Minority Students To Write Effectively
By Herman A. Estrin
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English, and Communication
Today, many beginning
students in urban public colleges and technical schools are members
of minority groups. Such is the case at New Jersey Institute of Technology,
where I taught. To teach these high school graduates (many of whom have
had very little writing practice) how to write a composition effectively,
we had to dispel their fear of writing, give them something to write
about to encourage them to write with success, and instill in each student
self-confidence, dignity, and a sense of self-worth.
these goals, the following six-step approach was used:
students how to write a composition by:
an appropriate subject and limiting it.
the purpose of writing.
a central idea of the composition.
a working plan or an outline before writing the composition.
the outline as a tool in writing.
students select relevant topics in writing a composition.
often complain: "What can I write about?" "How can I write 500
words on that subject?" "How can I quote from the literature which
I want to write about?"
To help solve
these problems, the students I taught (most of whom were Black)
were encouraged to use the anthology "Black Culture: Reading and
Writing Black," edited by Glorina M. Simmons and Helene D. Hutchinson
(Holt, Rinehart, and Winston). This text caught the students'
interests immediately because of its timely topics, provocative
selections, and realistic illustrations. Contents include:
- The beauty
- On Blackness,
things Black, and beautiful; Black woman, Black Man, and language
Black power is Black language;
- The why
of the beloved homeland;
students to write with effectiveness and with success.
this goal, students worked on a theme-writing assignment based
on the readings in Black Culture. In a two-hour session, students
reacted orally to the readings. Some gave oral interpretations
of the poetry or prose selections. Others participated in the
pros and cons of the thesis of each selection. Enthusiasm, fervor,
and interest permeated the discussions.
To give students
the "sweet smell of success" in writing their compositions, remember
that students are not professional writers. Avoid undue harsh
criticism and caustic remarks. Some students have admitted that
writing was a painful experience for them because throughout their
secondary school careers, they received mainly unfavorable criticism
on their papers.
positive aspects in ideas and writing approaches while, at the
same time, comment, raise questions, stimulate the student to
further thought, recommend a relevant text or article, and make
suggestions to help students revise their compositions. A brief
word of praise helps reward each student for the labor of writing.
4. Use class
discussion of papers to improve writing techniques.
discussions, comment on the students' themes but provide anonymity
to the writer. This encourages an atmosphere of respect and
acceptance of students' opinions, values, and ideas. From the
corrected "batch" of compositions, teach style, vocabulary,
grammar, punctuation, organization, and sentence structure
Spikes & Spikes, 1983). When the students see the words,
sentences, and the paragraphs which they and their peers have
written, the study of how to rephrase becomes a more meaningful
experience in both language and composition.
students revise their papers in keeping with the suggestions made
by the instructor and other students.
that a well-written paper has to be revised several times and
that to have a well-written paper, one must proofread for misspelling
and for punctuation and grammatical errors. In addition, stress
that when a writer is revising and rewriting, a maturation in
writing can be seen. In this process the student learns to rearrange
words and sentences, eliminate redundancies, subordinate sentences
and clauses, obtain a variety of sentences, and use transitional
self-confidence and present a knowledge of the self-identity of
each student and a dignity of the worth of each student's personality.
(1989) reiterates the importance of this tenet. Many students
in class discussions stated that they found it difficult to identify
themselves and to discover their worth as a personality. Some indicated
that in a few of their high-school classes they were "talked down
to by peers," were made to feel that they were doomed to failure,
and believed that they had no academic skill or talent. After having
read and discussed the text, one student wrote:
(the book) helps attain the desire to say that you are proud of
being a Black person, a desire to say that you are someone valuable
to the society, and the desire to say that you are someone--someone
who cares, shares, feels, thinks, talks, and handles himself like
a true person should--with dignity and pride. The book is a practical
experience because you learn to experience the different emotions
that the book contains, such as fear, hate, love, pride, courage,
and an entire mixture of emotions shared by a mistreated society
for a hundred years. This itself is Black culture, an assortment
of emotions and values that the Black man must read to be a person
to whom everyone can look up. When you say, 'I am proud 'cause I'm
Black,' then you are truly a Black person in the best of all possible
ways--in soul and in heart."
Another student wrote: "Black
is a beautiful color. Barbara McBrain makes this fact very clear
in her poem 'What Color Is Black.' She makes me realize that there
is something special and unique about being Black. Listening and
reading all the bad things about being Black is what I have been
exposed to all of my life. But now to read some of the good things
about being Black has embedded in this person a sense of pride--yes,
pride in knowing that I am somebody and that my color is beautiful."
This approach to
the teaching of composition:
dispelled the students' fear of writing a composition;
taught them the techniques of writing, proofreading, and revising
increased their awareness of what to write;
encouraged students to write with effectiveness and success;
gave individualized attention to each student's composition;
enlivened the class periods with discussions about style, grammar,
usage, organization, sentence structure, punctuation, and vocabulary;
instilled self-confidence in each student so that the student approached
writing assignments with a positive attitude.
Note these selections
written by students:
ways of life are of old and new; yet each is very interrelated.
The fact that in both eras the Black man survived, and yet made
his surroundings pleasant, seems in itself a feat. The Black man
made his environment something for himself. The old way of life
was to be the beginning of the emerging of a new society that will
always have a unity with itself and with the Black man. To read
the poems and silently think of the deep meaning give one a sense
of desire to relate to the book and to other people."
A non-Black wrote this opinion of the text: "For 300 years, the
ritual and artistic freedom of Blacks has been covered by the cloud
of racial discrimination and misunderstanding between the whites
and the Blacks...It is amazing to learn of the great number of Black
writers in this contemporary era, such as Langston Hughes, W.E.B.
DuBois, LeRoy Jones, Eldridge Cleaver, and Henry Simmons. These
writers are picking momentum and audacity and lean towards a new
kind of revolution, a revolution that speaks of Black image, of
Black rhythm, of Black bravery, and of Black compassion. Another
important factor concerning these writers is that they effectively
give the reader a taste of the real power of Black language."
Herman A. Estrin is a professor emeritus of English at New Jersey
Institute of Technology and founder/director of the N.J. Writers
Conference and N.J. Poetry Contest. He received the NJEA Distinguished
Service to Education Award in 1986.
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This publication was prepared (Digest#83, EDO-CS-93-06,
July 1993) with funding from the U.S. Department of Education under
contract number RR93002011, and published by the ERIC Clearinghouse
on Reading, English and Communication.
expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions
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