Last Firday, I was surprised to hear one of my senior high students saying "feeling great after I completed my English writing". This is the first time I heard my students say that they are pleased with the writing practice. Though this girl's paper did not reach the minimum requirement of 150 words, at least she tried and produced something that makes sense and is readable.
I agree that writing in English requires good understanding of the use of the laguage, but we still see substandard papers submitted by students whose English proficiency is above the average. Why is English writing difficult to them? From my teaching experience, I found the main problem lies in students' inability to compose ideas and express ideas literarily. This terrible condition comes from the lack of training for thinking in their primary and early secondary education. They should be learning good knowledge, and in the meantime they should be trained to think. However, the current education system only teaches them to memorize whatever is considered important for school enterance exams. They are trained to mechanically give answers they memorize. When proper training for thinking is not provided, naturally students are not having the required ability for the education in senior high schools, which is a preparation for the education in the tirtiary level. Their inability to compose ideas and write literaily generates low quality writing. It is very common to read papers that comprise only couple lines or a long one whose subject is totoally irrelevant to the title. These writings do not present any ideas, and they are simply combinations of meaningless sentences.
Honestly speaking, I am so tired of reading papers that consist of so many meaningless sentences with unlimited spelling mistakes. In order to help my students write properly and rescue myself from having a heart attack, I chose one of their papers as an example. I picked up all problems in that paper and went over each problem with my students. In the meantime, I asked them to think how to fix that problem, so the meaning of the sentence could match the title. I also asked them to write down what exactly they wanted to express and then insert those sentences into the original text. The most important is to force them re-read what they had written and check spellings.
This three hour class indeed exhausted me, and I felt like teaching a bunch of primary students. It is supposed to be an English class for senior high students, which means we should be dealing with issues like how to produce a short academic essay with a clear focus and good examples. But at the end I was using Chinese to teach them how to say a perfect Chinese sentence. It is impossible for them to write in English when they are not even able to think in Chinese. So I let them do Chinese first, and then translated everything to English, and lastly linked them all together to form paragraphs in which the central meaning of the text can be revealed. At last, after three hours of hard working, they finally finished their writings that truly match the meaning of the title and are acceptable as a literary work.
I in fact felt very sad untill the girl said to me that she is so glad to have her first English paper that truly looks like an academic work. Teachers are so easy to please. All we need is students' positive attitude of learning. All we want to hear is students' good response. This hard working activity actually inspires them and encourages them to write in English. I still remember their sad faces when trying to figure out how to make a good English sentence. Though it is never late for learning, this training for thinking and writing should be given to them way earlier. Senior high students have too many to learn at this stage, and they should be well-prepared for the university. Now I am hoping that they remember all the tips for writing and they still keep their good attitude.