Don’t moan about it if you haven’t actually taught it.

By Marcus Wilson 24/03/2014 4

At a recent staff meeting here, the topic of students' writing ability came up (yet again)! Why are our engineering students and physics students just so bad at writing in whole sentences, using correction punctuation and using consistent tenses? Why can't they string four relevant sentences together to make a paragraph that actually makes a point? In short, why can't they make themselves clearly understood in written form?

We have lots of stories of despair, and much of it is directed at 'the secondary school system', or lecturers in other departments not doing their job properly, or the rise of txt spk. 

But there's a very obvious point that we have to pay attention to: Have we actually taught the students how to write? Have we shown them how to put sentences together that make a coherent argument? It's very easy to say "not my job – mine's to teach thermodynamics, or materials science, or differential equations, or whatever". But if the assignments a lecturer sets demand that the students have good writing ability, isn't it the responsibility of the lecturer to ensure that the students have been taught how to write? 

I'm not saying every paper that a student does has to contain writing skills in it, but if we want to have students exit their degrees with the ability to communicate about their area clearly in written English, then we must make sure that somewhere they have opportunity to develop those skills. In short, don't complain about students' lack of ability in things that no-one has actually taught them. 



4 Responses to “Don’t moan about it if you haven’t actually taught it.”

  • Hear hear! That’s why Brydget & I teach our first-year biology students how to write a formal essay (& yes, we provide marking rubrics & run tuts on the subject – in fact, we’re running a new drop-in session involving lecturers, the science librarian, & student learning staff, a week before the essay’s due) and also a lab report.

  • Yeah, there isn’t much being taught in “English” these days (or rather, back when I was at school; but it seems to be getting worse…). I learned more about grammar, tenses and things doing French than I ever did in English. Luckily (after failing Bursary English…) I had 6 years of university lab reports and essays to work on my writing skills. I’m no expert, but at least I can get my point across in a reasonably coherent manner.