Rich in Error

pencilpusherIt is a stirring experience to encounter adult learners who have less than basic writing skills. Sometimes, to my own disappointment I have forgotten that people exist who do not understand how to write. Even I lack some skills that could be considered “basic” to writers much more advanced than me. A deeper lack of understanding about the field is exposed when one forgets about composition.

While reading the student sample of passage-b I was jarred and immediately taken back to one of my first times encountering an adult semi-literate person that I was partly responsible for the growth of in writing and reading at least. Mina Shaughnessy’s article captured my attention when she stated that “College English teachers who encounter passage-b type writers for the first time are not likely to know where to begin or whether to begin (2),” and for sure I was one of these teachers. Although not college-level, encountering a college age or older learner who writes similar to the student of passage-b does cause a slight panic within me.

Panic begins to set in as questions start to dart through my mind: What aspect of language arts suits this student best? Should I start with modifiers, syntax, nouns, capitalization, spelling, what went wrong in this person’s life that they missed out on learning these things? Am I capable of ensuring their writing and reading development? To what degree are they responsible for this? The institution? While I understand the college professor has the freedom to overlook, in a way, that student, I do not. So I wondered when reading this particular article how a composition instructor alters the method of delivery for the other types of lower functioning students.

Luckily, a fellow classmate (for privacy reasons I will call her Skem Fleafer) mentioned that she is in “a constant state of revision” as a composition instructor and that “some errors in writing have the potential to make it a richer experience for the reader.” Now, I thought about what enrichment could be found in the errors and I concluded that the growth comes from the mutual exchange of knowledge between both teacher and student. Somehow, in the exchange of error and correcting we discover new information about students and develop innovative ways to address those errors quickly or have them be avoided all together.

The stage of student and pupil is laid out to produce learning for all parties involved in the play. So, I suppose the richness is in the vast amount of learning a reader can get from jolting errors and minute mistakes because once they are recognized, teachers are again called to the mission of seeking out methods of correction, lesson delivery, and constructive feedback. The art of teaching really gets to spread its wings in the light of error and I agree that that is pretty enriching.


3 thoughts on “Rich in Error

  1. While professors have some relative “freedom to overlook” errors, I don’t think that’s what these scholars are suggesting we do. Instead it’s about higher order concerns before lower order concerns. And, instead of being a blanket grammar emphasis, it’s about tailoring to the needs of a student one a time (or in small groups if there are clusters of habitual errors). This can be accomplished at all levels of education though it will take different forms in each setting. I can only speak for myself, but emphasizing the higher order concerns (teaching writing) over the lower order concerns (correcting error) helps tremendously in the diverse classroom.

    What do you mean by “how a composition instructor alters (if they do at all) the method of delivery for the other types of “passage-b” students and correct those errors consistently and patiently”? I’m not sure I get what you are asking. But I am curious.


    1. As in, when a college instructor encounters a student with poor writing skills, outside of the composition classroom, for example a literature course, does that instructor address those issues as deeply as composition instructors or do they alter anything about delivery or correcting at all. My question stems from the article involving those same questions. Maybe I can re-word that to not warrant a harsh response.


  2. I didn’t intend my comments to be harsh. I was just curious about what you meant. I didn’t want to respond until I was sure what you meant. Most of the literature professors I know point out patterns of error to show how to avoid them in the future, but they focus more on content and complexity of thought. I wonder if anyone else has had a different experience.


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