own writing, reading, and grammar routines and techniques and to make adjustments to improve your ability to express yourself and to increase your ability to read and write different types of material to satisfy a variety of goals. As a student, you may find this intimidating and sometimes even frustrating. Learning to use language well and to think well is not the easiest thing in the world, but it is certainly one of the most rewarding and it affects practically everything else you do. This book takes each of these factors into consideration by offering you detailed instruction and guidance, interesting and thought-provoking reading and writing assignments, clear grammar instruction, and practical writing skills that relate to the real world and to the personal and professional goals you may have.
As you use this book, work to develop routines, habits, and styles that you can take with you into jobs and other classes and academic settings. As you learn to read better, remember the benefits you will receive in school, on the job, at home, or in learning to read for pleasure. Most of all, commit yourself to a course of study that will allow you to make informed, thoughtful decisions so that you can be your own person. Until you have learned to read, to write, to think, and to communicate to your greatest potential, you will never know what you are missing.
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